Not only do we live in a living universe, but the living universe lives within us.
— Duane Elgin
Collage by Margit Bantowsky
Until we are anchored in the profound, fundamental trust in Life and in Self that embodied consciousness awakening can bless us with, our activism can be motivated not only by fear, but also guilt and shame. These drivers often push us beyond our limits resulting in cynicism and burn-out. Conversely, guilt and shame can immobilize our energy and cause us to feel stuck and ineffective. Even when we're initially motivated by love and compassion, these "darker" impulses can impede sustainable action in response to the world.
In and of themselves, neither guilt nor shame are a bad thing - they are normal human emotions. Diving deeper, we discover that they contain wisdom. Instead of eliminating or powering through them, there are ways to embrace and transmute them so we're liberated to participate in joyful and authentic ways.
In the spirit of exploration, here are three journal questions for you:
Guilt and shame are emotions that arise in relationship with others. My sense of guilt is that it's an emotional signal informing me that my actions have harmed someone or something. Arising from my capacity for empathy, something in my gut "feels off" and lets me know I'm out of integrity. Thus, for me, guilt is part of my moral intelligence and is an invitation to reach out and tend to the relationship because of an action I took that caused harm (whether intentionally or not).
Shame is a response to being seen by others as lacking, flawed, wrong. I experience shame as a downcast gaze, breaking off relationship with the other, and then turning away from myself inwardly. Instead of staying at the level of action/ behavior, shame denigrates our personhood. I feel exiled and unwanted because something is bad, wrong, or fundamentally flawed in my being.
Activism can become distorted when we try to do things in the outer world in order to minimize or avoid feeling the discomfort of guilt and shame.
But powering over, ploughing through, won't resolve these feelings. We can't metabolize them through our minds alone. We must use our awareness, our bodies, and our hearts in order to transmute guilt and shame and find our deeper compass of integrity.
In the video below, I offer:
Consciously engaging guilt allows us to sense our innate integrity and stay in relationship with others. Healing old shame patterns gives us a deeper ground in our value and fundamental innocence, allowing us to be less defended and more curious.
By transmuting guilt and shame, we can become more free to be of service in ways that genuinely nourish us and others. We can experience more energy, connection, and love, and engage with less defensiveness and more fluidity. We can also enjoy healthy self-responsibility - not taking on too much of the world's burden, but also not too dissociated, imploded, or blaming. It becomes easier to honor passions and limits, and to choose actions that are a really good fit for us, and thus more sustainable in the long run.
Guilt is a profoundly conservative emotion and as such is not particularly useful for bringing about change. From a position of insecurity and guilt, people do not change or inspire others to change.” ~~ Michael Kaufman
Margit Bantowksy, MA, is an artist, coach, teacher and facilitator.