The Activist “Uh-Oh”


I’ve been quite bemused by the silence that has fallen since I’ve been putting out the word about the last of my four Spirituality Conversation Circles, scheduled tomorrow. This one  focuses on the Via Transformativa: we’ll discuss how we experience the Divine in the call to act for change. As the description of the circle says –

Is there an issue in your life where you feel your inner wisdom/Spirit connection calls you to speak or work for change? How do you experience that call, and how do you maintain your Spirit connection in acting upon the call?

I’ll admit it – there are a lot of stories going on in my head right now. Where the conversations of the past three circles, on the Via Positiva (experiencing oneness with the Divine), the Via Negativa (finding the Divine in the dark night of the soul), and the Via Creativa (experiencing co-creation with the Divine) were all relatively inward-looking, this circle is distinctly outward-focused: how do we experience or manifest the Divine in our social/environmental activism?

The question appears to be based on the assumption that we’re all activists. And what if our activism at this moment is limited to petitions, or perhaps letters to the editor or blogs? What if it’s limited to picking up litter when we walk our dog, or using cloth napkins rather than paper, or gardening organically in our backyard?

What, exactly, does it mean to work for change?

Last year I went to Starhawk’s Earth Activist Training permaculture design certification intensive. On the curriculum, in addition to permaculture design, were magical activism and direct action, led by trainers accustomed to organizing and taking part in nonviolent resistance to social or environmental injustice.

I’ll confess, I was intimidated. Here I was, an armchair protestor – lots of petitions, some blogs, lots of sharing resources and choices at home and go-green talks offered to civic groups, but I wasn’t putting myself on the line at demonstrations and marches. In fact, I was quite honestly paralyzed at the thought. So what, exactly, was I doing there? I asked a couple of the trainers for their perspective.

Their answer is one that I’d like to share, as I prepare the house for – who knows how many? Any? – people attending tomorrow’s conversation circle.

Mahatma Gandhi’s quote springs to mind here: “Whatever you do may seem insignificant, but it is most important that you do it.” This was the gist of the answer I received from the trainers at EAT.

To offer a summary distilled by nearly 12 months intervening:

Perhaps your activism is voicing an alternate viewpoint to that of your company – speaking for change within the ranks. Risky? Certainly! But with strategy and care, you can create a gradual shift that may change the direction of the entire business. Start, for example, by recycling your own paper at work, then find a way to recycle your team’s, then your department’s. You may find unexpected allies and hidden resources along the way, until finally your company has a corporate recycling policy.

That’s just one example of the ways in which you can act on your values in the mainstream world: by first modeling, then fostering and supporting the change in your world. The EAT trainers shared others (including blog posts, letters to the editor, and petitions!): if you know an activist who does engage in demonstrations, you may choose to support by offering to care for his or her pets, write press releases, fundraise for transportation or legal aid if need be, and any number of other thoughtful, supportive, human  actions. All of these “count” as working for change, putting values into action.

“Each person participates to the extent he or she can,” one of the trainers told me. “Some choose always to remain in the background – and they’re just as necessary as the ones who make the news.”

It is so easy to feel paralyzed by the monolithic “Bigs” and their stranglehold on the culture, so easy to feel that our small personal actions make no difference, that they get swallowed up in the land-sea-air assault on the planet and the people (in indigenous terms, I understand,”the People” refers to all beings, human and otherwise). What good can a letter, or a petition, or a blog post, or pet care for a weekend, or a press release, or the voice of a freethinker in a team meeting, do?

(A thought arises: simply being human —  responding mindfully, thoughtfully, from the heart and soul, rather than reacting reflexively or with half your attention focused on something else —  is a vote for change in itself, in a world that attempts to drug us into a mindless stupor with a smorgasbord of addictions: work, entertainment, substances of various kinds. In some ways, I think, this may be the most significant vote for change, with the greatest possibility of evolving into something greater…)

It is precisely such small things – the flap of a butterfly’s wing in new physics terms, a stray spark in wildfire terms – that can grow to cause a deep  shift, both in oneself and in the culture.

“The people who are taking the risks, making the news, didn’t get there all at once,” one trainer told me. “It’s a long process of stretching your limits, gradually  finding the courage to do more.”

One other aspect of this conversation circle’s topic, I realize, may be raising concerns: experiencing the Divine in the call for change.  What does this mean?

Awhile back, I visited a universalist Franciscan nun in her hermitage (described in another blog post). In the guest bedroom where I’d be staying, directly across from the bed, was an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Having grown up Catholic, this image raised all kind of issues! I asked the Sister and she said, “Turn it to the wall if you want, it’s OK.”

I couldn’t quite do that, so before going to bed that night, I told Spirit that I didn’t like the feelings that the image brought up in me…and I asked for a dream that would help me to see Jesus simply as a messenger of the Divine, without the baggage.

I didn’t have a dream, exactly…but as I lay between sleep and waking, I saw a replay of things I’d done in my life, efforts to serve, and received the internal message: “You don’t have to believe in a Messenger to be his hands and feet in the world.”

That’s the message with which I’d like to close: that if we are indeed inseparably one with the Divine and with all creation, we are all capable of manifesting this cosmic oneness in our values and actions, becoming the hands and feet and voices of the Divine to tend and protect the Planet and the People.

So….how does that show up in your life?

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2 responses to “The Activist “Uh-Oh”

  1. Yes, Phila, I have to admit, after just reading and realizing what the topic is for this last Spiritual Conversations. I’ve had to question whether or not I really want to be there..and especially with this being the last one…In the last several years, maybe five or so, I’ve seen myself really pull back from “activist” involvement on so many levels…and I wasn’t even near the level of involvement you were when YOUquestioned your own level of activist involvement…..And yet, to be there would be good for me.. to grow and be part of thoughtful discussion…If only I can do that and not be inwardly berating myself for my many-times lack of involvement in areas that move me deeply, but that I hesitate to get further involved in. I see myself in a certain passive/aggressive stance that comes through on so many levels; and then the not-so-nice self talk begins….judging myself that in no way enhances my Spiritual be-ing……Enough!…Words don’t flow quickly for me in writing and somehow it turned into an absurdly late a.m. hour!! I THINK I’ll be there.

  2. Phila, this is a beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring peace. Such gentle, honest energy. Thank you for putting it out there. I’m chagrined that I missed this date — although we had house guests this weekend, so I couldn’t have come anyway. I’m reading Fox’s book, “The Hidden Spirituality of Men,” which is fantastic (for men AND women). I’m just at the part on spiritual warriorship, and he outlined the four ways of creation spirituality. Which I’ve run across before, but lovely to be reminded. I would LOVE to get together and chat w/ you more about this “transformativa.” It certainly brings up all sorts of resistance and fear, along with the wonderfully empowering “just do it” energy that drives us to greatness. (Or even simple goodness.) I’ll contact you thru FB to set up.

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