“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
“If you think you are too small to make a difference,
try sleeping with a mosquito.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama
It’s a good question especially given that we usually attribute to meditation a clearing of the mind. The simple answer though is that the world is already in your mind. Your heart is full of the love and pain you feel for what is happening out there, your thoughts cycle through the various news stories you’ve heard or seen in the media. Even if you’ve shielded yourself from watching “the news,” it creeps in. Whether it’s boys trapped in a cave or the latest outrage from the boy-men in power. You are part of this world and there is really no escaping that; you’re in the world and the world’s in you.
About six months ago I started offering free monthly guided meditations with the theme, “Meditation With the World in Mind.” We have been able to meet in the beautiful environment of The Open Spirit in Nyack. My sense was (and is) that we need to come together to align our consciousness with the deepest life force of love and compassion. We need to counter in ourselves and the world the destructive influences that often dominate the trajectory of human activity.
It is possible to see these meditations as healing moments for yourself, to release the negative reactions to “the news” that may cause you to feel hopeless, depressed or stuck in anger and cynicism. On the other hand, you may see these meditations as a form of activism. After all, your mind-state is a part of the collective mind of humanity. Actively changing your mood, your attitude, your emotional-mental condition has an effect on the field of human energy that we all live in.
Further, practices have been developed in all the world’s wisdom and spiritual traditions that offer ways of aligning our personal healing and awakening to that of others. Native Americans use the phrase, “Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ,” meaning “all are related,” or “all my relations.” It is invoked in ceremonies and prayer rituals and calls attention to the experience that what is intended is not for the individual or small group alone, but for all life. Similarly, meditation practices can be learned to bring awareness to this reality of inter-connectedness and that the benefit of the meditation is for all beings.
Meditations are generally scheduled for the 3rd Monday of the month, 7 – 8:30 PM. But please confirm.
Activists embody the archetype of the Warrior. Not the warrior as soldier in an army (though that is one way the Warrior archetype expresses itself), but as one who engages the world with an intention to change or transform it. In his book, The Six Pathways of Destiny,Ralph Metzner relates the Warrior to the Guardian, the Reformer, and the Activist. He goes on to describe this life-path as “those who function to protect and defend the integrity and well-being of any natural system – an individual organism, a group, a community, a society, an ecosystem – against threats from without (by infection, invasion, or oppression) as well as threats from within (by corruption, toxicity or stagnation).”
From a holistic perspective, when you are strongly drawn towards a way of being in the world – whether as an artist, scientist, healer, organizer or activist – it is understood that this tendency comes from your Soul. You are motivated from within to focus the direction of your attention and actions. Being an activist in the world taps you into the Warrior stream of spiritual power that gives you the strength and courage to carry on in the face of resistance and opposition. This stream of energy guides and nourishes you and moves you to act for a higher purpose.
We learn through meditation and other spiritual practices that the wellspring of our being, the Source of life within, gives you direction yet is not attached to the outcome of your actions. As the highly respected spiritual teacher, Ramana Maharshi said, “Work performed with attachment is a shackle.” In other words, attachment to the outcome of our efforts creates suffering for ourselves and often for others. The implication of this teaching is that you can be an agent of change in the world and still not be emotionally dependent on how things turn out. As you attune to and express your deepest inner nature you are freed to enjoy the process, and I would add from my experience, you are more effective.
This can be a very challenging notion for activists who in their passion to change the world become fixated on the success of their program. (I include myself among those who find it difficult). However, this basic idea accords with the widespread meme attributed to Gandhi, “Be the peace you wish to see in the world.” Cultivating awareness of the Self fosters the ability to witness with detachment yet act with compassion and love. This becomes a priority for the holistic activist whether you are protecting or healing an individual or working to transform the world.
Another facet of holistic activism is learning to focus your actions in harmony with your personal life. Our email inbox tends to be filled with messages urging us to donate money, make calls, sign petitions, and come to meetings, vigils and demonstrations. Learning to find our own way, one that is in balance with the health of our unique mind/body is very challenging. Of the infinite issues that call out, what truly calls you?
In an article that I wrote for the online Four Winds Journal, “Doing and Being While Facing the World Today,”I offer suggestions for getting in touch with your own direction as an activist (whether or not it is your primary life-path). First off, it’s helpful to avoid pre-conceived ideas of what being an activist should look like for you.
It may be that at some point in life you need to focus on your emotional or physical health. When you take time for this you may confront self-defeating internalized messages telling you that spending time on your own well-being is selfish. It’s helpful to know that you deserve your attention. For one thing, you are part of the body politic – the very part upon which you have the most influence.
On the other hand, you may feel called to participate in direct action related to climate change, racism, war or some other cause. If so, you’ll need to gather up your courage to act on your sense of what is right. There can be a great deal of resistance to taking action. It’s helpful to draw upon the energetic support of allies in the related movements as well as the Spirits of all those who have struggled for a just and peaceful world throughout the centuries.
To sum up, holistic activism places a primary focus on the consciousness with which you act – learning to BE that which you seek to bring into the world. Additionally, it emphasizes finding your unique way of confronting the problems and suffering in the world, a way that is in harmony with your mind, body and spirit. Finally, the holistic activist acts with intentionality and courage without attachment to outcome. Not easy. It helps to keep a sense of humor. The key is that you have choice.
 The Six Pathways of Destiny, by Ralph Metzner, Regent Press, Berkeley, 2012
 The Spiritual Teachings of Ramana Maharshi, Shambhala Publications, Boulder, 1972
(This is the second part of a short series offering my thoughts on holistic activism. I welcome responses and your own contributions to this subject.)
Processing the News with Body, Mind and Spirit
Every now and then it hits me like this: “the news is making me sick.” Using the term “sick” in this way, people generally mean disgusted. But I want here to emphasize the literal nature of “makes me sick” with reference to how following the events of the world can cause mental, emotional and physical illness. Additionally, I’d like to offer some suggestions from a holistic perspective for maintaining health and well-being in the face of the horrors streaming at us through the media.
A basic understanding of the holistic orientation is that the body, mind and spirit are a unity, not separate from each other; they are ongoingly inter-dependently relating. Whatever is happening in our mind effects our body; whatever happens in our body effects our mind. Further, both mind and body are nourished and regenerated by the spiritual sources of life within us. Body-Mind-Spirit, All One. We can be unaware of or ignore this inter-connectedness, but our life experience will move us in the direction of waking up to it.
Take a moment when you are hearing any thought, perhaps what you are reading right now. If you resonate with the thought(s), you will feel a positive emotion and perhaps a tingling or exciting energy in your body. On the other hand, if the thoughts challenge your previously held views or opinions, you may feel angry or defensive or afraid, and your body will contract, get tense, even if just a little. We all tend to do this.
When we read the newspaper or listen to the news on the radio, tv or social media, the same thing happens. Usually the ideas and events are presented so rapidly that we don’t even notice our internal reactions. If we do recognize that we are getting angry or afraid, we probably don’t notice the physical correlates to those feelings; the tension, stress or pain in the body. Unaddressed, as the weight of these experiences continues to accumulate, we may find ourselves depressed, in chronic anger or anxiety, dis-ease. Many folks today are suffering in this way from hearing the news.
This is not to say that anger or fear are in themselves unhealthy or unwarranted. They are natural reactions to threats to our personal safety or the safety and well-being of those we care about. When what we love is threatened, whether it is our family, other humans or other species, a mountain, river, forest or ocean, we are going to find ourselves reacting. This is natural and universal. What’s important is how we relate to our reaction and what we do with it.
From all the research on mindfulness meditation, we’ve learned that being fully aware and non-judgmental towards our feelings, begins to lighten their intensity and loosen the tightness with which we hold them in our body. It involves not pushing those feelings away, but also not feeding them. What’s important is that we are fully aware that there are these feelings and they are in us, not out there.
Returning to the experience of listening to the news: we therefore recognize that what is happening out there is triggering a reaction inside here, and we respect our feelings for what they are, whatever they are. In a sense, we become the observer and don’t personalize the reaction; our feelings are a part of what is happening in the whole of the experience. Just as there is rage and fear, conflict and competition out there in the world, something like that is happening inside us as well. We are moved to humbly accept our part in the pain and suffering in the world.
From a holistic perspective, the spiritual aspect of our nature is the source of love and empathy, whether for ourselves, our family, humanity, other species or Mother Earth. It is this love, however lost from our conscious awareness in the moment, that is truly at the root of our reaction to injustice, war or the damage to the natural world. It’s why we care. Our frustrated, impatient, justifiably righteous, egoic self may distort the flow, but at the source is generosity and love. Just remembering this can shift the way we feel because we are reminding ourselves amd getting back in touch with the healing force of that love. The focus of our attention is then on healing, healing ourselves and whoever or whatever we were disturbed by. We shift towards the motivation to respond to the situation creatively and skillfully.
Just as the holistic healer takes time to work on themselves, the holistic activist needs to take time to work on their own consciousness. As Ghandi said, “be the peace you want to see in the world.”
A few suggestions for relating to the news:
Process: Recognize that your body and mind are deeply impacted by events in the world and you need to take time to digest, metabolize and assimilate what you are letting in as information.
Step away: Humbly admit that the world will not be any the worse if you don’t listen or watch the news for a day, or a week. Take a news fast now and then. We need time to process the undigested material, refresh and renew our consciousness.
Act: In addition to what you are learning about yourself, your reaction may be your soul calling you to actively respond. Learn to communicate and act in ways that are in harmony with your nature, both the loving essence of your soul, and the gifts and talents of your personality. This will be the topic of the next piece in this series.
It has become increasingly clear to most people that individual health is not separate from the health of the community, nation and world. Just as we take responsibility for our personal health and the welfare of our family, we feel a calling to be responsible citizens. We are part of the body politic and we feel emotional reactions to what is going on in the world.
Transforming our emotional reactions into mature, responsible action is something that more and more people are finding themselves called to learn and practice. I have joined with others in creating the Network of Holistic Activists in order to bring the insights and practices of holistic healing towards our social and political problems. You can see our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/366558880455897/
The following post will be the first in a short series sharing my thoughts on Holistic Activism and inviting you to consider how it may relate to your own life journey.
# 1. What is “Holistic?”
I first encountered the word “holistic” in the 1970’s. It was the term being used to describe many of the alternative healing modalities, ancient and modern, which were springing up and spreading into what are now mainstream phenomena: acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, therapeutic bodywork, etc.. Holistic was used in conjunction with the phrase “body, mind, spirit,” and it was understood that integrating all three components was essential for true healing.
At the core of the holistic orientation is the understanding that there is a wholeness (holos means whole) that has self-healing, self-regenerating qualities. These attributes of the whole are not available to us when we focus only on a part, usually the diseased part, which has been the focus of Western allopathic medicine. New understandings of systems theory and ecology helped us recognize how this was operative on both small and large scale organisms, e.g.: the whole mind/body/spirit of a person has the healing potential that repairs any of the parts when brought into balance. Similarly, the Gaia theory suggests that the whole of planet earth, as a complete living system, is always working to bring itself into balance, restoring life, demonstrating a kind of “intelligence” of its own.
When practiced, a holistic healing approach involves cultivating awareness of the whole and it’s healing attributes while also focusing on the particular manifestation(s) of disease or dysfunction. This kind of awareness has a deeply spiritual dimension, calling forth the energies of what is sometimes called the soul, spirit, essential Self, or whatever one calls the aspect of being that is transcendent to the personal sense of self.
Further, the holistic mindstate involves an attitude that approaches problem areas without judgmentalism, aversion or expectation. Holistic healers, therefore, work on themselves to be in an appropriate mindstate or state of consciuosness. They work to clear their perception and also to make their own mind/body a more open vehicle for healing to take place. Practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi, are utilized both for the healers own well being and also to help them in their work.
While there are many different tools, techniques and processes that a practitioner may use, holistic healing can be said to involve at least these five elements: 1) attention to the inter-relatedness of the body with the mind and Spirit, 2) an orientation to the self-healing whole, 3) openness to the spiritual dimensions and sources of healing, 4) a nonjudgemental attitude, and 5) non-attachment to the outcome of the process. As previously stated, it is part of the healer’s task to develop not only the skills for their practice, but also to cultivate the awareness, attitude or state of consciousness required.
In the next segment, I’ll discuss how this relates to activism in the social and political sphere.