I travel a lot, and I meet the most well-intentioned, beautiful beings who are fighting against the injustices of the world. They stand for ending sexual violence against women, the destruction of Gaia, climate change, social inequality, and any number of other very good causes. I appreciate that these people are DOING something to heal the world. Their passion seems admirable and their commitment and self-sacrifice command respect.
Yet, I find something about the energy of some forms of activism weighing heavy on my heart.
We’ve all met the angry feminists that lash out at men, the rainforest activists who judge those who drill in the Amazon, and the Occupy activists who hate the 1%. But how can we possibly co-create a more beautiful world if we’re coming from the energy of judgment and hate?
When I was in Australia speaking at the Uplift Festival in December, 70 spiritual self-help leaders, elders from the indigenous tribes of five different nations, and change-the-world activists spent a week before the festival participating in an ongoing conversation about the intersection of spirituality and activism. How do we marry the principles of “Being” that we learn through our spiritual practices with the practices of “Doing” embodied by many activists on the front lines of global change? Are we better off sitting on our meditation pillows, raising the vibration of the planet and emitting frequencies of love into the world? Or do we need to get off our pillows and go DO something? Is there a way to be even more effective by merging the two?
Being Versus Doing
Those inclined toward “Being” claim that lasting change in the world stems from ending our inner wars, radiating love, and being the change we wish to see in the world. They hope to love people into doing the “right” thing and tend to shy away from those in the “Doing” camps because they judge them as angry, hostile, and ineffective. They believe the revolution of love starts with accepting the world as it is, seeing the perfection in it, and then practicing love as an entraining invitation to others who yearn to create a more beautiful world.
But Being without Doing risks keeping love in a theoretical realm, a safe realm where it isn’t tested and developed by encounters with the world. Moreover, we are not separate beings. To exist is to relate. Sooner or later, the person inclined toward Being moves toward Doing.
Those who advocate for more “Doing” don’t think it’s enough to just sit around on meditation pillows or pray for peace or BE love. Such activities seem to them a bit “airy-fairy”—a waste of time when there is so much urgent work to be done. They think it’s naà¯ve to assume that evil will just evaporate because enough of us start BEING love, and they assert that sometimes force is necessary in order to protect the innocent and the planet.
But Doing without Being risks reinforcing what isn’t working, repeating ineffective kinds of action that are determined by our own hang-ups, wounds, and blind spots. We are not separate beings—what we encounter outside ourselves mirrors something within. Sooner or later, the Doer moves naturally toward the inner work that marks the pursuit of Being.
5 Tips for Saving the Planet with Sacred Activism
1. End the story of separation.
Our culture tends to mistakenly define us as individual, separate beings, disconnected from one another, from Source, and from nature. Yet for millennia, spiritual lineages have taught about Oneness instead. What if we are not discrete individuals at the mercy of a random, chaotic world? What if everything we do to violate Life in any form harms us all?
2. Withhold judgment.
My parents and my religion taught me to judge “right” from “wrong.” But doesn’t that just further the story of separation? Isn’t it possible that what we think is horribly wrong might have been chosen by all of us as a collective consciousness so we could choose to act differently in the future? Isn’t it possible that what we judge as “wrong” is exactly what our souls chose as part of our curriculum in this life? Isn’t it more loving to choose love instead, to feel compassion for the perpetrators than to judge them and shame them?
3. Accept what is.
There might be wisdom in accepting what is, rather than resisting it. This sounds like madness, right? How can we accept genocide, the destruction of nature, and the greed of corporate bankers who steal from innocent people?
4. Surrender, and avoid force until it’s time.
It’s tempting to push, strive, and make it happen, especially when the world looks like it’s falling apart. It’s not that there’s not a time for effort. But think of a woman having a baby. You don’t tell her to push that baby out when she’s 6 centimeters dilated. She would tear her cervix and hemorrhage. Both the woman and her baby could die. You tell her to rest, to breathe, to pause, and to do what she must to endure the discomfort of doing nothing for a while. Even when she is fully dilated, you don’t always tell her to push right away. You let the uterus push the baby down on its own for a while, let the baby descend effortlessly.
You can apply this to sacred activism by invoking the spiritual act of surrender, offering up that which you sense wants to be born through you to the Universe. By recognizing that you can’t make it happen, you can instead allow it to happen through you. You can call upon Divine support with humble acknowledgment of your human limitations, and you can ask for inner or outer guidance. You can even ask for miracles.
Then, once you’ve made this offering, you can rest, like the woman in labor, knowing that it is all handled and that if force is needed, you will know what to do when the time for birth is ripe. Then you might be asked to push like hell to bring into being that which wants to be born through you. Or you might not even have to push. That baby might just slide out and surprise you.
5. Take inspired action.
Most of the time, there comes a time when it’s time to do something, but it’s not motivated by fear or impatience. It’s motivated by the impulse of love that springs through you and leaps you to your feet in acts of pure service. You can tell the difference because acts of love feel easeful. You feel grateful for the opportunity to serve. If the very idea of what you must do leaves you feeling exhausted or resentful, you’re probably motivated by fear, not love. When the time for action arises, you can trust that you will know what to do. And you will have the courage to act.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
There is MUCH more to say about this topic, so Charles Eisenstein and I recently facilitated a community conversationaround this topic. It’s such a timely conversation, ripe with opportunities for cross-pollination.