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?

Finding the Secret Magic “They’re” Not Hiding From Us

It’s one of the most powerful marketing secrets out there: that most of us have a hidden, painful sense of inadequacy… a lurking subconscious suspicion that some super-informed and miserly “They” are keeping all the ability, the skills, the knowledge about useful (or lifesaving!) topics from the rest of Us.

Just take a look at the pages that came up in a quick Google search (these are selected from the 95,900,000 results listed!)…

  • 20 Things They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Natural Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • Debt Cures They Don’t Want You to Know
  • The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About
  • The Secrets Creative People Don’t Want the Rest of Us to Know

Doesn’t it sound like there’s massive conspiracy to keep the information we need out of our hands?

As a copywriter I can tell you, however: while there are certainly big secrets being kept (the scope of the Gulf oil disaster, the health impact of GMO’s – pick your issue…), it’s a pretty fair certainty that the “secrets” listed above aren’t among them.

These are pseudo-secrets – solid, practical, available knowledge, enticingly labeled and posted behind multiple sales spiels that tap into our inner victim, compelling us to click through and read the article and/or buy the info-product ….proving the effectiveness of that headline template over and over again.

Yup, it’s a template, recommended by just about every copywriting course I know. Tapping into our underlying feelings of victimhood is that effective.

Let’s take that headline on creative people as just one example (and as a disclaimer, I know the woman who wrote it. Promoting Us-vs-Them victimization or disempowerment is completely against her values, vision and mission; the event she was promoting intentionally disproved the premise – but not the power – of her headline).

To look at the number of web pages focused on boosting creativity (a quick Google search turned up 2,090,000 or so), a lot of people are feeling uncreative these days. And when you look at the rising cultural pastimes – surfing the Internet and watching television – the reason quickly becomes apparent: we’re becoming passive receivers.

It’s a self-perpetuating cycle: it’s easier to relax and enjoy the fruits of other people’s creativity than it is to create our own, and as we exercise our creative muscles less and less, the harder it becomes to use them at all…so we become increasingly dependent on outside sources. And the cycle deepens….

Worse: if you’ve grown up with the idea that you’re not creative – that you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, or draw a stick figure – you don’t have a lot of incentive to try.

But there’s a cost to sitting back and receiving, buying into this sense of powerlessness.As visionary theologian/author/educator Matthew Fox writes in his revolutionary book Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, creativity is an inescapable element of our humanity, which we ignore at our peril:

We are a species and indeed a civilization very prone to dictatorships; that is, to addiction. It is as if we want to turn our power over to others….I propose that most addictions come from our surrendering our own real powers, that is, our power of creativity. We get a temporary “high” from a shot of some external stimulus, be it nicotine or sugar, speed or acid, sex or more money, entertainment or television – and that is our sad substitute for the joy and ecstasy of creativity and creation.

This was a powerful “aha” for me. Even as a writer, producing copy for clients upon demand, I knew I wasn’t going as deep as I could if I dared. I was being creative, sure, but there was something missing. And I was looking at the experts – coaches, copywriting gurus, etc. – and thinking, “Perhaps if I took just one more course…….”

I didn’t find the answer until I went for a two-week training out of state, and returned to find my home reeking and filthy and my garden dying from the neglect of the person I’d (unwisely) employed as house/cat-sitter. I was battling my way through costly repairs, replacements, and cleaning to reclaim my home, feeling my energy steadily sliding into depression and victimhood…

…And then I read this, also from Creativity:

When our ancestors discovered fire back in the savannahs of Africa over a million years ago, they set out on a great journey. When they arrived at the place we not call EuroAsia, the ice age broke out. There they were, fresh from the heat of Africa, forced to live in caves for seven hundred thousand years. Did they give up? Did they fall into masochism and say “Woe is we!”? No. They got to work. They put their imaginations to work. They learned how to prepare hides, sew warm outfits, hunt animals for food and clothing, and how to tell tales around the campfire and entertain themselves. In short, this is where our creativity came to birth.

And I realized: my creativity isn’t limited to the work I do for my clients. My creativity can dictate the mundane choices I make as I live my life. I can sit feeling victimized and depleted, or I can use the skills and tools I have at hand to envision new answers, craft new solutions.

I gathered the materials I’ve collected for space-clearing and got to work…and the energy of my home – and my mind – changed. As I moved through the house, smudging and singing “We are the rising sun – we are the change – we are the ones we are waiting for – and we are dawning – we are the rising sun,” I began to embody the song as a truth in my life.

And out of that truth arose a question: What if – just as a wild possibility – I’m feeling uncreative because I am simply not recognizing the creativity I use every day?

What if creativity is not just about writing copy…producing works of Art…or even saving sanity in a high-stress situation? What if creativity can show up in something as mundane as crafting a healthy dinner from mismatched odds and ends in the fridge…rewiring your home’s electricity…or negotiating a truce between two arguing children?

In a culture that identifies creativity with the computer-generated, special-effected, airbrushed, Photoshopped megaprojects featuring an elite class of Beautiful People, such everyday practical creativity comes off looking as glamorous as a tone-deaf shower singer.

But – if what I was reading and realizing was true – creative skills don’t need to be flamboyant and artsy; they’re also mundane, everyday, practical, as much a part of us as our thumbs. Perhaps they’re not producing a blockbuster movie, a million-dollar art sale or a lifetime income in book royalties – but we could not survive without them.

“But leftovers and fuse boxes and peace among the kids – that’s not a creative legacy,” you might think.

Or is it? Food on the table, lights in the dark, and lessons in living together…these make up the most basic legacy of all, one of nurturing, protecting, civilizing.

My mother wrote many emphatic op-ed columns on conservative politics and religion – but the earth-loving values she lived were the legacy she gifted to me. And while my husband left a massive artistic and spiritual legacy, his carefully-drawn schematic of the wiring he installed in our house is the practical legacy that has kept our lights lit, our basement unflooded, and our frozen foods unthawed. We pass on all sorts of legacies in ways we’d never expect…or necessarily intend.

Of course creativity takes many forms, from a leftover casserole to an  electrical schematic to Michelangelo’s David or James Cameron’s Avatar….but that experience of reclaiming my home taught me that honoring the creativity in our mundane, everyday choices is the foundation. Consciously developing intentional, creative solutions for the challenges of our daily lives, rather than going with the easiest default — clearing the energy of the house instead of wallowing in victimhood – making up a new recipe rather than hitting the speed-dial for pizza – talking with the kids about (creative!) problem-solving techniques rather than plunking them in front of the TV.

To adapt another quote from Matthew Fox: Creativity is not just about (artwork). It is about ALL your creative energy put to good use. We practice our creativity in the ways we choose to show up, in all the facets of our lives…in the beauty we enact, as well as the beauty we create.

So far from conspiratorial cabals of Grinchlike gurus hiding secret knowledge from us, the real question becomes: what are the secret gifts that we’re hiding from ourselves?