“Spiritual Activism”

Deep Wisdom for Troubled Times

“When I understood
I fell to the floor
And then the floor cracked open
… and took me under
And into a place
Nearly too dark to tell
Except there was some light
A friend said ‘Breathe!
And that was the only Truth I could see
It was good enough
Until I found Calm
And Calm found me
Then laughter, children, trees and rain
For even as dark storm clouds gather,
— Ami Chen Mills-Naim

For those of us who are feeling very troubled by the recent turn of political events … by “bad news” that seems to come from every direction, emotions may range from fear and despair to anger and agitation, a background sense of depression, hopelessness, helplessness; and even a great sense of purpose, meaning and exhilaration …

Beneath and between all of these feelings lies our constant resource, still, just as before, our core silence, our core peace, our core connection to life.

For those who are, or are becoming “politically active” there is quite a lot to do! … And if we look at what may be happening in the news, the amount of apparent negativity, chaos and opinion can seem overwhelming … So, how do we maintain our grounding and joy in life in the face of what seem like both unspeakable odds, but also an exciting and heart-centered rise of movement and activism not seen in the United States (and even globally) in decades?

Since the 2016 election, I have spoken on two local radio shows and led two groups on the subject of “spiritual activism” … This has been a popular theme in my community, with standing room only in one case. I myself did not know what this term would mean, exactly, in any of these contexts. In the rush of the post-election period, I was stumbling along like everyone else, trying to find wisdom as it shape-shifted for me each day.

I just knew that “Spiritual Activism” resonated for me, and I had been #hashtagging it, and noticing that many in the Standing Rock movement were doing the same. I met with people and radio show hosts with a sense of “I don’t know, but here are some ideas; here is what I think, and what do you think?” Collectively, this is what was shared, and what I can offer from my own background of spiritual/psychological work over the last two-and-a-half decades.

One: It’s OK to have emotions and it’s OK to feel all your emotions. Spiritual and even some liberal people often feel like they shouldn’t feel outraged, angry, upset or frightened by what is happening in their worlds. (And some don’t even want to look! But I believe you are stronger than this.)

Yet, if you feel sad, outraged, angry, upset or frightened, so be it. This is the relative “truth” of your moment, of your current reality. To try to surpress that, or make it be otherwise, is to add more “layers” (of thought, of judgment) to the distress you are already feeling.

When we release the “dam” of our emotions (thoughts such as: “I should not feel so bad,” “I should not be angry,” “I should not be heartbroken …”), the waters of emotion are allowed to flow unimpeded. They rise, threaten to ungulf us, but then, as we are simply with them, they flow out of us too.

We do not need to “worship” our emotions (thanks, Gangaji), nor be attached to them — and it is also a mistake to think that wisdom does not sometimes express as strong emotion. Any “problem” lies in a “pattern” or habit of thought and emotion that we cling to incessantly. If we are constantly in fearful thoughts, helpless thoughts, or angry thoughts, then, we are not clearing room for insight, new wisdom and peace to surface in our minds.

A few times after this election, I have given myself the time and space to simply cry. Once, I went to the beach in my hometown, full of sadness and heaviness, and spent some quiet time just gazing, gazing out to the sea … Then I went to the Catholic retreat center that was just next to my seaside bench, where I have conducted retreats in the past.

I asked if I could sit in the prayer and meditation room, but the room was being used, so the nun on duty gave me a key to their tiny chapel. I hobbled over to the chapel (I was on crutches) and found my way to a pew, where the sun was just casting a golden beam of light on the wood. It was a funky, sweet, little chapel, a little musty from the sea, made of wood, with the requisite Jesus and Mary, and various saint statues; and I picked up the weekly readings from the back of the pew and read some scipture. And then, I just sobbed for about 10 minutes. I prayed and, although I do not subscribe to one religion, I will take God in any form He/She/It comes.

Stumping around on my crutches, I prayed to every statue in the place, I prayed to the windows, blocks of warm sunlight, I prayed to a painting of a woman — I had no idea who, but she looked very nice, nonetheless.

Praying is a form of “letting go” of thought, isn’t it? I am feeling this way, yes, but I do not have the answer, so I am going to feel this way and give the question, give all my thoughts, to God, to Wisdom, to Life. So, that’s what I did, there in that chapel — I felt it all; I gave it all up; I asked for help; I let it go — and I felt much, much better after that.

Two: It’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to argue, even. It is OK to be “political.” Wisdom arises in all forms — bar none. There are no rules to it. Truth itself is formless and it arises for us as form, shifting, shifting moment to moment. One of my biggest insights since this election has been about my own “civic duty” … As a more “spiritually” focused person over the last two decades, jumping into the fray to speak my mind with friends and family and on social media has been a new challenge. As a woman, too, I felt I did not want to “upset” anyone. We can all take a lesson from Donald Trump here. He says whatever is on his mind! A girlfriend of mine, also a spiritual psychologist, found herself finally “talking back” to her family after the election, who had for years called her “stupid” (and worse) for being a liberal Democrat. “It was a little messy,” she said to me, “but it feels like something new is being born in me. It feels like freedom.

Some have backed away from this challenge — and if that is wisdom for them, that is indeed wonderful — but if the “backing away” has to do with fear, fear of conflict, or fear of how one might be seen by others, fear of taking a stand, I am encouraging folks, and especially women, to begin to question this fearful thinking.

What has occurred to me is that I am a citizen of the United States. I pay plenty of taxes, and I have a right, if not a duty, to be fully political. In fact, if I am not political, then how do I deserve the blessings of a democracy in which I am not participating! I certainly cannot expect the government to reflect my own wishes and desires. If we do not participate in democracy (and not just voting) then we lose democracy itself — and we must all take responsibility for that.

Finally, although political and religious conversations can be hard, we now see the result of supressing them for too long (or not conducting them well). I believe the only way to move forward together as a country, less divided, is to have the kinds of conversations we have been afraid of, and uncomfortable about having. Emotions may arise, but if we can keep listening, keep loving, and keep it in the end, civil, we may — indeed we probably will — learn from each other.

When conservatives are calling all liberals “baby killers,” and “libtards” and “Marxists,” we have a problem. When liberals are calling all conservatives “racist” and “sexist” and “fascist,” we have a problem. When the lives of police are pitted against the lives of Black people, we have a problem. There are truths here far too complex to be contained in ideologies and memes and phrases. Healing and coming together is going to take sustained dialogue against a backdrop of pure intention and love.

Three: Remember the big picture. My husband has not been terribly upset by this election. He’s from Israel, and once spent nearly a week in a bomb shelter when he was toddler. He told me: “in Israel, we were feeling threatened all the time. This is nothing new.” Since the election, as part of my now global coaching work, I have spoken to people living in dictatorships, who cannot speak freely about politics at all; and then there are those in Syria, running from bombs, losing their homes, their families, their sanity, their lives, losing everything at once.

We are still very lucky to live in relative “peace,” (most of us) and although some of us thought we might not suffer from this kind of political strife in our lifetimes, here we are. So be it. As we adjust to the new reality, we will find our bearings again.

It is also always helpful to continue to question our thinking. If what we are afraid of has not happened yet, can we allow ourselves a needed break by not thinking of worse-case scenarios constantly? For me, this is a time of eyes-wide-open, and also a time of great upheaval and change, some of which may be very positive, in the end.

In some local groups, people with the Holocaust in their family histories have been terrified, now. I imagine the same fears for Muslims, especially, Blacks, Mexicans, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the Natives at Standing Rock, people of color … the list goes on. Can we feel our fear, accept our fear “energy” totally, and then come into this moment with our fear, letting go of thoughts of both future and past horrors? I believe it is essential, because, when we let go of fear, we return to wisdom and right action — and this is the major call at this time. The biggest call ever. We need Wisdom now. And guess what? It’s here, en masse. Can you feel it?

Four: Get Connected, Get Involved, Be Active. Be led by your heart. At the first Spiritual Activism Group I led, just the feeling of being together, sharing our thoughts and feelings and looking at it all through the lens of Thought (as a principle), and deeper wisdom was healing and uplifting. The women’s marches and protests have been a chance for us to come together, to stand up and by counted, by ourselves, if no one else.

And guess what? We are here! We needed this. And I have found that when I look into “the chaos” for too long, the crazy news, the lies, the hatefulness, I become depleted. When I look into the activism and love and camaraderie and beauty of people coming together to care, about all of us, I am uplifted and inspired. I wrote a blog I am attempting to keep updated with a list of national organizations, and action groups that have organized local affiliates … But the amount of activism now needed is nearly overwhelming. Take a step back and assess where your heart and wisdom lead. Choose two or three issues (or less!) that are particularly meaningful to you, and see if you can get together with others to work on these issues. Don’t push. Allow. If anything feels overly stressful or too urgent (when it’s really not), back off. There are millions out there, now active. You don’t have to do it all, and we all need you to be at your very best. So, that leads to …

Five: Keep Your Eye on the Big, Big Picture. Life is Here! … Today, I am at peace, after nearly three months of being on some kind of high or low level “alert.” From a space of peace, I can write this blog, I can make a phone call to a senator, or congressperson, I can plan for bigger actions. This morning, I went to the beach with my dog and a friend. Seeking the beauty in everyday life and accepting the bliss and bounty of Mother Earth reminds us of the Biggest Picture of All.

This beautiful planet will remain after we all are gone (us, Putin, Trump, Bannon, Tillerson, everyone!) It is, after all, a tiny speck, and less, in an unfathomable reality of Multiverses. Our lives, too, are mere specks. They will end in one way or another. What happens here will come and go, as does all form, as do all bodies, as do all actions and reactions, all political movements, conflicts and wars.

In the “longest run” of all, we are not our political ideas, our races, our religions, our personal identities, even our genders, we are This. And in the safety and freedom of that recognition, we can move and act in love, unconstrained— not even knowing how our actions will unfold and blossom in the end, but trusting that the Deep Intelligence of Life, Heart, Spirit, Soul, knows the way … All we need do is listen.

God bless you! As is always the case …

Ami Chen Mills-Naim is an author and global teacher and coach. She is a former investigative journalist. You can find her work at www.AmiChen.com

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