Navigating the Intersection Between Spirituality and Activism

Since I was a young girl, and I mean really young, I had an eye that could spot injustice from a mile away.  My parents were sometimes at a loss as I made passionate complaints about systemic sexism, or tearfully pleaded with my relatives to understand the impact of colonization on indigenous people in Canada, over Christmas dinner. I was probably 5 when I fully understood my own purpose and response-ability to be a part of the movement of people who would work in favour of humanity... in favour of this planet we call home.

My passion got stronger as I moved into my teenage years and I did what any socially conscious teenage girl did in the 1990's... I refused to wear a bra or shave my legs, and rejected the reigning social class system, willingly finding my people among the artists, musicians, and pot smokers. I was enraged, I was despairing, and yet I still believed deeply in our ability as a species to change.... if we wanted to. It was years earlier I remember watching one of those expose shows with my mom, when I suddenly realized with a crystalline clarity while witnessing corruption in action, how all institutions, all social structure, all of everything begins as a thought in the mind. And that thought in the mind is then built into something in three dimensions. And other people agree to that thought and make that creation even stronger.... even if its origin was a destructive thought.

In university I found myself in every available women's studies class... studied history and the history of women and the law in Canada, both indigenous and non-indigenous, and eventually found myself with a particular fire in my heart around the issue of violence against women.

I was an activist, organizing protests against discriminatory events on campus, calling out university leadership for their inaction, and speaking out through any media outlet that would hand me a microphone. After university I went on to coordinate two huge feminist undertakings in partnership with multiple local women's organizations. The first was an assessment of the system that supports abused women and children in Thunder Bay. I titled this report, which found its way onto the desks of over 40 local service providers and the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Gaps and Traps, and included numerous recommendations for action for local service providers and beyond. The second was to develop and launch Thunder Bay's first Women's Court Watch Program which, thanks to over 20 volunteers, followed and systematically documented every single domestic violence case in Thunder Bay for a year. Every detail, every legal decision, police response, ethnicity, age, everything.

These were some of the most intense, and emotionally demanding years of my life. Although I knew the importance of the work I was doing, I was weeping inside at the stories, the women, the injustice, and most deeply, how little I felt I was actually directly helping anyone. The culmination of which was my very first anxiety attack before the press conference to release the final court watch report to distressed stakeholders and eager media outlets. It was in that space between my broken heart and an impending media and community firestorm that I made a promise to myself. If I could just get through this day, I would leave this work to find the peace I was seeking externally, internally.

I became a mystic.

Or rather I remembered that I had been a mystic all along. I remembered that my heart and mind allowed me to see beyond the despair, beyond the destruction, beyond the hatred and fear. I remembered joy, and actually found peace. And so I retreated into many years of meditation and spiritual study. I was gifted with teachings and healings from the four corners of this earth and found in every one of them a truth that was like a balm to my broken heart. I vowed that I was healing my own heart as means of offering healing to the whole.

As my Spirit got stronger I began to teach others how to connect with their own Spirit ... through art, through community, through ceremony and practice. I believed, and still do, that the realization of the individual is the key to the realization of the whole. We are the systems and the institutions. Every structure is occupied and made possible by the people occupying them. Even the destructive structures. People with a unique spirit just like you and me.

Remembering my 10 year old self who realized that if everything is simply the result of our thoughts, I silently celebrate 'INCREDIBLE, We can change our mind at any moment!' We can turn this ship around as soon as we realize our own insanity. As soon as we realize our deep connections to the land and one another.

My work in the world, centered around creating opportunities for people to come into relationship with their spirit, is a kind of activism. It is personal and spiritual activism as people choose emancipation from destructive structures.... economic, cultural, mental, emotional, spiritual. And in another sense this work is global activism as individuals with reawakened hearts head back to their offices on Monday morning and make decisions that affect us all. It was my ultimate prayer, like most yoga instructors, healers, and spiritual leaders, that the people I had the opportunity to touch would maintain their course toward realizing inner and outer unity.

And for a very long time I thought this was enough.

It was in Dawson Church's, Healing The Heart of The World, that I first came across the term 'Mystical Activism'. Something about the way these words fit together affected me deeply. Perhaps most profoundly, these words stitched back together two parts of myself that I had separated into opposite corners of my being. I could breathe again.

What does it mean to be a Mystical Activist?

In most ways I am still in the process of understanding this. I realize now that during that time in which I stepped away from my activist self, I didn't trust that my mystical self could survive my inner drive towards earthly activism. That they were somehow inherently conflicting.  But in truth, the result of this inner conflict is that our awakened voices are simply missing from important social and global conversations. Our news feeds are full of affirmations and spiritual insight, but devoid of meaningful engagement with the suffering world around us. Even our livers are smiling in meditation, but our neighbours are living in wars zones, in poverty, in fear. When we remain above it, not a part of it, we deny half of who we are.... Spiritual beings with a human purpose.

As Spiritual beings with a human purpose, the energy we hold in our well developed hearts becomes raw creative material for future destinations for humanity, no matter what it is that we are doing. We have the opportunity to bring our inner states into outer expression through our words, our actions, our art, our music, our signature on a petition, our presence at a rally, our response to hatred and bigotry, our direct action to bring balance back to the land and the people, in any form. We can trust our spirit to guide and infuse our action, even while we feel emotionally moved and affected. Our desire for change in the material world is nothing to fear, or suppress, or master through meditation, but rather a call to action from the very same source that calls us to moments of deep peace.

Ram Dass, spiritual teacher and student of the Indian Saint Neem Karoli Baba, speaks to this beautifully...

"Compassion becomes the ability to embrace both planes simultaneously, so that you have an equanimity in you that comes from allowing it to be what it is, and at the same moment allow your human heart that is wanting to do something about it, reach out to do so."

As I have discovered, it can feel incredibly uncomfortable and unfamiliar to move from a single-minded focus on higher planes within, to a balance between the inner and outer worlds. A new language is required, and new compassionate actions necessary. Although we may not yet know how to do this with as much mastery and grace as we (sometimes) have in our morning meditations, let us try. Let us trust our own hearts to stay the course in the face of suffering and destruction. And let us support one another as we sometimes stumble in the process of learning this new language of fierce love.

For me personally, the ways in which I choose to actively participate in the healing of our planet will never be the same as they were when I was a younger and more furious woman.

No, this furious woman has the universe inside her.

 

* This post is dedicated to the courageous people taking direct action in North Dakota to save sacred lands, those demanding justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada, and the people across this land taking great personal risk exposing institutional, corporate and social injustice on all of our behalf.

 

Mystical Activism Challenge:

What injustice is your heart currently most affected by?

What would it sound like if you said how you truly feel about this injustice out loud?

What direct action could you take to add your fierce love to the world?

 

"Any action, like any act of magic, is in some sense an act of faith... I've seen the desert bloom, the flower that emerges from the barest hint of water, and I know the power of life will rise, stubborn and persistent to be renewed. May our actions be the wind that brings the rain."

-Starhawk

 

 

Subscribe to The Musings of Angela Gollat by Email