Tag Archives: spiritual activism

Webinar: Staying Sane While Making the World Better

“What is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

–Mary Oliver

This is an invitation to take part in a free online series focusing on keeping a healthy balance while working to improve the conditions of the world. These one-hour presentations will be aimed at supporting those already active in the movements for justice, peace and Earth-care, and anyone seeking to find their way to be more involved or supportive.

As a psychotherapist and meditation teacher for over 45 years and a long-time activist since the Sixties, I have for several decades been working with those who seek to integrate spirituality, psychology and progressive social/political action. I believe that this holistic orientation, sometimes called “spiritual. sacred or holistic activism” is the path for truly shifting the consciousness that underlies injustice, war and the destruction of our home planet, Gaia, Mother Earth. It is the path for those seeking to sustain the courage, energy and attitude needed to help bend the moral arc of the universe towards true justice*.

I’ll be doing this through Zoom and will send the invite link to those who request it by replying to this message. Following is a flyer that describes some of the themes that will be part of the series. I hope you feel inclined to give it a try.

Added note: All actions for justice must consider the healing of past injustice. In this regard it is important to recognize that we live on land taken by violence and honor those first peoples and their descendants. Here is a resource for finding out something about who lived on the land you now occupy. https://native-land.ca


STAYING SANE WHILE MAKING THE WORLD BETTER

ONLINE GATHERING  EVERY OTHER MONDAY
   STARTS   –   SEPT. 21   –   7:30 EASTERN TIME

This will be a series of one-hour sessions, each focusing on an aspect of the main theme, staying sane while making the world better. We will focus on teachings and practices with two essential goals: 1) not going crazy or getting stuck in depression or anxiety in response to what is going on in the world, 2) finding a full bodied, fully human, fully YOU way to take an active part in the transformation the world needs. Each session will include an introductory talk, a meditative/inner work experience, and a chance for questions. All sessions will be presented with a holistic view integrating body, mind and spirit.

Below is a tentative outline describing some of the topics we will focus on. Changes will likely be made as things unfold and I receive feedback, comments and suggestions. We are at a pivotal point in human history, we are all feeling it in one way or another, we are all being called to be who we are and do our part.

I offer this for free to activists or anyone who is wanting to become more active but has not yet found a way.

1- Intention – Why do we do what we do? Intention is what determines what we pay attention to and it is what moves us to do what we do. Being able to make our intentions clear and conscious is essential. Wisdom traditions tell us that we each have a unique, core intention or purpose for our lives, but we have to recognize and choose it. We will look at how we can open and align with that core intention. We will also shine light on and recognize the unconscious intentions that distract and sabotage us and move us towards confusion, anxiety, depression and/or destructive behaviors.

2 – Your body and your mind as your primary responsibility – We all need to make our own bodies and minds a first priority. People frequently share the simple metaphor of being on an airplane when there is a problem, the oxygen masks drop down, and you first put on your own and then help children and others. Yet, most folks, especially those helping others, don’t operate this way. We will experience specific methods to bring caring and healing attention to the well-being of your own body and take responsibility for the state of your mind. It’s been said, “Be the peace you want to see in the world.” Let’s BE that.

3 – Being with and Dealing with heavy emotions – It is quite human to react to the things happening in the world with anger, sadness, guilt or shame. There is nothing wrong with that. It is how we respond to these emotions within ourselves that determines how they affect our physical and psychological health, and our effectiveness in our work. We will work with practices for looking inside, sharing in group ceremony or ritual, and finding empowerment in the energy of all our emotions.

4 – Finding your ecological self – You are not alone. You are part of a family, a community, humanity, and the community of living beings of all the realms that are with us here on Mother Earth. Though you may feel alone at times, this reality of inter-relatedness is always a fact of life. Yet, just as our minds have been conditioned to see through the lens of patriarchy and white superiority, we have learned to experience ourselves as separate from and a higher form of life than the rest of nature. We will seek to reawaken to a more unbounded sense of who we are and find support for our activism from the web of life of which we are part.

5 – Being the Peaceful Warrior – The Warrior, as an archetype or aspect of our true nature, works to support and defend an individual organism, group or natural system. While most people associate it with violence, it is more profoundly expressed by the non-violent activists who devote time and energy for social justice and peace, and to protecting and sustaining our natural world. It is a part of your nature in the way your immune system protects your body. It is what gives us the strength to carry on the struggle for a better world. We can learn to call on it for what we are called by our soul to do.

6 – Finding Your Unique Part – Few things are more frustrating than receiving dozens of messages, each calling for help related to a piece of the puzzle of world suffering, and knowing you cannot respond to them all. How to decide? Where to place your attention, your money, your time, your energy? We will share some ideas and exercises for answering these questions. We will also draw on ways of finding guidance that comes from the wisdom traditions of our ancestors.

7 – Empathy for the “Enemy” – Many of us struggle with feeling hate towards people whose ideas and behaviors are repugnant to us such as White supremacists, misogynists, homophobes or Donald Trump and his allies. There is an almost instinctual feeling of hate towards those who hate. It’s easy to repeat the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” But it’s sure not easy to do. Let’s look at how we can be in this world with haters and not poison ourselves or anyone else with more hate.

And lots more if there is interest!

We start Monday at 7:30 Eastern Time, Sept. 21st (International Peace Day and Autumn Equinox) and will meet every two weeks. Attend when you can. I’ll plan to record and make available for those who miss the live event. Email me for link to participate: alevin@SacredRiverHealing.org

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

In the modern secular world, it takes courage to cross the boundary from watching the events of the world, to becoming an activist in bringing about change and transformation of the direction of society. Likewise, even for those immersed in a religious tradition, there is a boundary to becoming a truly spiritual being. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. crossed both of those boundaries and changed our world. I was honored to be asked to write a piece about him for the Fellowship of Reconciliation which I’ve linked to here.

Rev. Martin Luther King – Spiritual Activist

                                                                                    –Alan Levin

“Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hate never yet dispelled hateOnly love dispels hate.” – Buddha (from the Dhammapada)

 

With an iconic figure such as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose brief life shook this nation forever, people pick and choose what they want to see of his multi-faceted legacy.

Currently we have the literal whitewashing of his very radical message as politicians who want to discredit affirmative action and impose voter I.D. laws use quotes from Martin Luther King to justify their supposed “color-blind” objectives.

On the other hand, activists of the Left often overlook the fact that Reverend King was a truly religious, spiritual man. He was a Christian. But more so, he was a holy man in the prophetic tradition that transcends any one religion.

I have no knowledge of King’s inner life, but from what I do know of his life and statements, he regularly sought counsel from the divine within for guidance and tried to walk and talk in alignment with that.

 

I do not know if he ever studied formal meditation from Eastern teachers, but he found deep friendship, mutual respect and admiration with Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. It was after his talks with Nhat Hanh that Dr. King came out publicly against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In any case, King found from his inner sojourns, his reflections and prayers, his own unique understanding and expression of many of the deepest teachings of spirituality, East and West.

Everything is interconnected. Everything affects
everything else. Everything that is,
is because other things are.
–Basic Buddhist teaching of Dependent Origination

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all mankind is tied together; all life is interrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is the interrelated structure of reality … And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awake through a great revolution.”

–Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Commencement Address at Oberlin College, 1965)

 

His call to, “remain awake” as a primary goal testifies to the importance King placed on consciousness, not just our behavior as humans, as activists. He wanted us to be awake not just to the suffering, or even the systemic causes of suffering, but awake to the nature of reality. In this, he is in alignment with His Holiness the Dalai Lama: “What the world needs is a spiritual revolution.”

I believe Dr. King understood from his own experience the need to take time to cultivate that spiritual consciousness, to cultivate a heart filled with compassion and love in the face of injustice, hatred, and violence. This cultivation is the very heart of meditation.

King’s good friend Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk, deeply involved himself in Eastern philosophy and spirituality. He counseled us to “withdraw into the healing silence of the wilderness … not in order to preach to others but to heal in (ourselves) the wounds of the entire world.” And yet, King did preach once he felt his voice was a channel for that greater whole.

Somehow, through his inner searching and his confrontation with the realities of the world, King realized for himself that freedom from the fear of death is the promised land of spiritual work, the realization of the greater awareness that lies beyond the phenomenal world. What else could he have experienced that brought him to say:

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

As I was writing this, a good friend, Sister Dorothy Maxwell, sent me a profound article, “The Ecology of Prayer” by Fred Bahnson in Orion Magazine. In it, Bahnson quotes the seventh century Saint Isaac of Syria, “An elder was once asked, ‘What is a compassionate heart?’ He replied: ‘It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists.’”

Surely, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was actively engaged in transforming his heart towards that fuller compassion through his meditations, his prayers, and his activism. Surely, it is our task to carry on that work.

Alan Levin is cofounder of Sacred River Healing. A member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Alan is involved in a range of initiatives in New York’s lower Hudson Valley that engage the intersections of racial justice, peacemaking, ecological sustainability, mind-body healing, and spiritual awakening.

Photos: (1) Rev. King with Thich Nhat Hanh in June 1966, courtesy of FOR Archives & Plum Village Monastery; (2) Photo by Bob Fitch, used with permission, FOR Archives.

Through the Buckskin Curtain – Embracing Indigenous Spirituality

b270cec1dc134cceb98f25795c1da365 The intense struggle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline, led by Native Americans, highlights the original and continuing “sin” of the United States of America, the genocidal treatment of the indigenous inhabitants of this land and the centuries of betrayal of agreements. But it also offers us a possible pathway for the rectification of many of our present dilemmas, moving us to be guided by the wisdom of indigenous spirituality, respecting and honoring the sacredness and intelligence of the natural world.

 

The encampments at Standing Rock alongside the Cannonball River that feeds the Missouri have brought together a multi-cultural movement that recognizes the leadership of Native American tribal elders and activists from over 300 Indian Nations. They have come together in a non-violent and spiritually centered movement for protecting the water and land. They have specifically defined their actions as protective rather than as protest. From their spiritual perspective, the true function of the Warrior is to protect, whether in reference to the body, the community, the nation, or the planet.

 

Stepping back from the particulars of this struggle to protect the land and water sacred to the Lakota Sioux and stop the continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, it is important to recognize the significant inclusion of the indigenous spiritual attitude with social justice and environmental activism. This wider and deeper view of the human relationship with Spirit and Nature, e.g., calling attention to the sacred fire, sacred water, sacred sky, sacred Mother Earth, not just in words, but in the way we feel and the way we move about, is transformative and infectious. It holds keys to the healing power needed to shift humanity from the destructive trajectory we seem locked into.

 

How we as individuals and as groups of social justice and environmental activists learn from these ancient ways that are connected to Mother Earth herself, needs to be made very conscious. It will not be helpful (in fact it is disrespectful) to mimic the practices of Native Americans. But we can learn to re-awaken what is indigenous (innate) in all humans, the mutual and respectful sense of holiness in Creation and Creator, whether we currently experience them as distinct or as One. This sensibility has been covered over by a radical over-emphasis on the rational, logical, thinking-mind devoted to technological control of our environment and ourselves. What is being called forth is a heart-centered and holistic way of being and relating, one of communion-with rather than control-over.

 

Through the centuries of subjugation, native peoples have passed along the practices, stories and songs that sustain this consciousness in each region and on each continent. We immigrants have the opportunity to listen to them and hear the resonant tones of our own indigenous ancestors calling from within, finding our own pathways towards a balance of the elements of the web of life. Along the way, it’s important that we not confuse embracing “indigenous spirituality” with exploiting or coopting the objects, rituals and ceremonies of specific tribes or peoples. Native Americans are understandably very sensitive to this abuse. In “Native American wannabes: Beware the Weasel Spirit,” Lou Bendrick points out that, “Members of the Lakota tribe have declared war on exploiters of their ancient spirituality. Their declaration states that they have ‘suffered the unspeakable indignity of having our most precious Lakota ceremonies and spiritual practices desecrated, mocked and abused by non-Indian ‘wannabes,’ hucksters, cultists, commercial profiteers and self-styled ‘New Age’ retail stores and … pseudo religious corporations have been formed to charge people money for admission into phony ‘sweatlodges’ and ‘vision quest’ programs …’”

 

On the other hand, I personally know a number of White, Black and Latino women and men who have submitted themselves to decades of rigorous, disciplined education under the guidance of Native American elders and have been sanctioned to practice and teach certain aspects of those traditions. In my interview with Tom Pinkson, (see Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths), he describes his initial passing through the buckskin curtain when he began studying and being tested by a Native American teacher which led up to his decade-long apprenticeship with Huichol shamans in Mexico. Ken Cohen, also interviewed in Crossing the Boundary, studied intensively for many years with his teachers, Keetoowah, Rolling Thunder and Grandmother Twylah Nitsch, and was initiated and adopted by a tribal clan. These two, and quite a few other White (in this case, Jewish) men and women, respectfully entered into a relationship with indigenous spiritual teachers and tribes and only practice and teach what they have been given permission to share.

 

Though few will feel called to cross that boundary so deeply, by embracing an indigenous spiritual outlook the environmental and social justice movement is shifting the very mindset in which it has viewed the problems and solutions it addresses. We are finding ourselves gazing up at the sky, sitting by the sacred fire, getting down on our knees and kissing Mother Earth as we face those of our brothers and sisters who have forgotten what they have lost, forgotten what they’ve forgotten.

 

For more information see the Standing Rock Sioux Nation website: http://standwithstandingrock.net/

 

A personal observer’s account of the activity at the encampments: Mark Johnson’s, “Standing Rock #NoDAPL. It’s not so complicated, But it is complex.” http://clbsj.org/news/2016/11/23/standing-rock/

 

A deep mythological/archetypal/political view, “History in the Making at Standing Rock.” By Paul Levy: http://www.awakeninthedream.com/standing-rock/ 

 

A look at the growth of the indigenous spiritual focus in the environmental movement: “The growing indigenous spiritual movement that could save the planet.”https://thinkprogress.org/indigenous-spiritual-movement-8f873348a2f5#.u1q1rzood

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