One simple step to shift from being an unconscious activist to a conscious activist

We’ve all been there. At a party, at work, or online where someone makes a remark that is so tremendously insulting to our core values that it takes all our willpower not to judge them, unfriend them or insult them.

With the state of the world these daysMany people don’t realize that the smallest actions do make a big difference, and a situation can become improved much more easily than previously thought. They can also become aggravated very easily.

Wikipedia defines activism as consisting of efforts to promote, impede, or direct social, political, economic, and/or environmental reform or stasis with the desire to make improvements in society.

Before I learned about activism, my concept of activists were people yelling and screaming at rallies or calling members of government to create reform.  I’ve since learned that that aggressive image in my head, was simply people practicing their activism in a way that created separation instead of connection. There are many activist groups who have created incredible change in sustainable  ways, such as Virginia Durr, who was a great friend of Rosa Parks and worked for equality.

Recently, after co-facilitating Yoga In Action, I see that one of the best ways I can practice my activism daily is taking care of my mind-body network with nutrition, movement and meditation so I can show up as curious and tolerant of differences within and around my immediate community.

When I’m taking proper care of myself, I can do what my my friend Vanessa describes as Teaching with Fun.  For example. Let’s say I am passionate about animal rights and it greatly disturbs me when people buy leather goods or eat dairy, I can either bombard them with horrific videos, or I can show them the gorgeous vegan boots I got or bake them a batch of vegan brownies. Make it fun and accessible. Understand that people are where they are at and may or may not change. Getting angry at them only creates more separation and change.

When I am taking proper care of myself, I don’t need to only surround myself with people who share my values and political views and live in a state of group-think because I can resiliently be with around contrasting opinions.

When I’m not taking care of myself, I notice I stay in safe groups of people who share my worldview. This is one I go through often. I have amazing friends around me who share my values of animal rights, environmental issues, intersectional feminism etc.  Life feels hopeful, inspiring and progressive. Then I open Facebook and I see a family member wearing a “build a wall” hat or go snowboarding with a guy friend who says “oppression doesn’t exist, slavery ended hundreds of years ago.” And all the muscles in my body contract, and my heart starts pounding – a classic stress response. In stress response, my capacity for creative problem solving diminishes and the best I can come up with is fight, flight or freeze. So I either say nothing, attack the person with my words, or decide to never talk to that person again to avoid said stress response.

Luckily, I have many tools in my tool belt. One in particular is a Zen meditation perspective called “Beginner’s Mind.” It’s a mindset that is full of inquiry. First I use it for my own experience. I notice a tremendous amount of anger has arisen as well as a very judgmental voice that positions myself as the victim and the other person as an aggressor. That voice is also full of intellectual persuasive arguments, something I – and perhaps a few other people – learned in school as a way to survive. The voice usually goes something like this:  “This sheltered straight white man is blissfully caught in his bubble of self-delusional privilege and has no idea how harmful his words or, or about Jim Crow laws, law and order or how the world works in general. He is what is wrong with society. He is a bad person. I am never seeing that imbecile again.” I a knot in my stomach as I’m thinking this.

Underneath that voice is an immense amount of sadness, and another dialogue that more rooted in guilt and self-hate “I cannot believe I have only begun to understand my privilege a couple years ago, and how many years I have wasted caught up in things that don’t matter when I have it so easy and should really be using my education and network to help as many people as possible. I’m such a bad person.” The knot has loosened a little and feels more like a sad heaviness on my chest.

Then, underneath is a softer and gentler voice “You’re really upset, aren’t you sweetheart? You wish all this violence and suffering didn’t exist? You wish you hadn’t experienced loss, pain and abuse in your life. I know. Me too.”

Then, some softening happens. The tears well up in my eyes. My breathing deepens. I release resisting the pain that was poked at by our interactions. I send love to all the parts of my body that feel contracted. I wrap my arms around myself and breathe.

Now I’m ready to ask the important questions. To do the most radical work, which is that of connection and not separation. To return to my friend or family member in a state of self-love and curiosity and ask “Why are you wearing that Build a Wall hat?” or “Where did you hear oppression doesn’t exist?” or “Why are you passionate about this point of view or opinion?” And from that space, is where I have learned the most about these people’s personal experiences. I have learned they are carrying their own experiences of fear, and abuse and sadness and guilt which make them fixed in their ways. They are caught in the same patterns I’m caught in most of the time.

Listening to them doesn’t mean I change my value system. It doesn’t mean that I accept behviour that is hurtful.  It simply means I understand where they are coming from. I can show respect for their process while I’m in my process. And often that makes them more interested to understanding my point of view which is where connection and change truly happens in my experience. This is conscious activism. Simply listening and being with my own experience and the experiences of other’s.

“The Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute accepts people of any race. We don’t discriminate against anyone. We teach people to reach their highest potential. I set examples by the way I lead my life.”

Rosa Parks