What if such planning meetings, workshops, and strategizing were to be dispensed with? What if, instead, activists spent the same amount of time in silent meditative retreats? What if, instead of looking outward towards the objectives of the campaigns, time was spent looking inward? What if time was spent settling the busy monkey mind that we carry around with us day to day, and enabled our heart-mind (citta1) to make its presence more known?
Such a suggestion may not be as unproductive, or as wasteful of time, as may be imagined.
If there is to be any transformation of the state of the world, then that transformation must be both internal and external. It must be personal, and it must be collective and social. Indeed, a healthy transformation cannot be one without the other. A bird must have both wings to fly.
Yet, a huge proportion of the time spent in campaigns is directed outward. Time is spent analysing who is doing what, and when. Consideration is given to asking who are “our” opponents and who are “our” allies? The mechanics of the situation are defined. Facts, figures, and data are researched and presented.
It is all about what is “out there.”
What if we were to spend time asking what is “in here”? What is our deep heart telling us? On the surface we might be thinking that our heart tells us ‘I am angry (because this or that is happening to our planet, or to this group of people).’
However, our hearts carry much deeper feelings and emotions. Yet, when we get caught up in the externalities of campaigning, we lose access to our deep hearts.
To open to our deep heart means letting go of what we know and what we think we know. It also means letting go of the craving to control outcomes. Together, this requires foregoing any certainty. It also obliges us to relinquish notions of right and wrong, of good and evil.
Resting in silent, mindful meditation allows the awareness of the inter-beingness of all things to arise. In this state of deep awareness the dualism that we project outward onto the world begins to dissolve. In silence our clinging mind starts to let go of certainty and knowingness.
In 1930 the Indian Congress Party and the independence movement generally, was in disarray and one of its leaders, Mohandas Gandhi did not know what to do. The esteemed poet Rabindranath Tagore visited Gandhi at his ashram on the Sabarmati River. Tagore asked Gandhi what should be done, and Gandhi answered saying, ‘I do not see any light coming out of the darkness.’2
But Gandhi was not about to give up. However, instead of making plans, Gandhi spent time alone and in silence in his ashram for many weeks. He told fellow ashram members, ‘I’m just waiting. I’m waiting for the call. I know that I will hear the inner voice.’
He did hear that inner voice. The result of Gandhi’s silent waiting is now considered to be one of history’s outstanding examples of nonviolent resistance – the Salt March.3
Gandhi’s example is not an isolated case. Certainly not for those working from within a spiritual tradition. In recent years the practice of vision quests have made an impact upon westernised activists and others seeking a better world. The practice, of course, is well-known within indigenous societies. This practice has yet to become widespread within movements seeking a transformed society. If and when it does so, we may see a radically different approach to social transformation.
Vision quests involve days, sometimes weeks, of solitary and mindful praxis. A participant must let go of preconceived notions of their place in the world, and even of who they are.
When this not-knowing mind-set is invoked a much deeper, and more encompassing, knowing is released.
What if activist movements incorporated these practices within their campaigns more often? What if activists dropped the notions of certainty and control over outcomes?
What if environmental and social justice movements took up a bearing of not-knowing?
Would it work?
I don’t know.
1. Citta is a Pali word often translated as heart-mind. Citta makes no distinction between the mind and the heart, the inter-connection is so great that there is no division.
2. Cited in Donald Rothberg, The Engaged Spiritual Life, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006.
3. The Salt March was a nonviolent march of almost 400 km from Gandhi’s ashram to Dandi (on the west coast of India) where Gandhi made salt (in defiance of the British colonialist “salt laws”). The march took 24 days and helped spur Indians to mass civil disobedience and was instrumental in the eventual dismantling of British colonial rule over India.