Sacred Activism: Acting As One.

Maybe this is the moment I’ve been waiting for without realizing it–the approaching object in my rear view mirror that’s much closer than it looks.

I’ve spent time in the recent past at the edge of language, not merely in the occasional futility of finding words for experience, but feeling through the subtle and tenacious bonds by which consciousness functions as language, shaping and expressing default beliefs about the world. What I needed was not merely new words, but a path beyond limiting structures, a descent into the substrate, a journey into the interstices of the existential. Haha. That journey invites a new consciousness, new thinking….or…perhaps no thinking. Whatever it is, it’s part of a critical decolonization process underway as we reconnect with self, other and the earth.

That phrase, “self, other and the earth,” is a core principle in a recent collaboration between Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker titled, “Savage Grace.” Their definition of decolonization tracks Derrick Jenson very closely, about which he writes:

Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture–industrial capitalism, and more broadly civilization–and remembering your identification with an loyalty to the real physical world…It means seeing the harm the dominant culture does to other cultures and to the planet….It means recognizing that the luxuries of the dominant culture do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by non-humans….It means recognizing that we do not live in a democracy, but rather a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for and of corporations. It means remembering that the real world is more important than this social system. Without a real world we don’t have a social system.

Derrick Jenson

The colonizing power of language is also a manifest tool of conquest and domination. This has been most true of English in particular, but also French, Spanish and Portuguese. And that’s only in the past four hundred years. The dominant narrative of the human story has been so deeply buried in language it’s hardly noticed. Along the way, as has been broadly noted elsewhere, our relationship to the natural world and to death have been denied, pushed away and/or buried.

Along the way, a relentless barrage of linguistic bullets has mowed down nearly every alternative world view, redirecting (and destroying) every un-dammed river of shamanic consciousness standing in its way. The bill for this error, and all the hubris accompanying it, is coming due.

Just as surely as those once colonized still struggle against zombie neocolonialism (disaster capitalism), the rest of the world remains in the grip of neocolonial ideology couched in the narrative of mass culture, the interlocution of establishment media, organized religion, finance and the multi-national juggernaut of extractive capital perpetuating its myth of “progress,” and “growth.” In subtle and not so subtle ways, we are constantly told, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative.” The great extinction unfolding before us is noted and shrugged off.

To be sure, slipping the inertia of the neural substrate is no simple task. This is also not a new idea and there is no shortage of places to start. Just take the term “sacred activism,” for example. It’s been an evolving topic for decades. The meaning of these two words has been under perpetual construction and deconstruction, constantly shifting depending on whom you ask. Books are written about it. It’s jargon for some, a source of inspiration for others. It’s a guideline, a goal, a handy slogan whose meaning is debated, abused, misunderstood and celebrated.

A long time ago (haha), back in the 70s, one could be involved in politics OR spirituality. The two could not coexist in the same person. There was no bridge. You could either be on the front lines of “resistance” or back in your hutch sitting silently, doing “nothing.” Or so we thought. The traditional activist pitted herself against the inertia of the Industrial Growth Society. The spiritualist dropped out. Since then, the journey into politics AND spirituality (like the converging journey of spirituality and physics) has been leading to the same quantum location, which means everywhere, but mostly into creative institutions marrying the two.

Spirituality and politics were two separate pursuits. We could not envision acting simultaneously in both realms. The term itself embodies a powerful dualistic view of reality, a linguistic field from which we nearing escape velocity. Nevertheless, the confrontational nature of traditional activism and the perpetuation of that dualism eventually felt like a dead end. Activism set apart from its sacred roots became part of the problem, not part of the solution. The realization that all politics is personal and that the personal is political worked its way deeper into awareness, sending us on long journeys of “personal growth,” which not only ignited deepening inquiries into spirituality, but more complex inquiries into the politics of interactive dynamics.

Gradually, we come to know that “politics” is rooted far more deeply than we ever imagined, far beneath the silted and nutrient-poor everyday channels of discursive thought, all the way into the primary beliefs we hold about reality such as the (un)conscious division between subject and object, I and It, Human and Nature. Along the way, those “beliefs” have been informed by, supported by and also undermined by science and philosophy. What are we to think?

Language is the carrier of our separation. Language will never overcome its self-perpetuating confusion and grasp the singularity of sacred activism without inventing new words for it. I now have difficulty saying these two words together. They have become baggage from the Old Story. The words no longer make sense together because, ultimately, (finally?) what they describe are mirror images of that singularity, as if I’m seeing confusion as the inextricable four bodies of Buddha. There is no longer any daylight between them. No distinction between the essential meaning of either.  And there’s no time left to even debate the issue.

The only way one can fully understand what they mean is to realize, spoken together, they are redundant. They have become the Tao or the Two Truths (which are really One). The very fact that we must still refer to something called “sacred activism” is testament to how far we have yet to go in eliminating the artificial boundary between the realities they embody together.

How can true activism, the pursuit of justice, not be rooted in a sacred unity of self, other and earth? How can sacred practices, seeking and restoring that Unity, not become the pursuit of justice? How can spiritual practice not also become the soul of activism? This is an evolution. Living your activism becomes the materialization of your practice. There is no longer any way to leave the cushion, the ritual, the river of shamanic consciousness behind. Nor is there any way to say that unleashing the colonized and controlled rivers of my consciousness and continuously informing and purifying my intentions is not the pursuit of justice. There is no other way. We can no longer even speak of activism without understanding that now the only true activism arises from the sacred heart of the earth, the soul of nature, the consciousness of the planet as Self, acting within the ethos of trans-corporeality, the only matrix in which we have ever lived.

The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and… placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species….Awareness had been civilized…The rivers [of perception] had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

The celebration of pluralities, the seeing of one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition and ecstasy were driven out, marginalized or killed.

John Salskov-Iverson

The evolution parallel to a personal experience of overflowing the artificial channeling of cognition is in transforming the collective dynamics of this journey into wholeness. The agency we have imagined as humans, manifest in a broken relationship with the natural world, is a false version of our true condition.

In increasing numbers and in diverse places, this awakening is propagating itself, manifesting personal versions of an incipient mass spiritual breakthrough. We are igniting nothing less than global shamanic network–prophesied by Tibetan Bonpo shamans–by manifesting the true meaning of sacred activism, exhibiting conscious attention in ways that dissolve the collective mind control we call the liberal order of the Western world.

We are bringing the dervish mentality, the Shambhala warrior mentality–the energy of transformation, making peace with the demons inside while curing instead of killing outside, taking the cushion with them into every “being” while turning every moment on the cushion into “doing” justice. The tools of the true sacred justice warrior are, as Andrew Harvey would say, none other than those of the divine Shakti goddesses of Hinduism: Kali, the Dancer of destruction; Parvati, the messenger of love and devotion; Durga the Invincible; and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity who restores us to the true  source of all bounty, the earth itself.

To channel energies such as these is to learn to stand in the eye of the storm, surrounded by profound spiritual and moral corruption, economic and ecological injustice with unwavering courage and integrity, attending in every moment to what is dying, performing mass healing ceremony, restoring eco-guardianship with unyielding dignity, fueled by illuminated compassion.

The place where life and death meet. The sky is always becoming the ocean. The ocean is always becoming the sky. We are always losing what we wish to hold onto. Yet we are always gaining the rewards of losing, too. And in that way, we are always discovering the secret of life and death, which is that love is always and forever the place where life and death meet.

Umar Haque

Emptiness Dancing

I’ve been very distressed lately. A thread running through much of what I do is to either seek approval from an outside source or aimlessly follow an illusion of enlightened purpose, commitment, responsibility, idealism or creativity. Who I “am” becomes a shifting mirage, subject to changing conditions at any moment, like a passing vehicle temporarily catching the attention a sleeping dog. We all know what happens next. I become the dog, obsessively running after every model passing my way. Sometimes the distractions even look new. But on closer examination, none of them really are.

Then I realized, suddenly, to my great surprise and relief, that all of it, the emotional attachments to certain “favorable” outcomes, the appealing appearance of shiny new objects, the desire embedded in each decision to engage with them, or people, or to see conditions in a self-affirming way, even the moment by moment play of deciding if I am happy or not, being myself…or not…being “good,” being responsible, or ejecting myself from all of it, is all one thing and one thing only—that is not really a thing at all:  Emptiness dancing.

Not merely a dance of awareness or the dance of mind, but something within, the primary dance. Emptiness dancing is the name I give it. It covers any moment, every illumination, rabbit hole of awareness, every black hole of despair, every experience, whether of union, alienation, desperation, every blissful connecting embodiment, every ecstatic dream of pure detachment, including true non-duality, the Great Abiding in supreme Equanimity.

Emptiness dancing softens every edge, completes every unfinished aspiration, rounds every corner of uncertainty or disappointment, even lifts up every tragedy. It’s the poetry in every moment, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the ineffable, the laughing/crying never-alone reality of being alone. It’s the expanding heart of meditation. The dance with emptiness dancing is the drama of every life, every death and everything in between.

No, it’s not necessarily so simple to understand either term, emptiness or dancing. Their essence is not obvious. The expression covers the entire profound simplicity of the two truths, the artificiality of conceptualizing the relative and absolute as separable, and the truth that they are not “inseparable” either because even that implies two.  They are always and only one. Emptiness dancing is the effortlessness at the heart of every effort, the perfusion of every achievement. Emptiness dancing is the center of every arduous journey helplessly conceptualized by the materially-oriented mind. Emptiness dancing is the propellant, the inexhaustible fuel of all beings and all phenomena.

We may form intentions; we may pledge to follow a certain path. We may try to be mindful, compassionate, engaged, empathic, generous and follow every precept of the paramitas. We may believe in merit and diligently pursue opportunities to “collect” or generate merit. But merit is not that. It is not a thing. Merit as a thing merely perpetuates delusion. The banking of merit (as a thing) is thus also illusion, the accumulation of a karmic account can only be for one thing; and it’s not about the future. It is the capacity,…no, the surrender to falling apart now. It is the planting and the replanting of the seed of realization.  It is the realization of emptiness dancing, becoming the capacity to dissolve into that realization in every moment.

Such a realization cannot be bought or “brought.” It is not discovered through analysis. It cannot be engineered into awareness. It is not a realization to “have” or give or find. It is the inherent space beneath shamatha. It is the antithesis of analytical vipashyana. It doesn’t belong to anything. It doesn’t come from anything. The paramitas may become mere objects of awareness, but they too are emptiness dancing. Everything, all pleasure, all pain, all tragedy, violence, ecstacy, every loss and every gain are all the same….emptiness dancing.

Falling into emptiness is a relief. Every time. It’s a lesson relearned with amazement that the lesson can never be learned too many times, because every relearning is fresh, as if it is for the first time. And what comes with that relearning is expanding forgiveness and compassion for everything and everyone lost in the illusion of something. The something that I strive to be, the something in every moment that gives it–and me–substance. The something I can sink my teeth into, that becomes a new or deepening furrow in my gray matter.

I want to keep every one of those grooves, every memory, however fragile or remote. I want to feel it all again and again, as many times as possible, file it away indefinitely, bring it out again at the perfect moment, savor the pleasure and the pain, the entire luminous and terrifying journey, the impermanence of it, the death in every moment of it, the innocence of it, thanking emptiness dancing for all of it until poof! I disappear. That is the most confounding, confusing, maddening and astounding part of all. The disappearing, being subsumed into everything, connected but not bound. The humor of it, the throw your head back and laugh at the sky of it.

It seems Adyashanti has written a book by this title, which I did not know…or recall…when I started this. But let it fall open here, at random, repeating these words:

This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. Since the awakening, the brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child.

Oh. That distress. What was that about?

Dissolution into the Indivisible

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I walked inside the temple, darkened and silent, completely undisturbed; I noticed the colors, the familiar designs, the empty seats marked by the heavy woolen robes resting like ghosts on the benches, the teaching throne. Everything in its place. Only … Continue reading