MEDITATION AND ACTIVISM
There is often a criticism of meditation and those who practise it which suggests that it can be a bit self-centred (all about finding my own peace) and passive (not really responding to the needs of the world).
Both these criticisms are to some extent fair – as in, that is what can happen – although it should also be noted that for some whose lives are in significant turmoil finding their own peace may be the only thing which holds their lives together at all and so should not be criticised.
For many of us, however, finding our own peace is only part of a bigger picture and that for meditation to come into its fullest expression it does need to be integrated with building peace in the world around us.
I have both organised and attended meetings recently which were seeking to ask the same question: is it just that some meditators are also activists or is there a an intrinsic link between the two?
At the meeting I organised, which began with ½ hour of silent meditation, a number of people articulated the importance of meditation for their activism: needing to integrate inner and outer peace-making; needing a way to remain grounded and so not become overwhelmed by the world’s issues; needing to combine activism with deep reflection so that our activism is well thought out and directed; wanting both our activism and our meditation to be holistic rather than piecemeal – so that our whole life might be both meditation and activism, not one on one day and the other on another somehow disconnected from one another.
At the meeting I attended a Buddhist teacher suggest that Meditation and Activism were both really doing the same thing: seeking to wake up to what we have become accustomed to as the status quo, either in our own mental habits or in our political system, and to find ways of interrupting each in order better to support both our individual and our communal well-being.
My own thoughts on the matter are that meditation really could be expected to lead to a number of vital things in relation to activism: first to a deeper awareness of what is really going on in the world; secondly to a greater compassion for those who are suffering as a result; thirdly to a clearer wisdom to see what is the best way to reduce this suffering; and finally to the space and energy to do what needs to be done.
All these suggestions are merely strengthening my sense that meditation and activism not only can go together but possibly must go together – that meditation without activism can be in danger of drifting towards individual passivity and that activism without meditation could just as easily drift towards ineffective, ego fuelled frenetic activity which achieves little except burn out of the individuals involved.
Having said all that it seems to me that neither should be forced or coerced. What was lovely about the meeting I organised was that there were certainly meditator-activists present but also people who saw themselves as mainly one or the other. But being in the same room felt like an important step to increase awareness of the link. No one was pushed to what they should do next but each went away with something to think about. It would seem to me that activism should come freely from deep within the meditator’s heart if it is to come at all. And that activists might even be drawn to meditation as they begin to reflect at deeper levels on what they are doing in the world.
Having said that though, it would seem remiss not to mention the particular activism we were considering at both meetings – partly to put some flesh on the concept of activism and partly because it really does seem to tap into probably the greatest issue of our day. And no, it is not Brexit! – but something far more important.
‘Extinction Rebellion’ (www.rebellion.earth) is a movement we will be hearing more of in the coming months. I must leave you to read up for yourselves but in one sentence it is a call to non-violent direct action including civil disobedience in order to put pressure on governments throughout the world to make a step change in attitude to what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has now declared as a Climate Emergency – that we have 11 years to make radical legislative changes to avert human catastrophe this century, probably kicking in by mid-century. The time for working patiently through normal democratic means and gentle persuasion has run out, they argue, and a different, more urgent kind of response is needed.
Having attended three meetings on the subject now I find I am gradually being persuaded that this group have got it right: that they are well-organised, well-researched, grounded on sound scientific and historical principles and that their passion and sense of urgency is justified. There are local groups, training sessions, a constant reminder about respect and non-violence and a major international initiative planned to start in less than two weeks’ time (starting 15th April) with the aim of disrupting the normal flow of city life in capital cities around the world for up to two weeks.
So, will I see it as an integrated part of my commitment to a contemplative life to go up to London and sit illegally (hopefully with 1000’s of others) in the middle of a normally busy London bridge? At this stage I am increasingly feeling that the answer is, yes.