Contemplative Activism

CANCELLED: Contemplative Activism ‘drop-in, drop-out’ at Bidston, Liverpool

The Invitation

We are hosting our second event of Art Earth Tech’s contemplative activism initiative, a “drop-in, drop-out” at Bidston Observatory (a lovely space for artistic exploration outside Liverpool) from March 14th to March 29th. The gathering is an open invitation, and very reasonably priced (£15 a night), so please forward this invitation to anybody who might be interested. We would love to see you there for as little as much of the time as you could attend.

If you are unfamiliar, contemplative activism is activism that is fed by the realisation that a major source of our great social and person concerns is the lack of a contemplative mindset – the mindset we are in when we are “connected.” Contemplative activism means doing the activism that we already do, such as climate activism, with more a spiritual or contemplative mindset, but it also involves asking ourselves how to be activist on behalf of the contemplative mindset. To give wholeness its proper place in our lives, in organisations, and in society.

This meeting is a chance for people who feel drawn to this pursuit to spend time with each other in an informal way, a practice called a “drop-in, drop-out” format in artistic circles. In a drop-in, drop-out format, the space is held by a group over time, with the idea that people can join for any amount of time (e.g two days or even two hours is fine) but that a space/consciousness is held by and transmitted between a shifting group (as it tends to be “naturally”.) There will be time and space for private work on personal projects but co-location means we can share free time. This is done in an everything-is-optional and free way.

The venue is in an urban area, but is situated within a large public park, which is uncrowded, and beautiful – with woods and entrancing natural rock formations. There is an urban community farm nearby, but downtown Liverpool is only 30 minutes by public transport.

Beds can be reserved through Bidston observatory, details are below. We plan to share food costs while there in an informal way and make meals collectively.

Naresh Giangrande (co-founder of Transition Towns) and Liam Kavanagh will be there the entire time as will be the directors of Bidston, who are taking part.

Some things that we’ve spoken about doing in the space are:

  • Shared meals beginning in silence
  • Morning and evening meditation
  • Poetry readings
  • Tools sharing: Trauma and resilience work

Other activities, tool sharings, and workshops by whoever would like to offer them.

Some ideas that are being developed are:

Keeping Activism Fresh: A big conversation going within XR at the moment is about whether the movement fell into a “rinse and repeat” type mindset after April. The same imagery, tactics that were refreshing in April seemed to become normalised in public mind by the fall. Staying out of ruts and in touch with originality is always an issue, and it may be a requirement for an activism that requires catching eyes that don’t want to be caught. This is surely a matter of being unattached, artists burn their old work for a reason, like monks give away their money. Is giving up on what seemed like success a contemplative practice? Is it crucial for activism?

Art as contemplative activism. Artists are often motivated by an impulse to share or gesture toward the sublime and question and subvert barriers to it, and hold strong convictions that our society is tragically alienated from this. As frustration with the limits with art objects and performances in creating this have mounted artists have turned towards ritual, participative performances, participative ritual, and so on. One might notice a return to a kind space often identified with religion. How do/can art practice and the concept and culture space that the word “art” creates integrate with the wider cultural movement to embrace spirit/presence/”the ultimate”/non-duality/choose-your-term.

Hope to see you there!

Liam (for the rest of the organisers.)


More about Bidston Observatory and Arranging a stay there:

Bidston Observatory is conceived as a space for concentration, work and potential production, rather than purely a leisure site. The project’s objective is to be a resource that supports different ways of working (together) and makes new imaginings possible. With this in mind, please send a brief mail to: [email protected], giving us an idea about your practice, or what you might be working on during your stay here. Just a few quick sentences will do! Read more about the observatory at:

A little more about contemplative activism:

Many people come to a realisation that our environmental crisis is part of a much deeper crisis, which has to do with our alienation from the source of our deepest intelligence and wisdom. This includes many famous writers and spiritual leaders like Joanna Macy, Martin Heidegger, and Thich Nhat Hanh, but also many normal people who just can’t shake the impression that something really big is missing from life. Our deepest contemplative (or spiritual, or mystical) intelligence and our disconnection from it are something that we experience in a deeply subjective way. We know something is missing from life when we are outside of it, even though it seems like our society encourages this. We cannot point directly to this intelligence, or to its absence, so when one of us comes strongly into contact with this intelligence, they tend to think they have seen something very new and unlike what other people are talking about. So we have invented many words and phrases like being “embodied”, “present”. “aware”, “mindful”, “connected”, we experience “suchness”, “thusness”, “tatata” and “non-duality.” These are all pretty much the same thing. More words for the same thing won’t make more people understand these words mean. They must see it directly themselves to know what the words refer to, and this is the hardest thing to accept. We can’t tell people “just do it” and expect results.

So what do we do? The good news is that many, many people have been responding to this lack. It is afterall, the lack of perhaps the most important thing in life. Practices such as mindfulness and other meditation, shamanism, reconnection, many strands of visual and performance, body work, plant medicines, many forms of trauma therapy, intellectual movements such as phenomenology, work on embodiment, and on hemispheric differences in the brain all may be seen as responses and gestures towards ways of widening awareness of our situation. But these movements are still just beginning to become more than the sum of their parts. They are not aware of themselves as working for the same thing. Part of what we are hoping to do is collectively raise awareness of our pursuits’ intertwinedness, but also to co-create a space for these related pursuits to make each other more whole and more effective. Also though, there is the question of resisting confinement of these concerns to the private “non-political” sphere, resisting the idea that these conversations belong in a “non-secular” ghetto while in the public sphere, we continue to pretend that the only things that are real and important are those that we can see and touch. Politics shapes the public consciousness, like it or not. Apolitical wholeness is an oxymoron.

Contemplative activism also means embracing the need for planning and organisation, while not being a slave to accomplishments and goals. Teaching meditation or doing art requires some planning. Using concepts is not a sin, nor is technical knowledge. It is just that the analytical mind is a spectacular servant and a bad master. We will never be effective in putting things right by denying ourselves use of this power.

See other blog posts:

The case for contemplative activism: why, why now and what are we offering?

Contemplative activism primer

Learning to be and act when we have no ground beneath our feet