Contemplative Activism

Contemplative activism calls – a reflection

We do not do any thing revolutionary or ground breaking. We just sit and listen to each other on zoom. And we feel together and sense together and think together. There is something magic about sitting together contemplating mystery- the unknown and unknowable. The mystery of each of our lives. The mystery of how we navigate our lives, the everyday decisions we make often about ordinary things. The mystery of how we sit with ourselves and explain to others what it means to be me.

There is no attempt to take a ‘contemplative stance’ or be contemplative, but rather a very ordinary willingness to see and be seen. We silently acknowledge our uniqueness, our similarities, and our differences. The temptation (for me) is to want to see a pattern running though our sharing- there isn’t one. Even our responses to the corona crisis and how we are each being with this time, our hopes and fears, and the wondering, unknowns, and pleasure and pain of it meander through our collective musings in a random walk.

The mystery of what comes and where we go is always present- because the calls are mostly non structured and even if they are we often disregard the invitations to ‘topic’ ourselves, bizarrely. For instance this week we were going to talk about having difficult conversations that arise in activist spaces. We did get to it in the end. And had a lively discussion. As the facilitator, I felt not to stop and honour our 90 minute boundary, but rather to let the conversation run. We will go back to it this next week…. maybe.

Even then the discussion was unstructured and free to roam though many different lens and perspectives. For instance, the possibility of taking a conflict into a different paradigm. The possibility that by taking a different perspective we can reduce conflict and put the difference into a wider or longer perspective which can help shape a new way of being together. The chance to go beyond what we thought only a minute ago can change so much, so quickly. I hesitate to describe about what or how we talked this week. I am sure my reflections privilege my perspective and ideas to the neglect of others.

So- What is Contemplative Activism? Is this it? Are we being contemplative activists? Are our calls a form of secular contemplative practice? Certainly the elements of contemplative live are effortlessly enacted and witnessed every week. The silence and all that flows from that, holding all that we express as a form of contemplation, deep listening to ourselves and others, sitting with the humility of not knowing and stubbornly refusing to name what is not and never will be known. It is in the community of being and listening, and willingness to sit with mystery, and maybe in all of that finding hope, the will to go on, the wish to create something that makes life better for all. And acknowledging that this may or may not be an outcome we will ever know.

Our weekly calls are honest, gentle, and kind. They are simple and contactful. There is little pretence, well maybe a little, but we are, mostly**, too old for putting on airs, and see no contradiction in sharing our experiments with plant medicine alongside our favourite recipe for wild food fritters. And that maybe is what holds us in this space? It is what I call the pragmatism of ‘spiritual enquiry’. It works because it works. Collaboration and kindness is more sustainable than hyper competitiveness and brutality.

I am feeling a bit self conscious trying to describe what feels like a very natural way of being together. Like in the act of describing the garden of Eden we are cast out of that garden- the garden of just being together. And the silence.

“Silence is the language of god, all else is poor translation.” ― Rumi

By Naresh Giangrande

Co Founder of Transition Town Totnes, & Transition Training. Celebrating a new cultural story while gracefully letting go of the old.