Conversations on Holistic Activism

This section of the website is an ongoing casual conversation about Holistic Activism that will be updated from time to time as new questions arise.

Acceptance is part of the first component of HA and it sounds ok, but surely, we want to change things?

In HA, acceptance is simply a pathway that enables our minds to let go of everything and be with wherever the world is at in this present ongoing moment. Being comfortable with uncertainty is another pathway into that space. It helps the mind to stop grasping for a while.

In that space, we can an identify with something that is unknowable to the mind and that is bigger than what our minds can ever encapsulate. This means that when we re-enter the world of words, we are less likely to be driven by ideology and more likely to make changes that are holistic, nuanced and all encompassing.

This is why there are four components to HA. It understands the importance of spending time outside of thinking in deep presence, but it equally accepts the roles that our conceptual minds play in shaping society. The two go together.

But I really struggle to get into that space, especially as I find it hard to disassociate from the pain around me.

You do not have to try. The whole point of acceptance is to give your mind permission to have a break from thinking. Accept the feelings that you are having right now and don’t try to resist them. Instead, immerse yourself in them, without shame.

The real suffering is resistance to those emotions. Accept whatever you are feeling and if your mind can’t slow down, accept that there is a space behind all of that thinking that is always there and that will never go away… even if you are unable to connect with it right now.

If that seems difficult, that is also ok. Just sit with your feelings without resistance. There will be plenty of time for words later.

You talk about the importance of not projecting your shadow onto others and vice versa through the four components of HA but how do I let go of the trauma that I risk projecting?

There are now many modern-day teachers who teach effective methods of tackling our underlying traumas, Jeff Brown, Irene Lyon, Gabor Mate, Roland Bal to name a few.

While HA doesn’t specifically teach how best to tackle your existing trauma it does emphasize that consciously working to not pass your trauma onto others (and them onto you) through acceptance and compassionate assertiveness, will play a role in healing your own trauma. In order to clean up after a flood, you also need to turn off the tap.

So, using Holistic Activism is an important component in your healing process. As Jeff Brown says, ‘not everyone is going to fully heal from their trauma’ but consciously drawing a line under it can be extremely empowering, no matter how impacted by trauma you are.

How can I use compassionate assertiveness with someone I haven’t forgiven?

You do not have to have forgiven that person, in order to use compassionate assertiveness.

If you are wanting to use a Holistic Activism approach with that person, your interaction needs to be borne out of compassionate assertiveness rather than aggression. That way it is obvious to the other person that you are not seeking to escalate any conflict you have with them in this instance. This may or may not be a step on a path that leads to forgiveness.

Compassionate assertiveness is hard, especially when I have so much underlying anger.

It is very hard. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest things that any of us can do, but it is also one of the most important things that any of us can do. Our collective reluctance to break the cycle of pain underlies most, if not all of our societal problems, including climate change.

It takes practice, so constantly reminding ourselves about how to effectively use the four components of holistic activism is an ongoing process. It is a part of life just like doing your laundry.

There is a Holistic Activism Guided Meditation that can help, as well as heaps of other stuff out there that isn’t labelled under the HA banner (HA is of course just a repackaging of stuff that has been said many times before into a format that might be useful to some people).

Over time, more guides and workshops will be developed on compassionate, assertive communication that interconnects with the other three components of Holistic Activism.

Not everyone can use compassionate assertiveness because they are in abusive relationships that they are unable to walk away from, whether it be in the workplace or in the family etc. Being assertive with abusers can be a red flag, no matter how compassionate your approach is.

This is so true and it is why, as Holistic Activists, it is our responsibility, as much as it is within our capacity, to influence society as a whole by improving and creating institutions that can tackle bullying, improve counselling, improve access for children to support services, safe spaces for victims of domestic violence and on it goes.

HA is about changing the fabric of society towards one where no one is ever in the position that they are too scared to use compassionate assertiveness. Whenever we use compassionate assertiveness, we are working towards this goal because it opens doors to the collaboration that leads to real change, rather than getting caught up in the cognitive dissonance that feeds into the cycle of pain.

You talk about embracing uncertainty, but some things do give us certainty like science for example.

The best the mind can do is to explore its own belief systems and come to the conclusion that it knows nothing about reality although, at the same time, it is an expression of it. – Rupert Spira

Religion short-circuits the religious experience by putting it into concepts. — Joseph Campbell

Like acceptance, the role of uncertainty in HA is to help enable the grasping mind to let go and reconnect to a place of perception that is not bounded by concept.

We can have a lot of certainty around science, but it is a relative kind of certainty. Science is limited when it comes to questions around ultimate truth because by its nature, it has to break what is incredibly complex into measurable chunks that can only be interpreted through the lens of our language, culture and intellect.

This is why science is an ongoing conversation and why it is never fully settled. It’s incredibly useful though, but even scientists can retreat back into a place of pure perception when they need to. That way they are less likely to get drawn into constructs that would impinge on the open mindedness that is crucial for good scientific enquiry.

It could be that the laws of mathematics and the ‘laws’ of physics, connect to something that is purely objective but that doesn’t negate the importance of embracing ‘not knowing’. As Sadhguru says, “what you know is minuscule, what you don’t know is boundless”. He goes on to ask, “how are you going to put a definition on the source of creation?”

“You cannot define it, you cannot understand it, you can only dissolve into it. You can experience it, you can never know it, you can’t make knowledge out of it…it can only be experienced. Experience does not mean you can eat it or you can grasp it. No, you can experience only by dissolving in it. There is no other way. So, we are just looking for methods of dissolution so that we can experience something far bigger than ourselves.”

By the same token, appreciating the boundlessness of our not knowing is crucial for engaging in ongoing critical thinking because it helps us to embrace nuance. Also, by grounding our critical thinking in ‘not knowing’ we are better able to make decisions that are in-tune with The Tao. This is why all four components of HA work well together.

Holistic Activism is about moving away from conflict and focussing on the common ground, but doesn’t some conflict initiate positive change?

There is a lot of conflict in activism but that conflict should be directed more at institutions rather than the individuals who work for them. There are many reasons why people may work for an organisation, including the need to put food on the table.

By accepting an individual for who they and showing a willingness to connect to them, they are more likely to initiate change in the organisation or leave it on ethical grounds.

Nevertheless, individuals in organisations will sometimes initiate conflict towards you, especially if you are protesting. That could be because it is in their job description or because they feel that their sense of self and identity is being threatened (or both). Either way, it is best to show the compassionate assertiveness that is borne out of acceptance for how their life has unfolded to this moment.

Of course, if your safety is at risk, you should act out of self-defence but unless your activities risk undermining the purpose of the protest, it is mostly appropriate to look for ways to de-escalate the risk of conflict at a personal level.

Yes, but conflict at a personal level can also lead to constructive outcomes?

Conflict with another person can lead to constructive outcomes as long as everyone involved has a certain amount of emotional maturity and a willingness to see it as a pathway to positive change.

Otherwise, conflict becomes an endless process that only feeds into the shadow of yourself and the person you are confronting. Compassionate assertiveness is almost always the way forward in such circumstances.

Therefore, a healthy weariness of conflict is good. That way you know the difference between the conflict that feeds the cycle of pain and the conflict that surpasses it.

The first component of HA is about spending time as the observer, but we also need to get things done. When do we know when to stop being the observer? Food needs to be grown; wood needs to be chopped…

One of the first principles of permaculture is to observe the land for a while before deciding what to plant. That way, you are better able to create systems that work in-line with non-human nature rather than one’s that rub up against it. This means that over time, the land will be less reliant upon human input in order to host more biodiversity and increased yields.

Of course, natural systems have evolved to cope very well without human interference but many landscapes have developed in conjunction with humans over time in a way that provides food and sustenance whilst also drawing down carbon and hosting a rich diversity of plants animals and insects.

Therefore, much of what we have to do is to either leave the land alone and let non-human nature do its work or return to those ancient land management techniques (or something in between).

Selective grazing can for example preserve those ancient grasslands that we regard as being more important than the woodland that would return if those grazing animals were to ever be removed. In other cases, it may be preferable to remove the grazing animals and allow the trees to return with minimal human interference.

Therefore, knowing how to approach a landscape requires a combination of being the silent observer and the critical thinker. These are the two bookends of Holistic Activism.

So, the key is to firstly observe and think, to what extent can we leave this land alone and if it does require our input, how do we help regenerate it in a way that enables the best outcome for biodiversity and soil regeneration that is required?

Much of the work ahead will be about repairing land that we have already over- interfered with so that we can help return it to a state of equilibrium, either through putting it back into a situation where we no longer need to interfere with it or through returning to traditional land management practices.

All four components of HA are crucial in terms of how we manage the land; that we connect with it outside of language through observing it, that we don’t project our shadow onto it by trying to bend it to our will and that any changes that we do make are deeply considered through critical thinking.

This approach applies to people of course too. The way we approach people and the land are two sides of the same coin.

It’s all very well talking about spending time in the space between your thoughts, in a place of presence outside of mind, but surely, we still need a narrative? Bruce Parry once said that a sniper needs to be very present… but it doesn’t mean that this will lead to a holistic kind of ‘activism.’

That is a great point, Bruce also went on to say that there is a strong need to embrace empathy. So having a narrative based on empathy is important but it needs to be something that works for you. This could be seeing yourself and all of the nature around you as the ongoing expression of unconditional love or to remind yourself that you and everything around you is connected and part of a greater whole. Recalling a past memory of being deeply present and the joy that you felt at that time, can also help carry you there.

Whatever works is good as long as the narrative is intended to be used only as a means of carrying you into the space and not as a means of filling it. The mind does need a narrative because the mind is part of us, just like our capacity to observe our minds is part of us. So, it is all good as long as there is a point whereby our mind can trust us to let go.