Transform and “Oneness”

The July 15 Transform: Spirituality and Social Change class focused on “oneness.” Conducted by Liza Rankow, it was another stimulating and rewarding event. A diverse group of sixteen individuals participated. As with the Faith and Feet training last weekend, three-fourths of the participants were women.

As I discussed in “Faith and Feet Reflections,” I failed to hear much self-criticism at that training. Last night, however, I heard more acknowledgement of personal weakness. In the full group, one participant referred to his falling short in his efforts to truly love others. One revealed a serious health issue. In my small breakout group which discussed “What does this worldview demand of you in your daily life,” participants spoke of their struggles with empathizing too strongly with the pain of others, reacting with too much anger at the actions of others, and becoming too self-centered. These and other instances of honest self-revelation were heartening, for I find the common reluctance to be open unfortunate.

One participant spoke honestly about his not understanding the key concept of oneness. “I get interconnectedness,” he said. “But I still feel separate. It’s still me acting.” I tried to help clarify the paradox by discussing my understanding of the difference between a distinction and a dichotomy (which separates). We can be full, distinct selves and still be at one with the universe. Afterwards, it struck me that I could have discussed my sense of being infused with that which I call “the Mystery that energizes and structures the universe,” or what others have called “the life force.” We can feel in harmony with that force and committed to honor its purpose: to evolve. Then, just now, I consulted the dictionary and found two helpful definitions for oneness: “the fact or state of being unified or whole, though comprised of two or more parts,” and “the state of being completely united with or a part of someone or something.” Regardless, the issue raised by that participant is crucial. It seems that we need to work on how to communicate more clearly our sense of oneness in a way to nurtures a “both-and” perspective rather than “either-or.”

For me, it does not work to say, as one participant did, “Ultimately we’re creating this oasis within ourselves.” That statement reminds me of Rumi’s, “There is no need to go outside.” That perspective is common among mystics. But those statements strike me as too individualistic. When I go inside I go outside automatically. And I feel that I am co-creating a communal oasis with the Great Spirit and my fellow humans in community.

At the moment, that co-creation is largely informal. The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples does provide me with some sustenance. But as I discussed in “A Meditation on Deep Community,” I would prefer a more intentional structure that provides a safe haven that nurtures deep spiritual growth, including a commitment to changing root causes of suffering, including national policy.

In my forthcoming book, My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, I discuss that issue extensively and suggest twelve concrete, practical steps for how we can move in that direction. But the dehumanizing forces of modernization are so powerful, I do not expect that kind of holistic organizing to flourish. Reporting on one’s honest self-examination to others, even if with trusted allies, can be a difficult barrier that most people decline to cross. As James Baldwin said:

A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

But who knows? Maybe even within my lifetime I will be surprised. I did note some glimmers of hope in last night’s class.

In the meantime, I’ll try to be open, available, and responsive, and will continue to explore what others are doing, such as Generation Waking Up. I learned about that project from Joshua Gorman at last week’s Transform class and plan to participate in their intergenerational WakeUp Experience with artists, changemakers, and passion-filled community members of all ages Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm, Humanist Hall 390 27th Street in Oakland.

Their impressive website, which affirms changing “the system,” declares:

Across cultures and generations, we are forming a planet-wide ‘Movement of movements’ including every issue, approach, and sector of society that is remaking our world…. Our generation’s calling is clear: to create a thriving, just, sustainable world that works for all, we must take bold and systemic action to transform our whole society.

Their post on a workshop “Collective Liberation in Boston” reports:

Through both critical theory and experiential processes, they inquired deeply into what it will take to shift from chaos and disconnection to diverse, thriving community, and how to inspire political, cultural, and social transformations to make the vision of anti­-oppression and community a reality. Barbara drew the experiential content from Joanna Macy’s powerful body of work, the Work that Reconnects. The Work that Reconnects draws from deep ecology, systems theory, and spiritual traditions to build motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity for the transition to a sustainable human culture.

Though I find this project encouraging, I did note one item that concerns me. The site also quotes Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

The use of the word “never” is the first red flag. Absolute terms are usually a sign of sloppy thinking.

But more fundamentally, Gandhi and King would never have made that statement. I prefer the Gandhi-King approach. Nevertheless, I’ll go to the July 24 WakeUp Experience with abundant curiosity.

Faith & Feet Reflections

After participating in a 12-hour training with Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a nationally-known trainer, organizer, and author of a new book titled Faith-rooted Organizing, I sent the following email to Rev. Deborah Lee, who works with Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, a co-sponsor of the training.

“Faith-rooted” activists are out front about their faith, whereas “faith-based” organizing merely uses traditional secular methods to organize members of spiritual communities.


Dear Deborah,

Thanks again for a wonderful training in faith-rooted organizing. I found the twelve hours to be very beneficial. Because I deeply appreciate the direction you, Alexia, and the others are taking, I asked Alexia to inform me about how I can keep in touch with future developments concerning with her “un-network network.”

One important dimension seemed to be missing, however. In the Sunday night report back, Vanessa Riles commented on the urgent need to address “internalized oppression.” The written report from that group articulated this question, “How do we support each other in having deeper faith?” I don’t believe the training responded to those urgent matters.

As I see it, we need to deal with those issues not merely with “leadership development” (as the CLUE approach does). We also need to openly encourage all of our members to address those issues and offer them user-friendly tools that can help in that regard – tools that can be easily replicated by others elsewhere. We need to address spiritual needs as well as economic needs.

My interpretation of original sin, crucifixion, and resurrection is that human beings are essentially flawed, limited, and afflicted with contradictions. We inevitably “trespass” against others. To minimize those transgressions, we need to acknowledge our mistakes, at times face-to-face. If we do, we can grow spiritually and in certain ways become like new, or reborn. She not busy being born is busy dying. Crucifixion and resurrection are two sides of the same coin.

Activists are guilty of many sins in terms of how they treat one another, the general public, and themselves. We need to do more than learn how to communicate more effectively. We also need to learn how to actualize ourselves more fully and minimize those mistakes. As Van Jones once said, “We need to be more confessional and less pro-fessional.”

This commitment to self-examination and self-criticism is key to my spiritual faith. I believe spiritual activists need to be out-front and up-front about a commitment to fostering spiritual growth with one another.

On my way home, I read the last chapter of Alexia’s book. It talks about providing spiritual sustenance to the staff. And I see that faith-rooted organizing uses spiritual rituals in its public events. That’s all well and good. Those activities are designed to help with burnout and discouragement. They provide spiritual comfort.

But spiritual growth is not always so easy. It often requires painful introspection. I heard nothing about that during our twelve hours and I saw nothing about it in the last chapter of that book, where it would have fit. I find this lack a serious deficit in your approach.

If I am wrong about my impressions, please correct my misunderstanding. Otherwise, I urge you to consider deepening your approach.

I attach the Meditation that I presented at the Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples Sunday. It touches on some of those issues.

Feel free to share this with Alexia.

Keeping faith,

The Problem with Activists

DSC01563By Wade Lee Hudson

Like the rest of our society, most activist organizations get wrapped up in facts and figures and policy prescriptions, and fail to affirm underlying moral values. They rely on tapping anger and fear, and neglect deeper feelings of love and faith. They aim to score victories by defeating opponents, rather than seeking win-win solutions. They focus on the outer world and ignore the inner world. They operate too much in the head, not enough in the heart. They become excessively task-oriented, and forget to evaluate their process and how their members relate to each other. They overlook the need to empower people. They primarily rely on mobilizing people to take some specific action, rather than collective problem solving. They often have hidden agendas. They spend too much time calculating what is “political,” rather than speaking honestly. They may “listen” to people when they first recruit them, but then stop really listening. They lecture, often with a shrill tone, and try to “educate,” rather than engaging in authentic dialog. They aim to persuade, and stop learning. They are too arrogant and judgmental, rather than humble and understanding. They function like an impersonal machine that uses people until they use them up. They manipulate people by stroking their egos. They are afflicted with self-centered power struggles. They tend to believe that some one person must always be in charge, that each person must either dominate or submit, rather than collaborate as equals. They have too many boring meetings. They don’t sing and dance enough. They don’t enjoy enough cultural experiences together. They don’t just hang out and socialize informally enough. They are too serious. They don’t have enough fun. They forget to love the universe and the life force that energizes and structures it.

How to Stop Undervaluing Your Successes (Part I)

lla-header Years ago I read The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way  (Lantern Books, 2006) by Hillary Rettig and really enjoyed it. On the book’s website, she says:

It is based on my many years’ experience as an activist and coach: work in which I learned which personal habits, thoughts and beliefs tend to help people succeed at ambitious goals, and which don’t. The Lifelong Activist encompasses all I have learned, and recasts it for use by progressive activists, organizers, educators and others. It will thus teach you how to:

• Manage Your Mission: so you can determine your authentic path and not act out of guilt, shame or obligation
• Manage Your Time: so you can create a schedule that allows you to live your mission, and to achieve the most within that mission
• Manage Your Fears: so you can follow the schedule without succumbing to procrastination, perfectionism or blocks
• Manage Your Relationship With Self: so you can be the strongest, most empowered, and most joyful person you can be. (And why that goal is fundamentally progressive.)
• Manage Your Relationship With Others: so you can leverage your energy, time, skills and other resources with those of others.

PrioritiesI subscribe to her occasional newsletter. The one I received today is particularly good. In this newsletter, How to Stop Undervaluing Your Successes (Part I), she writes:

As you evaluate your progress over the past year–or as your family attempts to evaluate it for you–one thing to keep in mind is that perfectionism often confuses success and failure. It typically recognizes just one kind of success, where you: (a) finish a monumental project, (b) do a spectacular job at it, and (c) win abundant praise and material rewards for it. Everything else is either (at best) not worth mentioning, or (at worst) a heinous failure.

However, there are many more types of success, including those where you:

• Start a new project
• Restart a lapsed project
• Make progress on a project

Most of our successes are, in fact, these kinds of “process successes.” They can seem small or even trivial compared with the monumental success we Ilya_Efimovich_Repin__1844_1930____Portrait_of_Leo_Tolstoy__1887_may be striving for: that’s okay, because when you look at your work through a process lens it becomes clear that there is really no such thing as a big success: only strings of tiny ones. Tolstoy didn’t write War and Peace: he wrote a whole bunch of sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters that added up to that book.

It’s also important that you recognize and celebrate “partial successes” where the work didn’t turn out as well as planned, or where it’s not received by others as well as you had hoped. Partial successes are the norm–and, by the way, a sign you’re setting laudably ambitious goals. And relying on outside validation and rewards is always dangerous, for these reasons:

• There’s a lot of randomness in how work is received. If your work isn’t fashionable, or doesn’t happen to get seen by the “right” people, it may never get the notice it deserves.
• If your work is at all edgy or controversial there will be a bias against it; and,
• There are so many perfectionist people and institutions out there that criticism often flows far more freely than praise. (This can be the case even with well-meaning people, like family members.)

Many of us hope for a big public success, and we can work toward that, but most of our validation needs to come from within, and perhaps from a small group of savvy supporters.

Avoiding Perfectionism’s “Chasm of Despair”

By recognizing and celebrating our process successes and partial successes we create an ongoing internal monologue that’s full of positiveness and encouragement. E.g.: “Great that I’m starting this again! OK, that was a strong sentence. Good word choice there—enough to get me going; I’ll fix it later. Good job!” Etc. That is the kind of internal monologue that yields enthusiasm and productivity.

Perfectionists, in contrast, have internal monologues that are profoundly negative and discouraging: “That sentence is horrible! That’s the wrong word—what’s wrong with you? This is taking too long—I’ll never get it done. And why did I ever choose this project anyway?” Etc. This monologue yields not productivity, but despair.

When I tell people to recognize and reward their process and partial successes, I typically hear two objections:

(1) “That sounds really self-indulgent. Why should I go easy on myself? If I do, I’ll never finish anything!” That’s the voice of perfectionism, and you should never give it credence, as it is not only cruel but misguided. For nearly everyone, compassionate objectivity is the only route to increased productivity.

(2) “Are you saying finishing isn’t important?” Absolutely not: it’s crucial and you should definitely acknowledge and celebrate your “finishes.” (And if they’re big, it’s okay to celebrate commensurately.) But don’t ignore or deprecate the other types of successes, which are equally crucial.

The ultimate success is a process success, by the way: getting to live your values and dreams moment by moment. I’ll discuss that in the next newsletter. Till then, below are some useful links, and for the full story on how to get more productive, read The 7 Secrets of the Prolific, now also available in Spanish and (abridged) Japanese.

How To Cope With Success-Related Losses
How To Avoid Burnout By Rewarding Yourself Frequently
Why, When Writing, Process Trumps Product
What to Do if You’re Stuck in the Middle of a Project