Climate crisis and systems collapse is no longer a distant scenario. What does it mean now to work for a different future? The need to make our activism sacred is more imperative than ever before.
This month something in the understanding of the future of our civilisation shifted. As someone working in the environmental field, and as a young person, when I looked to the future in my heart, I always felt that in my lifetime things would not be the same as before. That life in the next 30 years was going to change, had to change; that the fundamental unsustainability of our culture would force things to change.
And I wanted to be a part of the possibility for this whole change to be beautiful. That the vacuous daily grind of busyness and stress, the perpetual ‘never enough’ which is western life on one hand, maintained by the exploitation of people and planet mostly in the east on the other, all in service to the values of materialism and money – could be entirely renewed for the benefit of all.
Like tasting a real tomato for the very first time, bursting with flavours, with vitality, we could live with the abundance, connection and harmony that is utterly available and intrinsic to life, should we choose it for ourselves and for our wider human and non-human family.
My belief in this vision has fuelled my own work, and I also know that of so many others working in this field. I’ve tasted and witnessed it as micro realities in various places and at multiple times in my life. These experiences have been deeply transformative for me and nourished the feeling that from the collective changes that will need to happen in my lifetime could truly emerge a better world.
But as the years have rolled past, and signs of real mainstream change so little, if I’m honest, when I looked to my future, in my bones I knew that challenging times were to be ahead. I knew that it was too late now to escape the consequences of our desecration of the natural world which we depend on for life – whether I was a part of the positive changes taking place, or not. And so with the release of the recent IPCC report and the news that we have ‘12 years to limit climate catastrophe’, closely followed by a report showing the scale of the annihilation of ‘60% of wildlife since 1970’, this trajectory, for so many of us working for the future, has turned painfully conscious and real.
Yes, there have been the feelings of anger, grief and fear for what we have self-created, for the insanity of choosing this future. But more than anything else, it has brought alive questions within myself and in my colleagues that need to be explored: What does it now mean to work for the future? How do we do our activism if climate change is now climate breakdown? How can we stay resilient, how can we contribute, how can we find meaning in all of this? As a young person, what is my role? I’m not sure there are simple answers to such questions, and surely our responses arise from our own personal inner depths and experiences.
Personally, it has deepened a growing conviction within myself and increasingly in those around me, mostly other young people; that the imperative to make our activism ‘sacred’ is required now more than ever before. From my own intention over the past years to participate in a ‘sacred activism’, a form of leadership that is rooted in something deeper and greater, the news this month has brought to mind some of those experiences where I’ve learnt something about what sacred activism means in practice. It has made me want to bow more deeply to these values, and commit more openly to this way of being in the world. It seems to me the only thing that makes sense now.
It’s not about creating change, it’s about being of service.
It may sound radicaI, but I believe that working to try to create ‘change’ in politics, economics, culture etc., is now kind of an obsolete effort.
Since the IPCC report, I know that many of my friends and colleagues have been profoundly questioning the point of their environmental work, given that the future is no longer one of climate change, but of climate breakdown. Given that as the report describes we are looking at scenarios of mass poverty, droughts, floods and extreme heat in the next 12 years. What are we now working towards in our campaigning, in our activism, and why? What is the appropriate response of the environmental and social change movements if creating a different future is no longer possible in the same way?
I feel that a shift in our relationship with our activism could provide a much deeper grounding and basis for making a positive contribution to our world, an effort that is still vitally important, no matter how things look now or in the future. We must not stop taking our action, whatever that looks like. As Martin Luther-King famously said, ‘even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.’
Recently, I’ve stopped focusing on outer change and whether my work is doing something or making a difference, instead focusing on the simple truth of planting my apple trees the best that I can, with all of myself that I can offer, and all of my heart.
For me, putting sacred activism in practice means offering myself and my actions in service to something greater, without preoccupation or control over the outcomes of my actions, for the sake of what I love. This practice has opened me up to an inner space of so much more humility, so much more vulnerability, but also much more freedom, joy and sense of possibility than I could have imagined before. Giving up control of outcomes and surrendering to the unknown in our lives or work is terrifying, and a constant personal practice, but in those moments where I have been able to do so, I’ve stepped into a paradigm so alive with magic and mystery that brings me greater trust and deeper intimacy with life’s potential.
The reason that this subtle practice of sacred activism came to mind when reading the IPCC report is also because I have found it immensely pragmatic and practical in these times of change. We can’t now change the reality that we will all have to suffer the consequences of ecocide, but being of service is an orientation that is true and transformative beyond outer circumstances.
It allows us to be so much more agile, non-attached to things being the way we want them to be, so much more a response to the real need of the moment whatever this may be. Maybe today it’s about planting trees, maybe in five years time, it’s about something else. Activism I have found becomes a participatory and dynamic relationship with life, rather than a fixed goal oriented target, the meaning and revelation is uncovered in the process, rather than in the outcomes.
Deeper still, I’ve found for myself and have experienced in so many of my peers, that work and spiritual practice in this way can become one. That a real sense of the ‘sacred’ and ‘activism’ can come together in a way that perhaps can be a vessel for real transformation simultaneously of self and world.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, moving from an emphasis on creating change, to offer myself in service to life has helped me to cultivate a resilience that we all need to find in ourselves in order to stay grounded and strong in our leadership and actions in the long term. As the IPCC report brought acutely to consciousness, and which I am still coming to terms with in myself – challenging times are ahead.
It’s not about letting go of a vision for a different future; it’s about protecting sacred spaces to hold this vision.
Reading about the grievous reality of our predicament, I think about this vision of a different future: where money and materialism become interconnectedness and reverence for all life, where the rivers run pure and clear, the forests healthy and strong, and humanity living it’s greatest potential. And I wonder differently what the point of my work now is really about. Yes, I feel we need to shift our attention away from focusing on ‘change’ in a conventional sense, knowing the reality that the landscape of the future is so fragile and unpredictable. However, I still believe in the intrinsic need to hold on to a vision of a different world, the vision that energises so many of our movements from indigenous rights, to social justice, to new economics. How could we go on without it?
I think we just need to work with it in a different way. I work predominantly with millennials, emerging leaders in the next generation who want to respond to the environmental crisis in a way that brings together both a practical and a deeper spiritual form of action. Envisioning a more beautiful future, and setting to work with practical projects that can try to in some way embody these values of interconnectedness, reverence and stewardship, is at the heart of the purpose of our work.
Yet, will our vision go beyond individuals and small groups or projects, and be manifested as a new paradigm in the mainstream? I’m not sure I feel very hopeful at this moment in history, however, I do feel that the purpose and power of vision is still intrinsically vital to our acts of service for the future.
More and more, I experience the act of coming together in sacred space to hold this vision with others, a core part of what sacred activism is about. It’s about never giving up on the belief in humanity’s highest potential for transformation and renewal. It means believing with the whole conviction of one’s heart in humanity’s deepest qualities of ingenuity, courage, resilience and great, great love. Examples of which can be found so abundantly all around us every single day and all over the world.
I think of some of the great visionaries of the past and present; Martin Luther-King, Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and how their efforts to build societies deeply rooted in recognition of life’s oneness were not ultimately realised, and how in some ways divisions and conflict in their countries have only worsened since their time and their messages.This does not make their contributions to humanity’s history and to humanity’s future any less critical. For in themselves they represent something so important, they hold and inspire something so precious that cannot become lost; the potential for what is possible. And perhaps when the time is right, what is possible will become the present, and who knows exactly when that time will be.
And the word ‘protection’ becomes increasingly important to me as the darkness of disconnection and denial become intensified. The story of materialism, consumerism, the qualities of unconstrained desire, greed, fear and the injustice and exploitation of our times are so strong that sometimes it feels as though nothing else is possible. But we must protect the spaces and moments where a different story is lived, a different vision of life and life’s purpose held. These spaces, for me, are sacred and infinitely precious in these times. A core part of the sacred work of activism of our times.
It’s not about being optimistic; it’s about being pragmatic.
Clearly, these reports make it pretty much impossible to be optimistic about the future of our species. Much research suggests that the chances of keeping global temperature rise under 2C danger threshold are just one in 20. So I believe the wisdom now is in being pragmatic, not optimistic.
Optimism would say that no matter how bad things are, things will all turn out good in the end. Pragmatism would be real about the reality of our times and the implications on our future and be practical about how we apply ourselves in response.
Let’s be brave enough to witness and speak to what is really going on, prepare inwardly and outwardly for the times to come, and most of all, let’s work together and support one another in this journey.
It’s not about the inevitable future, it’s about miracles, magic and grace.
A deeper commitment to sacred activism is my heart’s response to the news of the past month. And the best part of living in a paradigm that embraces mystery, wonder and a sense of the sacred, is the experience of miracles, magic and being a part of something so much breathtakingly greater.
We know those moments in our own lives that remind us that we are never truly in control, and reveal life’s true depths and dimensions beyond the physical realm. Our dreams, synchronicities, meditations and moments of grace, all put us in touch with this deeper level of reality where the bounds of the possible are pushed beyond what we imagined. Where the inner worlds and the outer worlds come together in mysterious and magical ways. It’s a skill I’m not quite sure where to learn, but I think as Sacred Activists we can work with this magic and it can work with us.
As mythologist and storyteller Dr Martin Shaw puts it, ‘If you love something, does it not affect the way you behave? I’m surrounded by people telling me, these are the end of days. I’m surrounded by people telling me that statistically there is no way out. Do you think I’m gonna take that remotely seriously? No. Because life is more magical than that. Stories are far more unexpected than that.’
By Amrita Bhohi