Looking for the Sacred Activist Within
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In my last posting, I suggested the first portal I would explore in this series of blog postings is marked astrologically by a triple-pass Mars-Pluto conjunction, that is to say transiting Mars conjunct my natal Pluto. The first pass (allowing a 1° orb) ran from November 29 – December 11, 2009, and this first series of posts is my account of what happened.
The portal associated with this transit began when I posted an update on my Facebook page that read, “I am returning from an Andrew Harvey workshop on Sacred Activism pumped up with a renewed sense of the possibility of making a difference in this whacked out, wobbly world.” Andrew Harvey is a mystical scholar and spiritual teacher, who founded the Institute for Sacred Activism in Oak Park, IL. Sacred Activism is the idea that political activism can be more effective when it is fueled by a deep spiritual practice, and can in fact be rather ineffective, misguided, and even dangerous without it. This is not a new idea, but rather one that has been embodied by many – Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama – to name a few. What Andrew Harvey has done is to revive the tradition of the sacred activist within the context of an actual curriculum that he teaches.
Just before this Mars-Pluto transit began, my partner Sara and I attended the 4th in a series of workshops through which Harvey was presenting the beta version of this material – a module focused on the body. Aside from the attractive nature of the concept Harvey was reviving – spelled out in his recent book The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism – Sara and I were drawn to the workshop by the synchronicities involved. It so happened that she was presenting at a conference of physical therapists interested in aquatic bodywork (one of her many talents) in Chicago (of which Oak Park is a suburb) at the same time as the conference, and her schedule allowed her to attend most of Andrew Harvey’s workshop. It also happened that a friend from Oak Park, who had heard of Andrew Harvey, was interested in the workshop as well. So the timing was right, we had a place to stay, and everything fell easily into place in the way I have discovered life often does when an important portal is opening.
From the opening lecture of the workshop, I found myself engaged with Andrew Harvey himself in what has become for me an accustomed role of devil’s advocate. In particular, I found myself questioning the kind of spiritual elitism that assumes those who attend these workshops have the answers, while ordinary people are essentially asleep. I begged to differ with this assumption, suggesting that there is no one that I knew – including the good old boys here in the Ozarks, for whom the very concept of sacred activism would be quite foreign – who does not know that something is fundamentally broken in the larger society that we all share, and that if we are to survive in some meaningful fashion as a culture, something quite fundamental needs to change. Though we probably disagree on exactly what, there is no one that I know that doesn’t believe we have a problem.
The only real question is what could an ordinary person do – especially one saddled with family responsibilities, chronic economic angst, and perpetual stress tilting toward overload. Andrew Harvey seemed to think that if one were aligned with one’s intention to wake up and do something, the clear path forward would reveal itself. I was not so sure. In fact, I was bringing that very question to the workshop, hoping to get answers. The people I know – everybody I know, in fact – is in one way or another, wrestling with the same question. In a world that is rapidly coming apart at the seams, is it even possible any more to do anything that can ultimately make a difference? Or is it all – at this late hour – just triage?
Andrew Harvey routinely went red in the face when any hint of this question was raised, as he had clearly invested everything he had in the possibility that building a more conscious system was possible, after the old had been dismantled. I admired his energy, his passion, his integrity, his stamina, and his fierce determination, even as I occasionally butted heads with him throughout the weekend. But I also sensed a sort of desperation within him – perhaps both personal and professional, a lack of attention to details (where the devil dwells) and a naiveté – that I did not find reassuring.
Ultimately, Andrew Harvey did not have an answer to my question, but oddly enough I did get my question answered – in retrospect, I think just by attempting to clarify my own position in relation to his, whenever it differed. What I realized was that I was in fact, already a sacred activist, that there was nothing I needed to do to join the club, or anything I needed to change, really, in order to make a difference within my sphere of influence, other than to just keeping on keeping on, learning and refining my approach to my own life, as I went.
An old Chinese fortune cookie I keep pasted above my desk says it all: “What you will do matters. All you need is to do it.” I left the weekend workshop convinced that it really is that simple, and this was the source of the new optimism I had shared within the Facebook update I posted the day before this Mars-Pluto transit began.
The next post in this series is A Dialogue About Violence.
To read more blog posts, go here.