Week of September 19th, 2019

Activism Works!

A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history.

On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions.

—Andrew Harvey


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CELEBRATORY ACTIVISM

Some people don't want to register evidence that contradicts their foregone conclusions about humans' damaging presence on the planet.

It's dangerous to do so, they feel, because it threatens to make us complacent and fall under the delusion that our work as freedom fighters is done. Celebrating progress is a foolish indulgence that would sap our motivation to keep agitating for even greater justice. Focusing on the good stuff tempts us to ignore the continuing bad stuff.

I understand that position. It's the stance of many devoted activists who have a ferocious devotion to the extinction of suffering. I respect their work and am rooting them on. But I'd also like to suggest that there are alternate ways to wage the war on stupidity, violence, and tyranny.

Activist and author Naomi Klein tells a story about the time she traveled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink."

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business? "Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."


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OPTIMISM AS A KEY TO ACTIVISM

Howard Zinn wrote: An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time.

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

Read more.


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IT ONLY TAKES A SMALL PERCENTAGE OF PEOPLE TO CHANGE THINGS

It takes just 3.5% of a population actively participating in non-violent protests to ensure serious political change.

No government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating.

For example, in 1986, millions of Filipinos took to the streets of Manila in peaceful protest and prayer in the People Power movement. The Marcos regime folded on the fourth day.

In 2003, the people of Georgia ousted Eduard Shevardnadze through the bloodless Rose Revolution, in which protestors stormed the parliament building holding the flowers in their hands.

Earlier this year, the presidents of Sudan and Algeria both announced they would step aside after decades in office, thanks to peaceful campaigns of resistance.

Read more.


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OPTIMSM AS A CRAFTY STRATEGY

"Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope."

—Noam Chomsky


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ACTIVISM AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

So often activism is based on what we are against, what we don’t like, what we don’t want. And yet we manifest what we focus on. And so we are manifesting yet ever more of what we don’t want, what we don’t like, what we want to change.

So for me, activism is about a spiritual practice as a way of life. And I realized I didn’t climb the tree because I was angry at the corporations and the government; I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. So it is my feeling of connection that drives me, instead of my anger and feelings of being disconnected.

—Julia Butterfly Hill


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PRONOIA AS A FOUNDATION OF ACTIVISM

I do understand if, during the course of reading about good news, you're visited by thoughts like, "But what about all the terrible things in the world?" or "Brezsny's totally imbalanced in his perspective!"

Please know that in tallying up the profuse blessings that surround us, I'm not implying that utopia is at hand. My education and my predilection for empathy have made me acutely aware of the suffering of human beings, whether they live next door or 10,000 miles away.
But I also regard it as my fun duty to counterbalance the hordes of cynical storytellers in the media and entertainment industries who tirelessly assure us that life on Earth is a dismal hell. I think it's smart to aggressively identify all the ways the world works for us.

I also want to suggest that it doesn't help those who are suffering if we hate or feel guilty for our own blessings. To dwell for a few stolen minutes on the beauty and pleasures of our lives is not tantamount to ignoring all the sad and bad things.


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GREAT ACTIVISTS ARE GREAT OPTIMISTS

Many great and effective activists have come to the conclusion, as I have, that cultivating hope and optimism is crucial to being effective as an activist. They include Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit, and Julia Butterfly Hill.


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HOPE IN THE DARK

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit


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ACTIVISM WORKS

Activism works. And there are millions & millions of activists.

1. Spain said it would create a new marine wildlife reserve for the migrations of whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean and will prohibit all future fossil fuels exploration in the area.

2. Following "visionary" steps by Belize, UNESCO removed the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest in the world, from its list of endangered World Heritage Sites.

3. Colombia officially expanded the Serranía de Chiribiquete (also known as The Cosmic Village of the Jaguars) to 4.3 million hectares, making it the largest protected tropical rainforest national park in the world.

4. Mexico said its population of wild jaguars, the largest feline in the Americas, grew by 20% in the past eight years, and 14 Latin American countries signed an agreement to implement a regional conservation program for the big cats through 2030.

5. In the forests of central Africa, the population of mountain gorillas, one of the world’s most endangered species, was reported to have increased by 25% since 2010, to over 1,000 individuals.

6. Canada signed another conservation deal with its First Nations people, creating the largest protected boreal forest (an area twice the size of Belgium) on the planet.

7. Chile passed a new law protecting the waters along its coastline, creating nine marine reserves and increasing the area of ocean under state protection from 4.3% to 42.4%.

8. The Seychelles created a new 130,000 square kilometer marine reserve in the Indian Ocean, protecting their waters from illegal fishing for generations to come.

9. New Caledonia agreed to place 28,000 square kilometers of its ocean waters under protection, including some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs.

Read many more specific examples of how well activism is working in the comments section of this post.


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EVIL ISN'T REALLY THAT INTERESTING

“The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates: considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artists; a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin


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SACRED ACTIVISM

Sacred activism is the fusion of the mystic’s passion for God with the activist’s passion for justice -- creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart that longs to help, preserve, and nurture every living thing. "

—Andrew Harvey


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MORE PRONOIA RESOURCES:

Climate Strike on September 20.

Musician David Byrne offers a website called Reasons to be Cheerful. It's dedicated to articulating solutions to problems. More here.


This Lake Belongs to Everyone. A city on Lake Erie convinced its waterfront property owners to give the public their waterfronts for free. It’s a case that could transform the Great Lakes forever.

Portugal’s Wildly Successful Decriminalization Experiment. By decriminalizing even “hard” drugs like heroin and cocaine, Portugal drove down HIV rates and overdose deaths—and proved beyond a doubt that harm reduction works.


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SLOW BUT SURE BREAKTHROUGHS

Now and then you may be able to whip up a wonderful breakthrough in a magic moment. But more often it's the case that beauty and truth and love and justice emerge in their full glory only over the course of a painstaking, step-by-step, trial-and-error process.

"All that I made before the age of 65 is not worth counting," wrote Japanese painter Hokusai. "At 73 I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. At 90 I will enter into the secret of things. At 110 everything—every dot, every dash—will live."


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LOVERS FIND SECRET PLACES

Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.

Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that.

Love says, There are.

— Rumi, from “Secret Places,” Bridge to the Soul: Journeys Into the Music and Silence of the Heart - as rendered by Coleman Barks


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THE WORLD DESIRES YOU

Jane Brunette, aka Flamingseed, suggests this game: Instead of being the one who does the desiring, imagine instead that everything desires you.

Your morning coffee really wants you to taste it.

The trees are yearning for you to notice the bright green of their leaves.

The breeze wants you to enjoy it’s soft touch on your cheek.

Even the ground under your shoes is waiting for you to notice the lively sensation it creates as you walk.

Suddenly, the world lights up — and so do you. When we feel wanted, it’s natural to feel enlivened in response. Our desire takes its rightful place as the fire of presence and enjoyment of what is, instead of the burning need to get what’s not here.

Doing this practice, we will derive satisfaction from a whole variety of ordinary things that we normally overlook, since our attention won’t be occupied with waiting for a specific object to please us. Now, there is no need to wait, because everything we encounter has satisfaction built into it. With desire spread out all over the world, its enlivening quality is no longer confined to one object that we may or may not get.

This little game can trick you into mindful presence, even as it helps wear down your usual relationship to desire. It is a simple, playful way to meditate as you go about your daily life. Try it for short little bursts — and rather than thinking of it as a task, let the enjoyment that comes be the fuel that naturally makes you want to do it more and more.

Read more.


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REAL LISTENING

Abraham Maslow's definition of real listening: to listen "without presupposing, classifying, improving, controverting, evaluating, approving or disapproving, without dueling what is being said, without rehearsing the rebuttal in advance, without free-associating to portions of what is being said so that succeeding portions are not heard at all."


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EVERYONE'S A NOBODY AND NOBODY'S PERFECT

Keep two pieces of paper in your pockets at all times. One says "I am a speck of dust," and the other, "The world was created for me."

- Rabbi Bunim of P’shiskha

P.S.: Neither is true and both are true.


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HOW TO TUNE IN TO THE HIDDEN BEAUTY

What do you need to kill off in yourself in order to tune in to the beauty that's hidden from you? What worn-out shticks are blinding you to the blessings that life is conspiring to give you?

Which of your theories may have been useful and even brilliant in the past but are now keeping you from becoming aware of the ever-fresh creation that unfolds before you?


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In a time of destruction, create something. A poem. A parade. A community. A school. A vow. A moral principle. One peaceful moment.

―Maxine Hong Kingston


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YOUR HOLY IMAGINATION

Listen to a spoken-word version of this rap

Your imagination is the single most important asset you possess. It's your power to create mental pictures of things that don't exist yet and that you want to bring into being. It's the magic wand you use to shape your future.

And so in your own way, you are a prophet. You generate countless predictions every day. Your imagination is the source, tirelessly churning out images of what you will be doing later.

The featured prophecy of the moment may be as simple as a psychic impression of yourself eating a fudge brownie at lunch or as monumental as a daydream of some year building your dream home by a lake or sea.

Your imagination is a treasure when it spins out scenarios that are aligned with your deepest desires. In fact, it's an indispensable tool in creating the life you want; it's what you use to form images of the conditions you'd like to inhabit and the objects you hope to wield. Nothing manifests on this planet unless it first exists as a mental picture.

But for most of us, the imagination is as much a curse as a blessing. We're often just as likely to use it to conjure up premonitions that are at odds with our conscious values. That's the result of having absorbed toxic programming from the media and from our parents at an early age and from other influential people in our past.

Fearful fantasies regularly pop up into our awareness, many disguising themselves as rational thoughts and genuine intuitions. Those fearful fantasies may hijack our psychic energy, directing it to exhaust itself in dead-end meditations.

Every time we entertain a vision of being rejected or hurt or frustrated, every time we rouse and dwell on a memory of a painful experience, we're blasting ourselves with a hex.

Meanwhile, ill-suited longings are also lurking in our unconscious mind, impelling us to want things that aren't good for us and that we don't really need. Anytime we surrender to the allure of these false and trivial and counterproductive desires, our imagination is practicing a form of black magic.

This is the unsavory aspect of the imagination that the Zen Buddhists deride as the "monkey mind." It's the part of our mental apparatus that endlessly spins out pictures that zip around with the energy of an agitated animal. If we can stop locating our sense of self in the relentless surge of the monkey mind's slapdash chatter, we can be fully attuned to the life that's right in front of us. Only then are we able to want what we actually have.

But whether our imagination is in service to our noble desires or in the thrall of compulsive fears and inappropriate yearnings, there is one constant: The prophecies of our imagination tend to be accurate. Many of our visions of the future do come to pass. The situations we expect to occur and the experiences we rehearse and dwell on are all-too-often reflected back to us as events that confirm our expectations.

Does that mean our mental projections create the future? Let's consider that possibility. What if it's at least partially true that what we expect will happen does tend to materialize?

Here's the logical conclusion: It's downright stupid and self-destructive to keep infecting our imaginations with pictures of loss and failure, doom and gloom, fear and loathing. The far more sensible approach is to expect blessings.

That's one reason why I'm reverent in composing my messages for you. If I'm to be one of the influences you invite into the intimate sanctuary where you hatch your self-fulfilling prophecies, I want to conspire with you to disperse fear and invoke relaxation and joy.

Listen to a spoken-word version of this rap


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