Behind the Scenes of Sustainable Activism

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By Barbara Cecil


Photographer unknown

I am part of blessed legions of men and women who sense deep down inside that we are made for these times, that our life work has to do with preservation of what is sacred and just.  We are committed to a new way of being that honors this earth and all life forms that live here together. But many who courageously stand against the desecration of the Earth and its peoples experience burnout, migraines, autoimmune diseases, periodic overwhelm and hopelessness. I have been seeking for decades for the robustness in myself to meet the rising emotional and climatic temperatures in the world.

Dedication to a sustainable planetary balance requires personal sustainability, so we can stay in this for the long run. Not hanging by our toenails, but living happy, inspiring lives. This global transition isn’t going away in our lifetime.  Learning how to live in the midst of escalating intensity requires us all to ask a fundamental  question: How do I find reliable ground in myself from which to see clearly and make wise choices?

Over time in my work with people, five ways of living have emerged as key:

  • Working in essence
  • Staying on our destiny line
  • Tending our sensitive hearts
  • Living in our bodies
  • Finding community

Working in Essence

Activism takes many forms. Sometimes a focused ritual gesture can act as a pivot point for an entire system. The microcosm is an “essence” of a larger pattern.  When we dwell in the reality of the interconnectedness of all life forms, we become aware of options for concentrated, localized touch that are a potent counterbalance to necessary confrontation.

A vivid example of this level of work is occurring in North Dakota where over 280 indigenous tribes from around the world have joined together in protest to a proposed pipeline.  Lakota Sioux spiritual leader, Paula Horne, spoke to me about the water ceremonies being offered in the Missouri River. The Standing Rock reservation is in danger of life-threatening contamination of its sacred water sources if the pipeline goes through. She describes the Missouri as part of the waterway system that is the Tree of Life on the North American continent, rooted in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil spills in any of the branches of the tree pour down the waterways, contaminating the whole Tree of Life, right into its roots. In Paula’s reality and the consciousness of her native cohorts, the ritual blessings performed in that same water revitalizes the structure of the water, with the possible effect of healing the whole river system as it flows southward into the Mississippi and the Gulf. This view is supported by the work of Marasu Emoto who postulates that the molecular structure of water adapts to the atmosphere and attitudes in which it is enveloped. In addition Paula knows that the blessed water evaporates, spreading out as a healing catalyst around the earth.

In the spirit of that same understanding, I have come to see my own body, which is 60% percent water, as one of the leaves in this Tree of Life.  I have taken to deliberate gratitude and prayer with the each intake of clean water.  Looking out through the eyes of one interrelated web, this repeated act of prayer infuses the whole system.

Interconnectedness moves laterally to include all manifest form suggesting leverage points for change close to home.  It also has a vertical axis from the past, through the present, into to the future.  Joanna Macy’s profound work with ancestral voices and support from future generations relates directly to available energetic support (Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, pages 169-189).

Staying on our destiny line

When we are doing what is ours to do, our energy builds rather than depletes. Each of us has a unique contribution, one that evolves over time, taking into account ever-changing circumstances– whether it be in the boardroom, canvassing voters, or in the garden harvesting vegetables. Potency and buoyancy come from being on track personally. How loyal are we to internal perception of yes’s and no’s that shape our distinct piece?

In a recent letter, colleague Peri Chickering wrote, “It takes unbelievable fortitude to stay true to the destiny that is my own, unaffected by social pressure. The essential courage required in me protects enough empty space in my life to actually hear my inner voice calling – rather than keeping every moment so full of activity that it feels like I am contributing, when in actual fact I am scared to death to hear what my contribution might be.  The next level of courage comes from unequivocally doing that, one step at a time, come what may.”

Life provides persistent reminders to do less, and give full attention to what I choose to take on. I go to bed early to get needed rest. I slow down in conversations to hear the potential and meaning under the words. In my yoga teacher training, I have learned to breathe deeply and slowly, valuing the pause between inhaling and exhaling. The breakneck speed of our culture can be a primary source of separation from life-sustaining thought and action, obscuring crucial directives perceivable only in the space between. Returning to more natural rhythms is a potent way of amplifying the earth’s healthy balance and regaining our own. I believe right rhythm is a revolutionary act.

Tending our sensitive hearts

Because we care and because we are interconnected, we absorb pain and injustice in the world whether we want to or not. Some people are particularly wired for this kind of empathy, even when the source of the disturbance is neither visible nor explicable. Metabolizing these feelings, regardless of their origins, is essential for our own health, and we do it for others who are not able to handle them.

Each of us must find our preferred outlets.  I, for example, have particular friends with whom I can cry easily. Some of them are willing to hold me tightly, for as long as needed as accumulated grief courses through. Can we do this for each other, without trying to “fix” the sorrow? I have a tear drop punching bag in my room.  When persistent anger eats at me, I put on my puffy blue gloves and go at it. I do this to move energy through me, without directing my anger at a projected source of my rage. This is hugely liberating, energizing and even fun.

Fear for myself or for our children, relative to a looming future, is often immobilizing. My greatest antidote to fear is letting go into happy flows of being with friends…whether it be free-form dancing, canning fruit, carving a pumpkin, singing, cooking…anything where a creative process takes over and we give ourselves over to it. Oil painting alone does the same thing for me.  Feeling the presence of life orchestrating an unfolding process assures us subconsciously that we are in reliable unseen hands despite the official state of affairs. Fear of being abandoned by life itself is eased. It takes a peculiar kind of courage to be happy when there is so much suffering around us.  This joy, though, is a binding force in the foundation of our service.

Living in our bodies

Our bodies are part of this earth. Tending and blessing my body is one and the same as tending and blessing this earth. Likewise it is true that abuse of our bodies, even while doing great works, is likely adding to the abuse of this planet.

A friend, Ria Beck, wrote recently telling me that she has meditated for decades, but now finds that gardening complements or replaces sitting meditation. There is a robustness needed now to withstand the amping up of opposing forces. Each person must find his or her own centering practices.  I suggest, as Ria has done, adding physical practices that build strength, flexibility, and perhaps touch the earth. I am partial to practices that build sensitivity to the nuances of my interior landscape.  Others may thrive on stacking wood for the winter, mindful Qigong  or lifting weights. Whatever your choice of embodiment practice, it will likely fortify endurance needed to support your calling.

For women, our sexual aliveness is directly connected to our confidence, creativity and ongoing nourishment. Our self-care and loving touch ensure the intimate home for our life force that fuels outer work in the world.

Our vast love for planet earth and body earth are profound generators for all we do.

Finding community

I recently asked Aravinda Ananda to describe the pillars of stability behind her passionate activism.  She replied, “Being with other like-minded people reinforces me, so that I know I am not crazy, and I don’t get sucked too much into the blindness and insanity of late stage capitalism.”

Within my family and community I spend a lot of time bridging levels of consciousness. In addition to this role is my need for a community that births a new world.  What we reinforce together in our closest partnerships and community indeed keeps us sane. It is here that outrageously beautiful possibility resides in the rubble of prevalent collapse.

I am part of a global network of women who dedicate one day a month to silence. Across the times zones, on the last Sunday of each month, we listen inwardly and follow the quiet voice of inner guidance. Our allegiance is to the subtle impulses that arise out of a hidden well that holds both healing waters and the seeds for what is possible in these times (

I also convene a global network of men and women who connect periodically in a teleconference to hear from friends living in hot spots on the globe.  We are learning how to listen together, how to field the deep feelings that arise, how to use our collective attention to surround the pain. We are exploring sound as a healing current.  Mostly we are learning to “hold” the challenging conditions of the world. Slowly we are forming the equivalent of a global EMT unit (Emergency Medical Technicians). We are not unlike a team of paramedics that show up at the scene of an accident, whose job it is to stay calm, while dealing with the physical realities.  Ultimately the calmness comes from an abiding premise that our quality of presence matters, especially in concert with others. Life itself does a fair share of the work if we bring steady faith and a vital current into the throes of despair.

barbarafordBarbara Cecil will begin a webinar in January 2017 for men and women reaching for a firm inner foundation, companionship in a resonant network, and insight into their particular calling. Contact for coaching, courses or interest in related projects: Barbara is author of Coming Into Our Own: A Woman’s Guide to Life Transitions, and co-founder of an international women’s leadership program (

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