Active Hope, as defined by ecologist and author Joanna Macy, is a crucial new understanding of what it means to be alive at this time. Drawn to a workshop built on Macy's ideas, I found myself on a little hidden farm in Portland, OR, unknowingly about to embark on a deeply personal, powerful healing journey with complete strangers. We moved through stages of gratitude & pain, into a visionary place where the deepest reserves of human potentiality, positivity, and healing arose- a place ripe with nourishing ideas for the planet and ourselves.
All of us are affected by climate change.
Natural disasters, dire scientific findings, and the reckless, strange denial of corporate interests and incompetent leaders is much to endure. As a hyper-individualistic society, we are also doing too much lonely enduring. Too much anxious, angry, stuck and stifling enduring.
Vulnerable, compassionate community dialogue is happening, and yet can be elusive to find or count on. We feel sorrow and at times an unbearable sense of helplessness and guilt about our own contribution to the Great Problem. As one participant conveyed so beautifully, if sadly, "there is a base anxiety, a sort of pervasive worry that I feel almost constantly now." I cried in that moment.
Some of us feel it acutely, and deeply despair, or rage, or shout in the streets or in our homes. Others feel chronically anxious, as my new friend does. As I do. And for some, it's simply too much, too heavy to even face, and they shut down completely.
Often, we move through all three of these manifestations of our sorrow, and many more ways of experiencing/avoiding this very intense age in our planet's history.
Active Hope offers us an alternative to fight, flight, or freeze. It asks us to take refuge in the natural cycle of Life/Death/Rebirth.
Active Hope asks us to relish the magic of what is wonderful about living while acknowledging pain and loss. It asks us to step into community and out of isolation, and to trust our unique talents and interests as a pathway to meaningful, palpable change.
Here are 3 powerful practices from Macy's "Work that Reconnects", ones that you can do anytime or anywhere, but are best done in community with others.
#1: Affirm Life: Share in gratitude with loved ones regularly.
In our private minds and unique personal ways, no doubt many of us practice gratitude. What really struck me in the workshop was the power of expressing it to someone or in a group setting, and actively listening to someone express gratitude by taking turns and really tending to each other. Watching someone light up, seeing your own Light be lit- I really can't recommend this practice enough.
Spend some time with someone you love today. Keep eye contact. Don't think about what you're going to say. Ask one question at a time, and then switch asker/speaker roles. Some great questions are:
- Who is someone who you are grateful for because they truly believed in you?
- What do you love about living on planet Earth at this time?
- What is a magical place from your childhood or adulthood that has been special to you?
Appreciate that each person you pass in your day has their humanity, their reason for being here at this time, an inspiring story to share.
#2: Accept Death: Experience your pain and sadness about the state of the world. It's good medicine.
Again, let's shatter the invisible glass walls between us, and share our pain about climate change and the imbalance of our cultural systems with each other. I'm talking about something different than political dialogue, heated debate, or simple complaints. All of that is useful at times. But dive deeper here.
Spend time with someone you love. Keep eye contact. Hold space and ask:
- What about living on the Earth at this time brings your sorrow?
- What is one thing that seems lost or we are losing that is very hard for you?
- What scares you most?
Learn to cry together. Allow for men to cry. Let children see your tears and tell them it will be ok. Let. it. out. Do not feel the need to "have a reason" for crying. Accept that this release is important, acceptable, and a very sane and normal reaction to what is happening in the world.
When we let tears flow, we let the rivers of the earth run through us, and through whomever we do the work with. When you see me cry, your heart will know, it's happening- this climate change thing- and it's uncertain and unpredictable and there is no detailed roadmap. But you will also see that all rivers lead to the wide open, purifying ocean. They must. Just asking each other these questions, actively listening- not a dialogue so much as a witnessing. I don't think we do this enough in our culture.
"As our pain for the world arises from our systemic interexistence, so does our power."
Ironically, here in these shared grief exercise, I started to get a sense of my own and the Earth's reserves and capacity for resilience. In recognizing and naming our fears, we become more human. We become more resolved, more connected, and surprisingly more resilient.
#3: Expect Rebirth: There are many ways to be an activist. Trust and step into your path.
Have you ever beat yourself up for not being constantly out there, "on the front lines," rallying, protesting in the streets, volunteering lots of hours, chaining yourself to trees, becoming a lobbyist? This is most certainly one way to do the work. But there are many other ways. Diversity is powerful. That applies to activism as well. I wrote a whole post on the subject. For example:
- Making conscious, everyday choices makes you an activist.
- Mending your clothes makes you an activist.
- Teaching your children compassion for all living things makes you an activist.
- Eating less meat, or none at all, makes you an activist.
- Revolting against a society that predominately and pervasively refers to its sacred beings as mere "consumers" by really considering what you need and what you don't- makes you an activist!
- Deciding not to using shopping as therapy is actually a subversive, revolutionary act! And it makes you an activist.
- Likewise, buying from small businesses and creative makers of things makes you an activist.
- Choosing not to attach your worth to how you look, or how much money you make makes you a serious activist!
- Taking your passions and gifts and finding a way to use them to be of service is a very powerful way to be activist.
Beyond the things you do in your daily life to help the planet, there are many other ways to integrate activism into your career, relationships, parenting, and communities.
Alone, our actions often don't seem like much. Together- we will move mountains. For example, I'm part of a growing group of people who are making marketing an act of peace, by choosing to work with conscious, change-making businesses and teach compassionate commerce. Anything (even marketing!) can be subverted into activism.
We talk a lot about humans being a "cancer" on the Earth, and this is not without truth. But there's another, equally powerful storyline available to us: Every single action taken to benefit the Earth makes you part of her immune system.
In our bodies, there's a powerful network of cells, tissue, and organs protecting us. It is no different on the face of the Earth. We live, we die, and we are reborn- day by day, if we will only allow it.
You are a cure, a visionary, a needed soul on this planet at this time, immeasurably important and impactful, part of something much bigger than just you. Please consider a FREE Business Discovery Hour if you're struggling to develop your conscious business idea, or are looking to grow your existing business! Your work is appreciated. I'd love to help you take it forward.
For more info on Active Hope & transformative learning workshops in the Portland, OR area, please visit Root Down, Rise Up and The Wayfinding Academy. Also you can check out more on "the work that reconnects" with Joanna Macy and the Active Hope FB page. Or, simply have a look at the film below (you have to go to Vimeo):
Amanda Verdery Young is Bombilore's founder & Curatress. She helps conscious businesses bring their missions to life through brand development, content marketing and web design. She lives to explore the far reaches of heart, land, and creativity alongside two wild Aries companions- her husband and son- in Portland, Oregon.