As we waited around for the climate strike to start in Spain, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable….
There were 20 or so people milling around the fountain in a big empty square with a couple of half hearted signs. 30 minutes past the official strike start time, we were about to leave, until some drummers arrived along with some kids dressed as pandas. We decided to wait a little longer.
Still, I thought, what a weak effort! 15 mins later, we nearly left again, but decided to stick it out a little longer *just in case* Spain was late to their own climate rally.
45 mins later, a lot more people started arriving with flags and signs. By 1 hour and 10 minutes past the official strike time, the square and surrounding streets were absolutely rammed full of shouting, singing, dancing Spaniards and expats.
Confirmed, Spain turns up an hour late to their own climate rally.
Out of nowhere, tens if not hundreds of thousands of people had materialised, dressed in all sorts of hilarious earth/ coffin/ captain planet/ flower-laden costumes, with a plethora of brilliant signs.
“NO HAY PLANETA B.”
“The earth is getting hotter than [insert hot Spanish person’s name that I’d never heard of]”
Tears came to my eyes multiple times during the 2 hour rally where we marched, blocking off at least a few kilometres of road with helicopters circling overhead.
When I watched this video of the climate strikes across Europe (complete with dramatic music), a lot more tears came. I highly recommend you give it a watch if you feel like feeling good about millions of humans coming together for a common cause.
At one point, I shamefully had to get my plastic bottle out of my backpack to have a drink, having tried to abstain to the point of dehydration for fear of being kicked.
But I was walking behind a bunch of climate-striking smokers, so I was in good hypocritical company.
I’ve been slowly getting involved in more (very minimal) climate change activism lately, and as a result, I’ve been getting into more and more conversations about whether mindfulness is the opposite of activism or not.
Before I learnt mindfulness I was much more selfish, less concerned about community, totally disconnected from my own values, and very focused on my own happiness (or lack of it), rather than the happiness and well being of others.
The argument goes that mindfulness asks us to turn inward, to manage our own stress and accept our situation – rather than looking at how we can change the harmful living conditions and capitalism that caused the stress in the first place through activism (eg. shit working conditions in massive corporations, the climate crisis, inequality, racism).
I’ve read a number of articles on the subject, like this one, and I can definitely see their point, but my view is that practicing mindfulness is MORE likely to inspire action to change things, not less – just without the unhelpful aggression and blame.
Aggression and blame usually only serve to start more fights all over the place (verbally, passive aggressively, physically, or a literal war), rather than actually resolving anything or encouraging us to understand others’ opinions.
Mindfulness can inspire us to take effective action with a wisdom that considers the bigger perspective and the perspective of others – which can only be found when we’re not oblivious to the sneaky, self-centric, and biased voice of your own mind.
In my world view, the mind, and our lack of ability to de-fuse from our thoughts (our ego) is the original problem – the one that caused the more problematic aspects of capitalism and all this suffering and destruction in the first place.
The oil is leaking into the ocean because fuel companies prioritise money over protecting our oceans – it comes directly from the collective ego of the people at the top of those corporations – striving for money and success to the detriment of all else.
The massacres and terrorism that are happening – 100% a problem because of the untrained egos of the people at the top who are instigating those wars with flawed logic and cognitive bias (usually to prove their own superiority and “rightness” in terms of religion, culture, or ownership of land – “You are SO wrong about your religious views, (and I’m SO right), that you deserve to die”).
If we don’t work on the root of the problem (our ego) individually and collectively, any activism we carry out will always fail, since we’re using the same type of thinking to try and solve the problem that created it.
Einstein said “nah bro” to that idea.
Capitalism is born out of a society of people who are completely dominated by our minds.
The trouble with this is that minds are pretty much designed for survival, not thriving – they’re based on “me me me”, trying to be special or superior at all costs, trying to get as much EVERYTHING as you can yourself, etc. Like a squirrel stockpiling nuts, our minds often have us constantly striving for more rather than looking internally and working out what our real values are.
Beneath the mind, all humans have a much deeper, more powerful driving force, (you might call it our gut instinct, or our wise mind).
When you turn inwards with mindfulness – it doesn’t just help you cope with a shit situation (though it does do that if you really are stuck, e.g. if you’re in jail) – it also helps you get clear on what matters to you, and you start to get in tune with your own suffering.
This makes you LESS likely to tolerate shit situations, inequality and injustice. Mindfulness also equips you with the emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, and emotion regulation skills to allow yourself to fully feel (rather than ignore) the suffering of others.
In my work as a mindfulness consultant I’ve seen that the more people de-fuse from the mind, the more clear it becomes that the way most of us are living is largely unsustainable, unhealthy, unfulfilling, and deeply unkind – to ourselves and to others.
There comes a point when you realise you simply can’t tolerate the shit way we’re living and treating others and the planet anymore,
which is when you get motivated to DO something to make a change in whatever way is appropriate for you.
And when you do, instead of becoming paralysed by fear, you’re well equipped with the skills to manage your own fear and take action despite it.
When the thousands of people I’ve worked with get clear on what matters to them most, it almost ALWAYS includes “helping others” in some form.
I believe that waking everyone up to their own innate desire to be kind and compassionate to others, and equipping them with the skills to take wise, effective action that is NOT driven by ego… this is how we’ll change the world.
Activism is necessary and useful – but it’s most successful when the activists have a very, very clear understanding of their own mind, emotions and triggers.
Many activists I’ve observed come from a place of ego (ie. subtle, unacknowledged feelings of “I’m superior, more righteous, more justified etc than you “other” people (you’re wrong/ morally inferior to me)”,
and/or “I’m special because I’m fighting for this cause” (martyr syndrome), etc), which leads to more war, less understanding, and less resolution.
Unresolved ego in any individual or activist group incites more aggression and blame from the other side, and less listening, which tends to escalate the situation to the point that neither side can back down nor understand each others’ views and fears.
We don’t choose our thoughts, the mind is, for the large part, autonomous, and while it can be trained and worked with skilfully, the mind left to its own devices can and does create chaos – tribalism, wars, cognitive bias, irrationality, trigger behaviours, and a constant battle to turn a colourful, nuanced world into something black and white so that the mind can be stake its territory as “right”, thus making everyone else “wrong”.
People who are dominated by their egos usually seek to remain separate and are consumed with competing against others to see who can “win” at the game of status and money.
Mindfulness encourages rather than inhibits the formation of communities who really bloody care about each other and the planet.
My mission is to help make the whole world aware of their own mind and ego, so that it becomes completely commonplace to de-fuse from the mind and not take it too seriously – even for the people at the top of these corporations, religions and cultural groups who are creating a lot of the suffering, wars and devastation around the world.
If you’re reading this and you’re an activist fighting for justice or peace or the climate and you want to be as effective as you can possibly be (while conserving a tonne of energy too)…
Ask yourself honestly – are there any ways in which your activism makes you feel special, or better than others?
Are there subtle ways in which you look down on and judge others for not caring enough about the thing you care about?
Do you see your opponents as wrong, or morally inferior to you?
Do you see your opponents as deserving hatred?
Have you tried to understand the suffering or fear that is likely driving the people who you are fighting against or judging?
Don’t judge yourself if you have any of these thoughts – in fact if you can acknowledge that you do without becoming defensive and angry, you’re nailing it!
Instead just see these thoughts for what they are – the unobserved ego/mind doing what it does best. Now you’ve observed it, you don’t need to be dominated by it.
You are not your mind.
If you can sense any of the above is subtly true for you, even if it’s hard to admit (and especially if you feel angry reading any of this post) – then mindfulness could be a really effective tool to add to your activism tool belt.
It can help you become a great deal more effective and wise in your efforts.
It can help you direct your anger wisely.
Rather than projecting it onto others and starting wars where both sides will become entrenched and never back down,
You can instead use your anger to fuel you in working with others towards a useful resolution.
With understanding, not judgement.
Facts, not abuse.