When I first heard the term “sacred activism” from some friends who’d met a special spiritual explorer/teacher/writer/benevolent-spirit-on-fire-madman named Andrew Harvey – my heart sang YES.
For years, one of the core explorations of my life had been to fuse my worldly eco-activism with my spiritual practice. My Buddhist world and my eco-political circles often felt like separate spheres; I felt that each needed the other, but that they only interacted inside me. So Andrew's phrase “sacred activism” set something off in my heart.
After journeying with Andrew Harvey’s books for several years, I finally got to attend his teachings recently, on his first trip to Aotearoa.
In the huge hall of a marae in Auckland, we listened, breathed and were breathed, as unsettling truths dropped into our laps with loving compassion. When I got to meet Andrew briefly after that first night’s teaching, he revealed that through my pesterings of various people, he had finally been shown “that rap poetry thing!” (my Sacred Activist poem), and told me to “go for broke!” as I (lovingly) chased him on his way out the door into the night. Alright then!
Andrew’s evening talk on Sacred Activism was not necessarily new material for those familiar with his teachings. But wow. The man speaks in perfect paragraphs, with no notes. Seeing him in person, it became clear that Sacred Activism is not some idea he thought up in his head; it is a river of fire that pours with eloquence and passion straight out of his heart. Or rather, out of the heart of the divine. A flaming gay preacher proclaiming the poems of Rumi and rewriting Christianity in a way the real Jesus would probably dig. I like this man.
Here are my favourite quotes that I managed to write down from his talk.
So what is sacred activism?
“The birthing force of this new embodied divine humanity is already amongst us.”
“When you combine and fuse together profound spiritual compassion, truth, strength, peace, and power, with an unswerving commitment to inspired radical direct action, a holy force is born which can over time transform the most terrifying situations and seemingly intractable problems.”
“When the river of the fire of the mystic’s passion for God fuses with the river of the fire of the activist’s passion for justice… when these two fires come together, what they create is the birth of the third fire…”
“What did you do while the world was burning?” is the real question by which to judge our lives.
“It is only by knowing you are deathless that you will be able to endure the alchemy of this great transformation.”
“It’s going to get much much worse very very soon… We’ve got to be real lovers.”
Andrew has snide remarks for what he terms “New Age narcissism,” i.e. spiritual seekers who reckon that if they just send out vibrations of love and light the world will be saved. When an audience member asked how to counter this, Andrew replied that saying “don’t be negative” about the state of the Earth is like having leukemia and beating the doctor who told you that you have leukemia. “Tell them you find their refusal to face the truth unspiritual.”
“99% of people are still in a coma about the depth of where we are.”
At this point you’re probably getting that this is not an easy path. But hearing Andrew speak, in that moment, I could feel hearts agreeing that this is the only path. To face what’s happening in our living world – and to shake others out of their apathy – knowledge is not enough; we need a charged up spiritual practice to power us through. Andrew spoke about the various types of personal spiritual practice necessary for this journey, but rather than copying it all down here, I recommend that you read his book The Hope if you’re interested, as his recommendations are spelled out in clear detail.
Perhaps the most challenging part of his recommended spiritual practices, is his exhortation to work with the Shadow. His book talks quite a lot about the importance of the Dark Night to our spiritual evolution.
In his talk, Andrew spoke of a few collective shadows as well, relevant to sacred activism. We must avoid succumbing to the shadow of the mystic – “addiction to transcendence” – as well as the shadow of the activist, which can manifest in “great orgies of self-righteousness” that lead to burnout, infighting, and generally pissing people off without actually achieving anything. (Yep, been there done that...)
Andrew does not have one single activist plan to save the world. But he clearly wishes for us to work in community.
How do you find your cause to focus on? Ask “What of all the causes in the world that cause me pain, breaks my heart the most?” You will find something in your heart that outrages you so much, causes such pain that you don’t want to go near it, he says. “That’s when you’re very close.”
“If the worst happens, we will go together into that worst knowing we have given absolutely everything.”
In a room full of not-necessarily-Yiddish-aware kiwis, I was probably the only one who laughed at his parting benediction…
“God bless you and give you chutzpah!”
• • •
At Andrew’s full day teaching on Rumi two days later, the church-marae filled with seekers seated in a huge circle. We listened, we got up and danced to music and spirit; we sat in deep silence and gazed into each others’ eyes.
Just a few more A.H. snippets from the notebook, on an epic, heart-opening day…
“This is the best time to wake up, when there’s no security in anything.”
“The dark night is the absolute door, you have to go through the annihilation process to be reborn as a divine human being.” He was pacing the room, sweating and shouting. I was lying on the floor and as he passed me in the circle each time he would practically stand right over me shouting. “The mad woman is the only sane person in the room! … Our world is doomed, we’ve got to allow divine love to come in!”
“If you’re a passionate person, do the peaceful practices. If you’re a peaceful person, get a Bunsen burner and stuff it up your ass!”
Sitting peacefully in the midst of injustice: this isn’t enlightenment; it’s psychosis, he says. Inner calm shouldn’t be the end goal of our spiritual practice; he says – the calm we can develop is merely a tool to use, to focus our passion and rage.
“You can have inner peace and sacred anguish at the same time – you have the inner peace to bear the anguish,” he says. “You have to bring the deepest peace and the wildest passion together.”