E S S A Y S ,    A R T I C L E S    A N D    R E V I E W S

Spiritual Activism:  Changing Hearts in a Challenging Time

by K.  Lauren de Boer
EarthLight Magazine #40, Winter 2001


A scientist working in the field of energy finds another energy crisis looming --  in the area of ecological activism.  After some deep, personal inquiry, he has drawn up a powerful, fresh, compassionate approach to creating the world we want.

      One of the very first issues to emerge in the aftermath of the 2000 U.S. election is the management of public lands.  George W.  Bush wasted no time stating his intention to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.  With the prospects of an incoming administration in Washington which is generally antagonistic toward environmental protection, many people are feeling stirred up.  Some are intent on protecting the gains made, perhaps fearful of what's to come in a new climate hostile toward the gains in preservation of public lands over the past eight years.  Others feel disenfranchised by an election which had all the markings of a coup d'etat.  Thoughts turn toward a renewed activism in defense of citizen justice and Earth. 

      But activism which runs on fear and anger can quickly sap energy and become adversarial and destructive to all involved.  Some, like environmental scientist Will Keepin, have thought about how to remake activism into a powerful, constructive force for change.

      Will Keepin began his career as a consultant physicist to the Energy Foundation.  Over time, it became clear to him that the roots of our ecological problems are neither technological nor scientific.  His long-term goal, as he states in an essay, "Leading with Spirit: Transforming the Heart of Ecological Activism," shifted from transforming the industrial infrastructure to transforming the industrial mindset.  This entailed a shift from promoting sustainable technologies in the heart of industry to implementing practices for transforming consciousness in the hearts of citizens themselves.

      As Will Keepin moved deeper into this work and into alternative energy research, he came to a crucial realization which was to lead him to assess the current state and future of ecological activism.  He saw that there was a crisis in the ecology movement, an urgent need for new direction and fresh approaches.  He describes how his worldview shifted:

      "In my early scientific work I specialized in energy research and worked at an institute in Austria doing research on global energy.  The institute had developed a computer model of the world's energy future that called for covering the planet with nuclear power plants as the answer to our future energy needs.  I soon learned that the zealous pro-nuclear research team was so married to a nuclear future that any critique of its technology or its computer forecast was interpreted as a personal attack or some kind of betrayal.  I was stunned by the hubris and arrogance of this stance.

      "Over the next few years as I became engaged in alternative energy research -- solar power, energy conservation, and so on  -- I slowly realized to my horror that I was becoming the same way, equally as inflexible and arrogant about the answers I had on solar energy as the nuclear advocates had been about their position.  Moreover, I was constantly engaging in battle, becoming ever further encased around my position.  This forced me into a deep personal inquiry that ultimately transformed my entire personal perspective and professional focus."

      Bringing the inner work of the heart into the outer work of service is what is essential to revitalizing ecological activism today, he says.  Will now codirects the Shavano Institute in Colorado.  With others at the Institute, he has developed the twelve principles below for those seeking to integrate spirituality into their leadership and activism.  In this challenging time, let's take them to heart and apply them.

                  Twelve Principles of Spiritual Activism (sidebar)

1.   The underlying motivation must be rooted in compassion and love, not anger,  fear, and despair.

2.    There must be a non-attachment to outcome.  If our work is to foster lasting positive change, we must commit to doing something even if we never see the results in our lifetime.

3.    If our work has integrity, that in itself will protect us.

4.    Integrity in means cultivates integrity in the fruit of our work; we cannot achieve a noble goal using ignoble means.

5.    Demonizing our adversaries leads to polarization.  People respond to arrogance with their own arrogance.

6.    Move from an "us-them" consciousness to a "we" consciousness.

7.    Our work is for the world rather than for us.

8)    Selfless service is a myth, because in serving others, we also serve
ourselves. In giving we receive. Falling into the trap of pretentious
service to others¹ needs encourages a false sense of selflessness.

9.    Don't insulate ourselves from the pain of the world.  We must allow our hearts to be broken open.

10.   What we attend to, we become.  If we attend to battles, we become embattled.  If we give love, we become loving.  What we choose shapes and deeply defines us.

11.    Rely on faith -- not blind adherence to any set of beliefs but a knowing from experience the universal principles beyond our direct observation.

12.    Love creates form.  It is the mind that gives rise to the apparent fragmentation of the world, while the heart operates at greater depth.


Adapted from "Leading with Spirit: Transforming the Heart of Ecological Activism" by Will Keepin.  (For an updated version, please visit www.satyana.org/principles.html 


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