Via Basel: Activism & Mindfulness
Being an activist these days is in vogue again, maybe a revival of the sixties. Some credit probably goes to the Trump phenomena and the high energy reaction. Personally I have not identified myself as such most of my life even though I started many years ago with firm opinions and deep convictions only to mellow later on as I grew older and wiser. Until recently, when I discovered that not only did I consider myself an activist but also I displayed it as a badge of honor. It has been exciting, thrilling, and encouraging to be part of it, meetings, discussions, canvassing, and demonstrations with men and women of all ages, races, and ethnic & cultural backgrounds, as well as levels of education and income. There is no shortage of causes, from global warming affecting present and future generations to racial injustice and economic inequality and so many more.
Mostly there is a trigger that pushes a person from a non-active to active state (that implies action not just verbal expression). In my case it was the elections of 2016 followed by the birth of my beautiful granddaughter in 2017. The specific trigger and the timing varies from person to person. But the intensity and emotional involvement is universal. Like any other passion it comes with a cautionary note. Not only can it be ineffective if not harnessed but can also backfire. Remember the “Occupy Movement” intended to bring attention to excesses of Wall Street and unjust economic disparities. For a short time it did, but putting up tents and disrupting traffic in city centers alienated the public and it petered out. The trick is to keep the intensity of intention alongside the balanced, practical, and effective, well-studied strategies for full achievement of intended goals.
No skill is more important for that process than mindfulness. Whether you have that inherent ability or have nurtured it over the years by daily practice, it is indispensable in taking that enthusiasm of activism and redirecting it to produce identifiable reasonably attained results. The strategy of Non Violent Civic Disobedience started by Gandhi and practiced in the sixties by Martin Luther King, Jr. is a good example of its successful use. Last year I volunteered to be a “marshal” in one of the demonstrations organized by the Sierra Club. Before given that responsibility all of us “marshals” had to undergo training in “Martin Luther King Jr.’s Principles of Nonviolence.” Patience, equanimity, and concentration, qualities of a mindful person, can go a long way to prepare a new activist like me to better navigate that process. In the final analysis, just as important as achieving the desired result, is the grace and dignity by which you attempt it without the harmful byproducts of the blinding intensity of solid and unchallenged convictions.
Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.