How I Became a "Spiritual Activist"

How I Became a "Spiritual Activist"

Celia Alario is a media and communications strategist. She cavorts with social issue documentarians, artists, and grassroots community organizers who share her love for social justice, planetary healing, and cultural transformation. She sustains her activism through an alchemic mix of yoga, hula hooping, and practicing the art of nonattachment. Bred by New Yorkers and raised in Los Angeles, she now chases her poodle across the majestic redrock landscapes of Southeastern Utah.

Editors’ Note: We are thrilled to welcome Celia Alario, a writer and longtime activist, to our panel of regular bloggers here at In this new blog, The Spiritual Activist, Celia will take us to the frontlines of some of the biggest social and environmental issues of our time. While its easy to feel helpless in the face of the world's problems, Celia's experience offers hope—inviting us all to become "spiritual activists" by striving for lasting change through a heart-felt, holistic framework of love, compassion, and awareness.

“Spiritual activism.” “Sacred activism.” “Conscious campaigning.” “Transformative organizing.” These terms refer to a powerful style of “work for good.” The practice of spiritual activism is grounded in core tenants like compassion, integrity, a commitment to the process, nonattachment to outcome, interconnectedness, a love for all beings—even those with differing views—being present, and the transmutation of anger, fear, and despair into compassion, love, and purpose.

Spiritual activism invites us to embrace the unique and powerful role each of us has to play in the unfolding of justice and peace, to be a force for cultivating what we want, not just stopping what we don’t want. A spiritual activist acts from the recognition that we are all powerful, that what we attend to we become, that where we place our attention shapes our world, that our word lives. And in surrendering to the reality of not knowing, a spiritual activist opens herself up for the spontaneity and wonder of collaborating with The Divine in the quest for transformation.

A new e-book anthology released this week called Occupy Consciousness: Essays on the Global Insurrection looks at what some are calling the emergence of “Spiritual Activism 2.0.” I guess you’d need to call me an early adopter then. I found my way to this practice when 1.0 was in beta. And today there are books, organizations, videos, boot camps and list serves to unite a community of us committed to such endeavors.

I can honestly say this way of approaching social change work has saved my life—seriously! Only by bringing Spirit into this work has it been possible to sustain it for more than 20 years and counting. And I’m committed to the sustainability, because after all, I want to be a Raging Granny someday. Many mentors have helped me on this path, but today I thank the Surfing Doctor.

Nearly 20 years ago, I met Dr. Gordon Labedz, a family doctor and one of the original founders of Surfrider Foundation. I was fired up and just beginning my journey as an “activist.” Burning the candle at both ends, like many of us do in our 20’s, I pushed my body to its limits, ran on too much adrenaline and too little sleep, and believed on some subconscious level that if I just could work hard and fast enough I could help humanity get out in front of the various crises growing exponentially and threatening life on this planet.

I was one of the youngest attendees at a conference for wetlands advocates, and Dr. Labedz was on the program to offer a workshop on ‘How to Avoid Activist Burnout.’ Due to some unfortunate last-minute scheduling changes, Dr. Labedz’s offering was slated at the same time as a talk by the then-head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a man nearly everyone at the conference had a beef with and desperately wanted to meet. Suddenly I found myself standing alone in a huge room, the only attendee at Labedz’s workshop and thus the unexpected beneficiary of a private one-on-one session with the doctor!

He was dynamic, youthful, and fully present, truly aligned with Spirit. He looked healthy and his enthusiasm was contagious. His formula for avoiding burnout began with predictable advice to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. He also advised wisely to get out into nature—to connect with and be energized by those places we so loved and were working to protect.

But then Labedz said a few things that blew my mind. I chortled out loud when he suggested, “Go to sleep when you are tired and wake up without an alarm clock.” It seemed like an exotic and unattainable goal until only a few years ago, but I have recognized that such a radical act of self-love as getting enough sleep is actually essential to staying patient and grounded in the ways of spiritual activism.

And finally the good doctor ended with the kicker. The fifth element in his formula? Have fun. And if somehow, in doing work for social justice and environmental change I found myself ever not having fun, I was to stop and seriously reflect. Joy was urgent, my life depended on it, and if I wasn’t experiencing it as the rule and not the exception, I should seek out radical changes in my work life.

Deep in my core I knew Dr. Labedz was right. And, being a hedonist, the quest for fun sounded like, well, a lot of fun. But I also knew that experiencing joy and fun at the center of my activism would require a significant reorientation in my entire perspective and approach to the work.

And so it began. With a powerful combo platter of Sivananda Yoga practice (at that time one of very few yoga studios in Southern California) and book study of Ecopsychology, Gandhian Nonviolence, and Tibetan Buddhism, I embarked on the quest to square the at-times horrific global reality I was learning about with fun, bliss, grace, and ease.

Twenty years later there is still much to ponder, insights to share, and a few noteworthy breakthroughs to report. It’s a blessing to join the Spirituality & Health blogroll and to share my musings with you. I look forward to your comments, feedback, and story ideas!

And it feels particularly exciting to share my first missive from here at Netroots Nation 2012, the premiere gathering of progressive political bloggers in the nation. This year, for the first time, there is actually a panel on this subject here, called Love, Compassion and Other Outrageous Forms of Activism, convened by Carla Goldstein of the Women’s Institute at Omega, who has written on the topic for It seems like just in the nick of time, Spiritual Activism has arrived into mainstream politics. Thank the Goddess, now let’s have some fun!

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