Perhaps the most challenging campaign for a spiritual activist is the one for the health and well-being of our own inner environment.
It’s a gritty grassroots endeavor that goes on tirelessly all day long: at the kitchen table, on the yoga mat, at places of worship. At times, it can feel challenging to forge and hard to fund, and we may sometimes fear we lack the skills to win. And even when we remember that we have the Divine as a partner in the work, this campaign may still seem drastically understaffed!
And yet, it is in some ways the most winnable campaign we can work on as activists. We can’t ever know for sure whether our work for world peace, forest protection, healthy oceans, or better schools will ever result in the coveted changes in our outside world, but we have the chance in every moment to profoundly impact our inner worlds. And for this we don’t even need to paint a cardboard sign!
Ironically, though, like so many change-makers, I spent too many years singularly outwardly focused, organizing and hoping for a victory, while ignoring this important opportunity to do the good work within.
So lately I’ve been making up for lost time, engaging in a playful, clever and innovative campaign for my own balance and sanity. And I’m here to testify in hopes you’ll do the same for yourself!
One campaign activity involves making (and keeping) agreements to myself. Grassroots activists know how important it is to foster trust among our colleagues and in our communities. But do we actively work at building trust with ourselves? It feels so good to promise myself something I know is good for me, like a hike, a healthy meal, or less time at my desk, however ergonomic it might be. And it feels even better to then deliver on my promises.
To further protect against toxicity in my inner environment, I’m a fan of the straightforward and rewarding offerings of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements:
Be Impeccable With Your Word.
Don't Take Anything Personally.
Don't Make Assumptions.
Always Do Your Best.
And though originally cribbed for the world of business, I’m loving the valuable suggestions of Jeff Haden, who in his ‘Owner’s Manual’ column in Inc. Magazine offers 10 Things to Stop Doing Right Now in order to be happier. He advises we stop:
And though lesser known than Ruiz’s Four Agreements, The Lowbagger Credo, from longtime radical change agent Mike Roselle, offers traveling activists who want to be good house guests such gems as:
Do every dish in the house.
Befriend the children and the animals.
Don’t take the last of anything.
Leave before you are asked to.
All good advice, and speaking to the most basic levels of mutual respect and kindness. It’s always a good time to remind ourselves that in our work for a better world, we must respect the process and one another enough to stay grounded in these basics.
I’ve appreciated that in many of the spaces where activists are gathering to ponder social change these days, there are powerful commitments to the process and to how we gather. I’ve cherished the willingness of so many to create community agreements (also known as ground rules, group norms, even invitations for how we gather) that allow us to sustain our inner environments—even in long meetings pondering the state of sustainability in our outer environment.
Over the years I’ve watched the list of such agreements get better and better as event planners and meeting facilitators collaborated with attendees to help refine the list. Here are some of my favorites:
Bring your whole self
Take care of yourself
Check yourself (This is also known as Share the Air or W.A.I.T, which stands for the inquiry ‘Why Am I Talking?’ It’s a great reflection that allows one to see the space one takes up in a group, and to step up if one is shy or not often heard, or step back to make space for others.) And expressed another way:
Do something different (If you are shy, this is your chance to use your voice, if you are comfortable speaking up, please be mindful of how much you do, leaving space for others to share. Go for a walk rather than stay with the crowd or join in rather than sit alone.)
Expect unfinished business
Practice respectful dialogue (Stay open to a variety of ideas and opinions and be respectful when asking questions or making comments.)
Default to trust and use the whoa! (Start with trust, and before jumping to conclusions take time to mine for understanding when you hear something you don’t understand or don’t agree with.)
Challenge the behavior, not the individual
We are all better than the worst things we say or do, AND there is always a right thing to do next
Aren’t these amazing? Imagine how our environments would thrive—inner and outer—if we all agreed to these in every interaction. And imagine how happy we’d be if we felt safe, strong, and skilled enough to honor these agreements at all times! What community agreements would you add to the list? Please post them in the comments section so all may benefit! And for those ready to launch your campaign, please do try this at home:
Write an agreement, a statement, a love note, or a slogan for the campaign for your healthy inner environment on a sticky note and place it somewhere where you will see it often, or perhaps where you will find it in a few weeks by surprise. Or do the same for yourself with a dry erase marker on your mirror. (It washes off easily, and allows you to be reminded every time you gaze lovingly into your own eyes while brushing your teeth!)
My gratitude and blessings go out to those involved with smart Meme, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, Progressive Communicators’ Network & Omega Institute for some of my favorite community agreements listed in this post!