Principles of Restorative Activism

by Scott Brown

June 2010

Some thoughts to help frame and explain the work.

1. Slow down. Slowing down helps us see the systems of dis-ease we are a part of and supports healthy responses. Slowing down is in and of itself a radical act which promotes the integration of body, mind, spirit, and action.

2. Take care of your body.  The body is the home of the integrated, complete human being. Since there is ultimately no separation, appreciating and connecting with the body more deeply allows us to appreciate and connect with the world more deeply.

3. Tell the truth.  This starts with telling the truth to yourself about yourself and your own experience. Being with what it is without judging it or looking for someone to blame is as difficult as it is empowering. With practice we become better able to be vulnerable enough to speak our truth to others.

4. Connect with your felt sense of what is true.  The first three principles support the ability to cultivate the inner knowing that is the truest guide for the human being.

5. Commit to being an adult.  What does it mean to be an adult? Who are our role models? One simple map is this: Take 100% personal responsibility, prioritize relationships, be accountable to others, and stay in the present moment. Notice and work with tendencies toward blame, resentment, justification, and the need to be right.

6. Expand your sense of self.  Where do you draw the boundary between yourself and others? Is that boundary, that separation, really true? Maybe true in some ways and not in others? This is rich territory to explore experientially.

7. Open to nondual experience/awareness. (No Self)  The spiritual traditions teach of the nondual nature of reality. Every manifest thing arises from the Mystery and dissolves back into the Mystery, the Ground of Being. The manifestation of things, including human beings, is also dependent on other things and processes, for example, the elements, sunshine, and the hydrological cycle. In this view the self is neither independent nor solid.

With this basic foundation one cultivates self-knowledge, self-compassion, and humility. This leads to clearer seeing, deeper compassion for all beings, and an unbreakable commitment to serving life. Activism becomes service, an expression of wholeness, as opposed to helping or fixing which are expressions of fragmentation and wounding. These principles cultivate the three tenets of the Zen Peacemakers: Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Loving Action.

Not Knowing

“Living out of not-knowing, we are naked. We go from one situation to the next, one person to another...and we respond to each directly and appropriately....We have no expectations of what will be and how we will feel.” -- Bernie Glassman

Bearing Witness

Bearing witness is an active, nonjudgmental awareness of what is. Seeing, feeling, experiencing what is actually there, the raw data. Includes our inner experience. In Bearing Witness we discover how our most intense reactions are rooted in our past experiences. We can Bear Witness to our own Basic Goodness and find peace within ourselves. Then we can serve the world. The path to Being Peace winds through our direct inner experience. In order to Bear Witness to things as they are we must first engage in Not Knowing.

Loving Action

Not Knowing and Bearing Witness lay the groundwork for accessing our innate wisdom and the wisdom of situations. Action becomes peaceful, loving, and appropriate to the situation. Since everything is constantly changing, the next situation will be different and we’ll have to continually come back to Not Knowing and Bearing Witness.

Other Qualities of the Restorative Activist:

  • Seeks to defeat injustice, not people.
  • Is not attached to desired outcomes.
  • Seeks to understand, not to be understood (moves from arrogance to inquiry; includes deep listening).
  • Does ongoing shadow work, becoming ever more conscious in the process.
  • Activism is integrated into your life, your life is a path of awakening.
  • You know you are a part of the unfolding story of the universe.

Acknowledgements: Martin Luther King, Jr., Will Keepin, Jed Swift, Bernie Glassman, Fleet Maull

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