Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: Sacred Activism - Video & Transcript

11 November 2010

Sacred Activism - Video & Transcript


All of the media in this video was composed, produced, and performed by Michael Garfield under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike License and can be downloaded and shared accordingly. (For more information on what the license allows, visit bit.ly/ccbyncsa - I highly recommend these licenses for the publication of your own creative work.)

While all of this is available for free, I do of course love your contributions...money and publicity are easier to transfer via internet than food or physical affection, but I'm open to receiving whatever you have to give. :)

Music - "Touring The Body Electric"
...improvised live cyber-acoustic guitar loopscapes:
bit.ly/​thebodyelectric

Narration - excerpted from "Meeting The Self You Aren't"
...talks on the "shadow" from last fall's evolver.net-sponsored speaking tour:
bit.ly/​meetingtheself
Artwork - timelapse video of "Stun Flower"
...which you can see in hi-res and read all about here:
bit.ly/​sonicbloomart

Sacred Activism

The goal, as I understand it, is to facilitate a really moving, meaningful conversation about the role of the repressed voices in the self and in the society, and to understand what we have to learn from these voices - or, possibly, engage them in a way that we can learn from them - so that we can ride the wave of this transformative crisis that I'm certain everyone in this room recognizes this country, and our species, is currently undergoing.

What I want to talk about is why the "shadow" even exists. To have some part of ourselves that we declare as "not me" is obviously a survival advantage. It keeps us safe from external threat. Or is it the other way around? Is it that we only perceive external threat because of "the other," that when we perceive something as other we are inherently afraid of it.

In a number of communities I've seen this, where people say, "Oh, that's somebody else's shadow...but when it comes time for me to explore my own shadow, I somehow never get around to it. Cuz I'm a pretty well-integrated guy, I mean, after all, I'm like, more in the know than most people, so...I don't really have to worry about it. I tend to be someone who likes to think of things in a positive way. Maybe my attitude alone is gonna change the world. All we gotta do is meditate and the world will be better!"

There's this "Maharishi Effect" that's been measured and demonstrated; you get a certain number of meditators together in a city and it lightens up the crime. Focused intention has this measurable, empirical effect, something that's been supported by research at Princeton and a number of different institutions: that there's something, there's a "Force," we can make disturbances in it...

There's a huge body of literature on this stuff, and it's valid. And that's great. But that doesn't somehow exempt you from actually putting your finger in the mud! That doesn't actually get us out of the duty of activism!

But there's this reasonable concern with activism, which is that it's extremely difficult for one person to bear the suffering of the entire world. How do we deal with that?

What I feel like I'm compelled to communicate is this balance to be found in something that Andrew Harvey calls "sacred activism": that we do our work in the world - I mean, after all, the tenth oxherding picture of Zen is this painting of the guy leading the oxen (which stand for enlightenment) back into the marketplace. Enlightened business is the deepest form of enlightenment, as recognized by Zen. The willingness to pull this eternal understanding into this chaotic, ever-blooming, ever-decaying mess and actually work with it.

Because what else do you have to do? I mean, if you are truly identified with everything, then you have a sense of humor about this stuff. And also, you can't not do this.

But that little bit of distance required for that kind of work really is required. It really does take zooming out. There's something about that film, "The Powers of Ten," that I feel defines our generation. Something about understanding the workings of the world at multiple levels of magnitude and how they all fit together, and how they all resemble one another.

And it's finding ourselves in this cosmic context that frees us from the conventional human dramas just enough - at least in my case, and I recognize that I'm one specific personality type among many - but in my case, understanding my place in the human superorganism, in the multidimensional co-causative matrix of temporal interactions, understanding the place of my species as a tissue in this ecological body and then what role our planet plays in these larger solar and galactic contexts -

(Come to think of it, it's actually kind of crazy that we as human beings have any insight into this whatsoever.)

- thinking about those things lifts me just enough out of my daily bullshit that I feel like I can get into this.

But then on the other end, hearing the tragic stories of the people who have been caught up in this system more than we have really puts it all in perspective. That we're suddenly the average point between these two poles. We recognize the existence of beings far greater than ourselves, beings in which we are participants, just a piece of the flesh of this greater thing. But also, we've got agency and we have choice over so much - so much that so many other people don't have. And I encourage you to linger with that bring-down for a minute: these people who, for no real reason that we can determine, have had their lives completely destroyed.

And so between those two things is the sacred activism. There's enough "face" there that we have a reason to change something. And there's enough distance and enough context and enough of the universal vastness of things that we're not destroyed, we're not completely burnt out by our striving. We're able to participate in these things in some way, being able to hold the sorry and the gravity of the work, and at the same time have a sense of humor about how little we're able to accomplish - because after all, these rocks are like, three billion years old, and I'm...twenty six?

We're pitiful, really. And yet we're so powerful.