On November 2, I lead a 12-hour silent meditation during the Occupy Oakland’s General Strike. Hundreds of us sat in solidarity while thousands of people came out onto the streets to express their frustration about the current state of affairs. During this VERY peaceful, creative and inclusive strike, we managed to weave a message of peace, stillness, loving kindness, wisdom and respect into the chaotic and highly charged discussion that is unfolding.
During the mediation, I had plenty of time to reflect on my involvement with this movement. As an advocate of Respectful Confrontation, I chose not to be a part of the demonstrations and riots. And yet I wanted to participate wtih this important moment in our history. That is why I decided to meditate. I believe it is possible to confront without violence, get your needs met and find new creative solutions to the mess we are in when we choose to listen.
I thought about all the different ways I have been able to take responsibility for myself and also find ways to have a positive impact without having to be a classic activist. I have organized Peace Vigils and discussion groups as ways of getting people together to engage and learn from one another. With my organization, Heartwalker Peace Project, I have organized Heartwalks in honor of the United Nations International Day of Peace. “What is a Heartwalk,” you may ask? A Heartwalk is a peace march that is not “anti” anything; it is a celebration of peace. All kinds of people gather and walk a route in the streets that is shaped like a heart. The goal is to get people who might never connect, to talk to one another and share ideas and visions of peace, as well as have fun advocating for peace, instead of going to yet another angry protest where nobody really gets heard.
I believe that there is a way for us to be in our modern world where we can both pursue our own fulfillment and achieve the goals we set out to accomplish, as well as devote some of our time to being of service to others less fortunate, or align with a cause that will improve the quality of life of all beings. In fact, I say often to my clients and students that the most effective way to find personal happiness and fulfillment is to both take care of your own needs, as well as find creative ways to help others.
Many people say to me, “I would love to do something to help, but I don’t know what to do.” I can imagine that it can be daunting to look at all the problems in the world and get discouraged: “How can one person make a difference?” Well, I say that the contribution of one person can make a difference. Just look at history. Look at some of our greatest heroes of recent times, like Gandhi and Mother Theresa. They didn’t eliminate all of the problems, but they did have a huge positive influence on society. It has to start with one person!
I don’t really think that walking in the street in the shape of a heart is going to end war. But I see how my projects create the opportunity for people to get active. It starts with taking the first step. And as you may know, that first step is oftentimes the hardest. Right? So, my goal is to create the space for others to get out and connect and maybe share an idea with a stranger that will spark new solutions for our problems. These projects of mine are expressions of my values and talents. And I call this kind of service to the larger community “Creative Social Activism.”
When we think of social activism, we think of organized marches, or lobbyists and policy makers. This is serious business and deserving of great respect. This is one kind of activism, and not for everybody. The Occupy movement is a perfect example of this. Another example is the Peace Alliance, an organization that is committed to getting the US government to sign a bill to create a cabinet-level department of peace. They are fully committed to this cause and worth knowing about. Check them out.
However, there are millions of other ways that you can contribute to the well-being of others that doesn’t have to involve a full commitment. Creative Social Activism starts with a personal desire to want to be of service, either for the larger society, or for your neighborhood, or maybe even your family or friends. Then you need to figure out what unique interests, values, talents and skills you have to contribute. Here’s a way to do that:
Get some paper or a journal and a pen.
Get centered and take some time to breathe.
Take a look at the following list and read through each item.
Notice how each value makes you feel. Do you have any connection with the value? Did you feel some energy when you read it? Do you find that value important to you? Make notes.
Accomplishment/success, Accountability, Accuracy, Beauty, Calm, Challenge, Collaboration, Community, Competition, Creativity, Delight of being/joy, Discipline, Efficiency, Equality, Faith, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Fun, Hard work, Innovation, Justice, Knowledge, Leadership, Love/romance, Loyalty, Money, Peace/non-violence, Power, Prosperity/wealth, Service, Simplicity, Skill, Status, Tradition, Truth, Wisdom.
Choose 3 values from the list.
Now that you’ve taken the time to read through this list, go back and decide which of these values resonate with you the most. Which ones get you excited and energized? Which ones are you willing to stand up for if you feel they are being threatened or violated. Which ones inspire your creativity? Write these 3 values in your journal. Take your time before you decide.
Breathe and meditate, and focus on these 3 values.
Notice what happens when you contemplate your highest values, the core of who you are. Notice the feelings that arise. Notice the energy that flows. Allow yourself to feel your power when you connect with your highest value.
Add your 3 values to statement below.
Write your 3 top values into the empty spaces in the statement below. Once you have filled in the blanks, read the statement to yourself a few times, either silently or out loud. Notice what you are feeling when you read it. If the wording I offer isn’t working for you, write your own statement with your core values included.
“I realize that I have only one life and that I have the fortunate circumstances in my life to ensure that I can bring purpose and meaning to my time here on this planet. I will find creative ways to bring about more harmony with myself and to empower others, tapping into my unique abilities and core values stemming from _________________, ___________________ and ____________________”
Make notes on what you have discovered.
Write down anything you have discovered. See what this new information opens up in terms of ways you can share your uniqueness. Get clear on your own personal philosophy and beliefs.
Come up with creative ideas to express your values and uniqueness.
Think about interesting ways to use your time and energy to be of service to others. As you can see from my projects, three of my top core values have to do with communication, collaboration and heart. What will your projects be?
One of my clients was an expert knitter, and she decided to go to senior citizen centers to knit with people there and listen to their stories. She brightened up their lives. Another client was a skilled carpenter and committed to taking mentally challenged young men to work on a house to build their self-esteem and ability to connect with others.. These two clients may not change the world with their projects, but they are certainly bringing more happiness and healing to others. And they are happier for doing it.
So this is one way to bring about more personal fulfillment and be of service to others. It doesn’t require a lot of money nor investment of time. All you need to do is have confidence in your own abilities and the courage to take that step to make something happen. When you take on projects that benefit others and are in alignment with your own values, you find that doors open up in other areas of your life, you meet people that you resonate with, and you attract opportunities that excite you. Find the balance in your life between taking care of the self and service to others, and discover your own personal key to your happiness.