Co-Creating the World We
By Carla Goldstein, co-founder Omega
Women's Leadership Center
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Activism main page
Our new column, Spiritual Activism, examines
a growing approach to social justice activism – one that provides
a holistic, relationship-based framework for working for change.
For decades I have considered myself a women’s rights and social
justice activist. The word “spiritual” wasn’t in my vocabulary,
and I still trip on it. The public often labels a “spiritual” person
as either rigidly religious or involved in occult hocus-pocus.
I didn’t think of myself as either. As a young boomer I learned
about activism from the civil rights movement, the women’s movement,
and the anti-war movement—all groups that had to fight for power
and rights. I carried that model into my own life as a lawyer and
professional advocate, learning to trace a social problem to its
source, which always had at its center a villain—a political party,
a corporation, an ideology. To me, activism meant organizing with
others to fight the villains to fix the problem, the operative
word being “fight.”
After almost a decade of fighting for reproductive freedom in
the pro-choice movement, I realized that approaching our social
disagreements through extreme polarization and name-calling was
not a winning strategy. As my activist frustration and sense of
ineffectiveness grew, I began to search for another way. Then,
at age 41, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I had
to dig into resources I didn’t know were there—my own and those
around me. In my two years of grappling with diagnosis, treatment,
and recovery, I discovered the incredible power of love. It started
to show up everywhere: in the pharmacy, at the grocery, in the
parking lot; wherever there were people, there was support. I told
my friends that one shouldn’t have to get cancer to make the amazing
discovery that the world really does run on love. The combination
of my battle fatigue as a pro-choice activist and my journey with
breast cancer led me to reevaluate how viewed I activism.
What I came to deeply understand (though I had known it all along)
is that relationships are central to everything and really matter.
Process matters. While an adversarial approach can often be effective
in the short-term, in the long-term, we are perpetuating that which
we are fighting against. When we are purely adversarial, the very
mechanism we use to bring about more peace, compassion and justice,
ends up creating the byproduct of fear, insecurity and anger. While
the fighting model served an important historic purpose and may
still be necessary in some circumstances, we need a new transformational
framework that evolves beyond the ancient cycle of anger and war.
The possibility for real change is one of the potent legacies
of the sixties, which created groundbreaking social and economic
liberation for millions of people. For almost half a century we
have been building consciousness, psychological understanding of
the self and others, material wealth, and technological tools that
can now be used to dramatically shift the way people relate to
each other. We have created the insight and human skills to allow
for grace, forgiveness, generosity, healing, respect, and appreciation
for diversity; all the things necessary to allow us to cool anger,
cultivate compassion, and create better methods of taking care
of one another.
Spiritual activism is based on the holistic understanding that
we live in an interdependent world where the parts and the whole
are in dynamic relationship to each other. The old mechanistic
Newtonian view of the world that allowed us to isolate and identify
the first spark in a linear chain of cause and effect is replaced
by the view that there are an infinite number of complex, chaotic,
and sometimes mysterious interrelated causes and effects that shape
our world. As “people parts,” we are both cause and effect of things
seen and unseen, imagined and unimagined, all in a circular relational
loop. No action is too remote or inconsequential to matter to the
greater whole. Therefore, everything we do matters to everyone
and everything else and vice versa!
This emerging model of activism incorporates the valuable aspects
of the old framework and grows beyond it in several important ways.
While the old model relied on creating legal and economic rules
as the primary mechanism for liberation, the new model asserts
that more is needed. Below is a list of emerging principles in
this new model of spiritual activism.
1. AWARENESS, COMPASSION AND LOVE
We take action that is born out of awareness, compassion and love,
not out of reaction, fear and anger.
We see relationships to others and the world in the context of
our interdependence. We no longer see the “enemy” or “other”
as isolated from ourselves. This does not strip away our ability
to recognize and name injustice, but helps us understand that
the root of both suffering and joy ultimately circles back to
us because of our unity as a whole organism.
We use power to empower others rather than to dominate over others.
4. THE MEANS MATTERS
We bring the intention of love and compassion equally to the means
and the ends, understanding that relationships are central to
5. MINDFULNESS AND PRESENCE
We cultivate mindfulness and the capacity to be present for others
so that our relationships and actions are coming from intention
6. PARADOX & MYSTERY
We accept paradox and mystery, which allows us to see that the
truth can be ambiguous, complex, contradictory or unknowable.
This, in turn, relieves us from the need to always classify into
either/or, right and wrong.
7. SEEKING BALANCE
We seek balance in our lives to bring healing to self and others;
balance between our inner and outer lives, and between our mind,
body, heart, and spirit.
8. OPEN TO SUFFERING
We open our hearts to suffering rather than isolate ourselves from
it so that we can cultivate self-understanding, empathy with
others, and benefit from the wisdom that we gain from seeing
reality as it is.
9. BEYOND PROXIMATE CAUSE
We take responsibility for our actions and assume a duty to others
that stretches beyond our capacity to anticipate consequences.
10. LIVING OUR VALUES
We live from our values consistently across all of our social roles,
including in both the private and public sphere of our lives.
Spiritual activism provides an integrative framework for daily
living that allows us to bring our unique gifts into our shared
journey. By developing daily practices that increase our ability
to be more compassionate and loving, we can help co-create a world
that brings us out of the cycle of competition and war and into
a new age of cooperation and peace.
Carla Goldstein, J.D., is Omega's Director of External
Affairs and Director of The Women's Institute at Omega. Carla is
an attorney with 20 years of experience in public interest advocacy
and has worked extensively in city and state government on issues
related to women's rights, poverty, public health and social justice.
She has contributed to over 100 city, state and federal laws. Carla
has appeared on local and national radio and television and makes
public presentations to a wide range of audiences on issues related
to women’s empowerment and activism. Prior to joining the Omega
Institute, Carla was the VP for Public Affairsat Planned Parenthood
of New York City where she directed the agency'sadvocacy and strategic
communications work. She also served as the foundingdirector of
the PPNYC Action Fund, the political arm of PPNYC. For eight years
Carla was an adjunct professor at CUNY Queens College, where she
taught, “Law and Social Justice,” a course designed to empower
students to be effective advocates for progressive social change.
As part of Omega’s Faculty, Carla teaches “Spiritual Activism,”
a workshop designed to help people develop their activism in creative
ways that align with their values and lives.
Follow Carla on
Founded in 1977, Omega is
the nation's largest holistic learning center whose mission is
provide innovative educational experiences that awaken the best
in the human spirit, providing hope and healing for individuals
and society. Every year more than 20,000 people attend workshops,
retreats, and conferences on its 195-acre campus in the countryside
of Rhinebeck, New York, and at other sites around the country.
Women’s Institute, a dynamic new component of Omega, is dedicated
to empowering women around the world. It has grown out of the
momentum created by the annual Women and Power conferences that
Omega Institute has presented in partnership with V-Day since
2002. It seeks to sustain throughout the year the community and
inspiration generated at the conferences. Women’s deep wisdom
is essential to the creation of a more sustainable and loving
culture in every facet of life, from the personal to the political.
The Women’s Institute provides opportunities for women and men
to inspire and strengthen their visions and authentic voices
through unique learning and community building experiences.
For more information, visit www.eomega.org.