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What is a healthy approach to activism in the 21st century? Does my activism “resist” the expressions by President Trump and others that I deem to be unhealthy for myself, my family, my country and the planet? From the lens of Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi), a person’s activism (defined as “vigorous actions to pursue a social or political end”) are personal expressions (described in the integral 4-qudrant map above in the upper-right “Individual-Exterior” quadrant) of a set of values (described in the upper-left “Individual-Interior” quadrant), which are influenced by one’s perceptions of life conditions.
This framework is useful for understanding the complex relationships between our thoughts and our actions, individually and collectively, with respect to activism, which relates to how we cope with the problems we perceive in our world (life conditions). SDi is one of a number of developmental psychology maps, and it is important up front to state that all maps are wrong, some are more useful than others. I find SDi to be useful for describing the human evolutionary journey in consciousness as our world increases in complexity – a very useful lens for thinking about activism in the 21st century.
SDi proposes six “first-tier” value systems (Beige-Purple-Red-Blue-Orange-Green) through which humans can evolve toward greater complexity, shifting back and forth between “I/me/mine” based values (Beige-Red-Orange) and “we/us/our” values (Purple-Blue-Green), as problems of existence are not able to be solved by the level of thinking that created them. These first six levels are ego-centered and inherently driven by fear.
SDi also proposes a “momentous leap” into a set of “second-tier” values (the first two levels of which are Yellow and Turquoise) which “transcend and include” ego. From the perspective of Yellow, an “I/me/mine” set of ideas, and deepening in Turquoise as a non-dual “we/us/our” experience, the ego and its identification with dualistic either-or thinking is seen as a set of ideas which do not, in the deepest sense of who and what we really are, actually exist outside of the cultural thoughts and conditioning in our minds.
In keeping with the “both-and” thinking of second-tier, there is nothing inherently right or wrong about any of the value systems – all are necessary levels humans pass through on the journey through the evolution of human consciousness. But SDi does propose the idea of “healthy” and “unhealthy” expressions of value systems, which are described in two dimensions: “horizontal” health relates to whether those expressions best offer the individual the thinking to solve the problems of existence they are perceiving; and “vertical” health which relates to whether an expression “opens” the person’s thinking to continue their journey toward more and more complex thinking “up the Spiral” so to speak. If an expression is examined from these two dimensions, then we can discern how healthy the expression is for the spectrum of people it affects, at every level of the Spiral. With that very brief introduction, let’s focus our attention on the meme of “activism” and how it can be expressed in healthy ways through the lens of SDi.
Adyashanti, a noted non-dual teacher, had this to say about activism:
Often our ‘activism’ is done from a divided state… where we actually see good and bad, and right and wrong. When we’re in a state of inner division, even if we’re doing something good, at the same time we’re pumping our inner division into the unmanifest. The universe registers division. So when it comes to our activism, the first thing we must become sensitive to is, ‘am I divided here? Do I see an enemy?’ For if I do, then I’m not seeing the truth of things, and I myself am part of the problem I’m trying to solve. Gandhi is an example of the power of a unified state of consciousness. He was never ‘against.’ His consciousness was not in a divided state. He was always ‘for.’ So he acted, spoke, and transmitted into the collective an undivided state of consciousness. That’s what has all the power. That’s really significant. Am I divided?
Much of activism arises out of first-tier values of “division” that Adya refers to, though it is important to understand that we cannot assume we know the value system of a person that motivates a specific expression. For example, if someone is marching in a protest, there are a range of possible reasons/values behind why they are marching. So it is important we don’t jump to conclusions as to the values behind another’s activist expression. Without actually asking the person “Why?”, it is easy (and potentially unhealthy) to project our own values (and shadows) onto another. This is one of the fundamental teachings of SDi that is important to keep in mind as we delve deeper into activism.
From an SDi lens, we can discern between “individual” activist expressions, which show up in the upper-right quadrant, and “collective” activist expressions which show up in the “Collective-Exterior” (lower-right quadrant) structures. These collective expressions include organizations which receive donations, legislating laws, participating in protests and marches, etc. First-tier values manifest these expressions through “either/or” lenses, which come from a divided “Individual-Interior” state of consciousness. Note a healthy interpretation of SDi theory does not judge people who are coming from divided states of consciousness as “bad,” or “evil” — after all, that thinking itself would be an expression of division. From the SDi lens of Turquoise, that thinking exists only in our minds; it is not inherently “real.” Recognizing that duality arises out a range of first-tier beliefs, if we believe there is duality (right or wrong, good or bad, division or unity), then that is what we will see in the world — so “believing is seeing.” What Adya is offering is awareness of my “Individual-Interior” quadrant — “am I divided in my consciousness?” If my thinking is divided, then I am furthering division, and thus continuing to energize the polarized expression that I am wishing to change through my activism; for what we resist, persists.
News from the mass media and the internet is designed to promote division – this is because news sources seek to attract energy to themselves through drama and divisiveness, so the more drama, the more eyeballs the media source attracts, and the more money can be made through advertising dollars. When this bombardment of our senses tells us there is only division in the world, then that is what we end up believing. SDi theory proposes that my values relate to my “perception” of my life conditions, so if I perceive division, I notice my values downshifting to protect and defend that which is important to me — my identity, my loved ones, my community, the environment, the values of my fellow progressives, and even the whole human experiment may seem to be at risk of being destroyed. So what do I do with all these messages of resist, resist, resist? Here are some suggestions.
First, practice acknowledging those inner thoughts of division in me as “what is,” and “being at no charge” with them, recognizing them simply as thoughts passing through my consciousness, with no inherent reality of their own except through the energy I give them. Recognize them as a natural response based on my own conditioning and what I am choosing to believe. That practice goes a long way towards healing my inner division. Then practice shifting perspective from “either/or” to “both/and,” transcending and including the division I feel into a more encompassing place of acceptance of the feelings of division. This can further reduce the divisiveness that I was feeling, and can bring me into a place of peace and presence as I breathe deeply into a natural state of being, feeling my mind quieting its story about the conflicting feelings in my body. From that quiet centered place, “resistance” transforms into an encompassing acknowledgement that I simply do not really know what the results of anyone’s actions will eventually lead to — AND I can act from a place that transcends and includes divided expressions, again recognizing that I do not know for certain the results of my actions either. Resting in that not-knowing yet peaceful place, change can feel less like resistance, and more like choosing to come from an undivided place in consciousness. From that place in consciousness, it is more likely that undivided action happens, which may express itself in a similar way as when I felt divided, or not. But from that undivided place in consciousness, I am more grounded in the awareness of belonging to the universe of undivided wholeness at the center of creation. So be it.
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