Essay Subtle Activism

Navigating the Storm of Global Change


I’ve long championed the term “subtle activism” to describe the application of consciousness-based practices like meditation, prayer, and ritual for collective rather than personal transformation. The idea is to broaden the traditional focus of our therapeutic and spiritual attention beyond individual concerns to include the main global issues of our times. And it is in relation to the healing of collective trauma, specifically, that I think an approach like subtle activism has a crucial role to play.

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, one of the most exciting developments taking place at the leading-edge of consciousness work today is an exploration of the emergent spiritual capacities of coherent forms of group consciousness. When a group of sovereign individuals voluntarily pool their consciousness together to form a coherent group field, they access depths of compassion, love, and courage exponentially greater than any one individual can reach on their own. As a result, the field becomes a conduit for healing powers of extraordinary magnitude.

This principle has been at the center of my work for over a decade. When working with groups in this way, it becomes obvious that the wisdom and power of the group field has the potential to help transmute not just the personal traumas of individual participants but also our collective historical wounds. The profundity of the field introduces a crucial dimension of depth that enables us to touch these historical wounds with compassion, without becoming overwhelmed or reactive.

Such a process also tends to make clear that, in the depths of our being, we are all embedded in relational fields that carry trauma. Some of us might have inherited circumstances that enable us to manage those wounds more effectively than others, but the deeper we go in our healing journey, the more we realize that none of us can escape the traumatic history of human conflict. While it can be crucial to acknowledge the differences in our cultural situations, past and present, ultimately we share a spiritual wound of separation that can only be healed by an experience of profound belonging. Recognizing this, we become intrinsically motivated to help liberate each other.

One of the obstacles, though, to recognizing the social healing potential of these new approaches is our tendency to understand spirituality through the lens of the dying era, rather than the one being born. Since the scientific and political revolutions of the 1800s, modern spirituality has been largely confined to the private realm of subjective experience, separate from the secular public spheres of science, politics, and culture. This was arguably necessary at the time to free the modern mind from the constraints of religious dogma. But we are undergoing another revolution today at least equal in magnitude to the one that birthed modernity. Everything is up for revision, including the modern marginalization of spirituality to the merely personal realm. In this context, we can start to imagine new forms of (healthy, non-dogmatic) spiritual expression that straddle the private and public spheres, partly as a way to offer a more profound holding for the complex wounds that are rising to the surface as we transition to the new era.

Yet we can participate in heartfelt collective rituals to help heal the roots of intergenerational trauma without supporting the acting out of these wounds in the cultural or political sphere. I find that many spiritually-oriented progressives have a hard time making this distinction. They feel genuinely called to participate in the healing of these wounds. So they believe on some level that when the trauma spills over into the public arena, their task is to bear sympathetic witness to whatever is happening, even if things get messy or weird. But the problem with trauma being acted out collectively is that it does have consequences. Innocent people and groups get hurt, and the cycle of reactivity continues. For genuine healing to take place, the trauma needs to be held in some kind of conscious public container. Then the wound can be fully met, but in a way that leads to the transmutation of that energy, rather than just its displacement onto others.

Further, and more seriously, acting out trauma is an invitation on the energetic plane for unscrupulous forces to exploit the situation to gain power and further division. One way this appears to be manifesting is in the spread throughout our mainstream institutions of a fundamentalist ideology whose premises cannot be questioned. Such a development threatens to undermine key foundations of pluralistic democracy we’ve long taken for granted, especially the freedom of speech.

Tellingly, the main justification for the censorship of speech used by proponents of this ideology is to prevent at all costs the triggering of pain associated with historical trauma. Any words that do so are seen to be a form of “violence”. Of course it’s a good idea to be kind to each other as much as possible. But when people are required to think and speak in a specific way at pain of losing their livelihood or being shunned from society, we are seeing the exploitation of trauma for the purposes of control.  Far from bringing people closer together, the coercive nature of this approach breeds resentment and thus creates an obstacle to genuine intimacy. Left unchecked, it represents a familiar path toward totalitarianism. And given the rapidly expanding, AI-enhanced powers of centralized authorities to track and enforce ideological compliance, this is a non-trivial concern.

I think the extremism of the Trump-aligned far right can be comprehended in large part as a reaction against this perceived authoritarianism on the left. They see themselves as the last line of political defense against the imposition by the neo-liberal elite of a global technocratic totalitarian system. But Trump’s lawlessness and pathological narcissism has obviously also made him and his movement a channel for deeply unscrupulous forces. Both extremes must be understood in the context of their reactive dialectical relationship with each other. In my view, the polarities are manifesting in cult-like dynamics on both sides – a personality cult on the right associated with Donald Trump and an ideological cult on the left associated with woke fundamentalism. Both sides feel justified in making increasingly extreme power moves as an urgent defense of democracy against a perceived imminent authoritarian takeover by the other. And while there is no shortage of compelling evidence to support both perspectives, the picture is exaggerated by a media/social media dynamic that selectively highlights the most extreme events on both sides.

The bigger picture is that this diabolical outplay is taking place at a time when there is an existential need for the global power structure to be fundamentally transformed. Apart from anything else, the traditional top-down systems of centralized decision-making are simply not capable of managing the complexity of the problems that constitute the world meta-crisis, including humanity’s deeply imbalanced relationship with the natural world.

Astrology helps us see that this epochal shift is happening right on cosmic time, just as the Piscean Age gives way to the Aquarian. And so here we are, witnessing the sudden rise of determined, destructive forces on both sides of politics that threaten to dismantle the societal order as we’ve known it. In this light, we can recognize an evolutionary purpose hidden within the apparent darkness of the forces at loose in our world. On one level, the wisest path of action may thus be to just get out of the way and let the shit show take its course.

Yet I believe we can help transmute these conflicts on the energetic plane by engaging together in the work of healing historical trauma, both within ourselves and in the collective. Doing so is potentially like an aikido move where everyone can win. Healing collective trauma goes to the heart of the dynamics driving conflict and polarization. Complaining about the way that trauma is being acted out doesn’t really land unless we acknowledge the reality of the pain at the source of the behavior and meet it with profound love and compassion. On an energetic level, doing this work together can help to fill these open wounds with courageous and compassionate awareness, making the trauma less vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous forces. Done right, it can become a doorway to a deeply moving experience of the world-centric or Gaian consciousness wanting to be born out of the global crisis.

As I said earlier, new possibilities for the healing of collective trauma are coming online through innovative technologies that evoke the collective spiritual intelligence of coherent group fields. Such fields provide the deeper dimensionality needed to hold these wounds in all their complexity and sensitivity. I believe that many of these emerging group-oriented approaches are not merely Piscean Age practices adapted to modern times, but truly novel Aquarian Age practices designed for the coming era. They tend to be essentially democratic, for example, function seamlessly with digital technologies, and are entirely scalable. As such, they carry the potential to create a broader collective or global context that is crucial for the transformation of wounds that originated in the public realm.

But for these approaches to be truly integrative, they need to feel welcoming to all, not just progressives.

At a certain level of depth, these collective wounds live in all of us. Regardless of which angle we approach them from, we are touching the same trauma. It’s a highly reactive place for everyone. The container needs to be held with the utmost integrity so that people on both sides of any given historical conflict are able to trust the process. This means acknowledging tendencies toward defensiveness and denial on one side of the polarity, and toward victim consciousness and emotional manipulation on the other, while holding these patterns together in a profound field of compassion.

If these tendencies sound like typical patterns of male-female conflict, that’s to reiterate my point that the dynamics of polarization underlying our political discord reflect archetypal tensions between masculine and feminine dimensions of the collective unconscious. As noted, the extremes on both sides could be said to represent the more narcissistic or immature versions of these principles.¹ Only the healthy and mature masculine and feminine principles, working together, have the power to push back against these dynamics. Only a united masculine and feminine can form the basis of a truly integral consciousness of the future. Our collective healing processes should aim to incorporate a level of integration that authentically honors both principles.

Of course it’s not an easy thing to do. We’re all wounded healers in these realms. The challenge from the left is that they have so demonized men and the masculine principle they tend to lack access to certain positive masculine qualities that need to be included in a healthy integrative response, such as the courage to call out an agenda of control hidden beneath gentle words of inclusion. The challenge from the right is that their devaluation of women and the feminine principle means they tend to lack access to certain positive feminine qualities needed in a healthy integrative response, such as the sensitivity to the subtler dimensions where these wounds reside.

On the positive side, an approach to collective healing that incorporated the healthy feminine principle would be based on the dynamics of attraction rather than coercion. One might imagine groups or communities who have done their collective healing work radiating such obvious joy and fulfillment that more and more people become magnetically drawn to join them. An approach that incorporated the healthy masculine principle would be characterized by the courage to go all the way, to penetrate to the heart of the wound with love, and to take total responsibility for any role one may have played in causing the harm.

Only a passionate union of masculine and feminine principles has the creative power to transmute the destructive friction between the polarized energies that imperil our world. Only the power of eros can satisfy the deeper yearning obscured by the conflicts on the surface. Here we might consider the strange link between aversion and attraction, the secret, dangerous desire often hidden beneath fear and loathing. What I actually think is wanting to happen between the polarized masculine and feminine energies at the deepest level is – and I don’t know how else to say this – an almighty, sacred fuck. And yes, fuck is the word. If there were more harmony in the relationship then perhaps making love would be the better metaphor. But, as many couples know, when there’s friction and bickering in the air, there’s nothing like a good fuck to reset the relational field.²

But for that to happen, there is first a need for channels of connection between these energies to be opened on the deeper energetic plane. And this points to the significance of certain men and women being humble and courageous enough to get over ourselves – for the sake of all that is precious on this Earth! – and meet in truly integrative spaces to help liberate each other from the complex wounds of history. That is the subtle activism I feel called to engage in. Once these channels of connection have opened on the deeper levels, we can trust that the organic dynamics of attraction will take their course in the broader field. In doing this work together, we can thus help prepare the way for that epic encounter, through which alone the integral consciousness of the coming Aquarian Age will be born.