Activism: The Transformative Power of Gratitude, by Pranada Devi

The idea of gratitude in relation to activism may seem out of place. We may think that activism can only happen when we are impelled by anger or upset at a situation. Gratitude may seem to be a complacent reaction. If we were grateful, what would we activate for?

In fact, the idea that there is something to kick against, something that requires our outrage, is part of a deeper disease in our societal consciousness that pits one person against another, one ideology against another, in an attachment to dramatic emotions that only amplify a sense of separation. Awakened activism begins with an understanding of our interconnection. When we understand this interconnection, gratitude flows.

Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy knows this. In her work, she weaves together Buddhist practice with environmental activism and work for peace and justice. She has created a group method called “The Work That Reconnects” that helps groups to “transform despair and apathy, in the face of overwhelming social and ecological crises, into constructive, collaborative action.”

The Work That Reconnects (WTR) is based on a spiral of four interconnected stages:

  1. opening to gratitude,
  2. owning our pain for the world,
  3. seeing with new eyes,
  4. going forth.

“The sequence repeats itself,” writes Macy, “as the spiral circles round, but ever in new ways. The spiral is fractal in nature: it can characterize a lifetime or a project, and it can also happen in a day or several times a day. The spiral begins with gratitude, because that quiets the frantic mind and brings us back to source. It reconnects us with our empathy and personal power. It helps us to be more fully present to our world. Grounded presence provides the psychic space for acknowledging the pain we carry for our world.”

“In owning this pain, and daring to experience it, we learn that our capacity to “suffer with” is the true meaning of compassion. We begin to know the immensity of our heart-mind, and how it helps us to move beyond fear. What had isolated us in private anguish now opens outward and delivers us into wider reaches of our world as lover, world as self.”

Another practitioner who understands the power of gratitude is Thich Nhat Hanh student Caitriona Reed, who has composed a practiced of Touching The Earth For Our Adversaries. It reads in part:

You, who deliberately engage in the destruction of the environment for your own profit, you show me how much I value what is honest, what is generous, what has been clearly thought through, what is expressive of love for this planet home and our human and nonhuman fellow beings. So I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

You bring forth in me the passion and love I feel for this life-bearing land, its soil, air and waters, and the beings they nurture; the passion I feel for integrity and strong, sustainable community. Because of the strength with which I resist your actions, I have seen how strong my love and passion really are. I bow to you in gratitude and touch the Earth.

Because the pain I feel when I allow myself to witness the pain of the world is no less than your pain–you, who perpetuate destruction and cut yourselves off from needs of the present and the generations of the future, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

Because the pain of greed, alienation and fear are no less than the pain of sorrow and mourning for what is lost, I bow to you in compassion and touch the Earth.

[…]

In awe of the mind’s capability for delusion and alienation that calls me so insistently to understanding and joy, I bow to you and touch the Earth.

With the understanding that all this will pass and with love in my heart, I bow to you and touch the Earth.

Both Reed and Macy have understood the transformative power of gratitude even in the face of tragedy. It is this awakened action, this spiritual ecology, which can shift the burden of suffering on the planet. May it be so for all beings.

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Pranada Devi is the Managing Editor for Parvati Magazine. She is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects.