Embodied Activism: Healing the Dissonance between Social Justice & Spirit

In August, I had the gift of participating in a Family Constellation exercise, in which I strived to heal my internalized dissonance between Activism and Spirit/Healing. Family Constellation therapy offers a powerful group process where different people embody different friends/family members, concepts, archetypes, and other such symbols, that have played a role in shaping an individual’s life. This work has Indigenous roots and much muddy history of cultural appropriation. In this experience, I was able to witness several people representing different aspects of my psyche. Someone sat on the ground as ‘me’, while someone stood to ‘my’ left representing activism and someone else stood to ‘my’ right representing Spirit/Healing. There was someone representing Love and someone representing Harm. My struggle was in figuring out where Love would go.

Eventually, I realized that all these things must and naturally do come together in and as Love.

This disjuncture between Activism and Spirit/Healing has been present and inhibiting in my life for a long time.

When I studied social work, I found myself in a room of ‘social justice warriors’. We were connected in our inspiration to make real, tangible change in the world. Motivated by our desire to counter oppression and to centre marginalized voices. We were committed to making the world safer, more inclusive, more kind. And yet… I felt a saddening lack of heart in these spaces. I felt a denial of emotions and an acceptance of a narrative that deemed burnout inevitable. Folks would yell at one another, fighting for mental health as they ironically put down someone else’s contributions, tossing words that deemed actions: not enough.  It never made sense to me that within these spaces, which fought for equality, empowerment, and mental health… I would leave feeling overwhelmed, fearful, silenced, and mentally shaken.

How could we change anything ‘out there’ when we were so far from embodying the change that we wished for?

On the other hand, when I did my Yoga Teacher Training, I found myself in a room of the heart-centred and hopeful. We were connected in our inspiration to make, real tangible change in the world. Except, in contrast to the social justice community… we weren’t doing it by fighting, we were doing it by Loving. We looked inward to reclaim the power of our breath. We looked upward to celebrate our connection to spirit. We looked around the room to remember the beauty that is right here and right now. It was beautiful, soul-nourishing, and deeply healing. At the same time, I wrestled with the lack of acknowledgement of societal context, of diversity, and real barriers. As I dove deeper into New Age communities, I saw a lack of awareness and accessibility. I witnessed much ‘spiritual bypassing’, in which dense emotions and experiences were denied and devastating circumstances were expected to be changed completely by practices like pranayama (breathwork).

Balanced Love in Action

Here is the thing. Neither of these communities are wrong and neither of them are right. The way they are described here… they each represent one half of a whole. Like Yin (water) and Yang (fire), they cannot function without the other. AND when they DO come together, magical things happen. Perhaps, in their extreme forms we can equate Yin to Healing/Spiritual communities and Yang to Activist communities. To be clear, these things are not inherently opposing- in their true form, they are dancing in coexisting dualistic transcendence.

Ie. Yin-Heavy Healing: An energy healer who tells their client who is a queer, fat-identified, womxn of colour…. that all they need to do is repeat 3 affirmations per day in order to overcome social barriers to employment

Ie. Yang-Heavy Activism: An activist fighting for policy change regarding human rights and personal safety, who is attacking/screaming at a politician- in the name of all people’s right to be humanized and cared for

Neither of these instances are balanced or rooted in heart. Here is what we need: we need Yin & Yang to come together to show us Love in Action. We need empathy, awareness and education to replace the former example. And we need empathy and embodiment to replace the second. Yes, this is the notion of “Being the Change” and these words of Gandhi have become so profoundly and poetically obvious to me.

How can we possibly expect our world to become kind, safe and loving upon a path carved of violence, fight, and division? 

Embodied Activism

Photo by @LupineHeart

Photo by @LupineHeart

I have whole-bodily loved reading Adrienne Maree Brown’s book, ‘Pleasure Activism’. Each word feels like a drop of validating nectar, which my being has so long awaited. Rooted in black feminist tradition, the book includes Audre Lorde’sUses of the Erotic’ and speaks of such things as, making social justice the most pleasurable experience, and utilizing love as political resistance.

I am grateful for every bridge, lover, teacher, and friend who has helped me to heal this dissonance: to see that our soma (our bodies) and our society are in highly reciprocal, always relevant relationship. Ie. Our cultural conditioning shapes our sensuality, just as our sensuality shapes our culture. Yes, our FEELINGS are this powerful.

I continue solidifying my understanding of these bridges. I transcend the narratives of isolation which suggest that we’re either A) team inner landscape: how our mind/body shapes our lives OR B) team outer landscape: how our culture shapes our lives. For ALL of this is TRUE, in it’s important, contradictory, coexisting, and valid glory.

Commitment of Unification

I am committed to releasing the idea that ‘we have to suffer in order to make social change in the world’. There are so many notions floating around, which normalize burnout and confuse love with self-sacrifice. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means ‘to suffer with’, and this implies that we show our love through meeting each other in misery. But this is not the whole story. So Yes, there are New Age cultures denying the darkness in our world AND there are Social Justice/Activist cultures denying the light.... Can we moved towards transcending this duality? Can we heal the dissonance between different forms of change-making to see that It’s. Really. All. Love?

I’m realizing the selfishness of holding onto these dualistic narratives, which keep me silent and small. I’m realizing that I owe it to my ancestors, to my own heart, to you, to our world.... to shed such narratives of dissonance and to trust in the compass of my soul. We do not have to choose between such things. And those trying to dismantle patriarchy in a way that normalizes self-sacrifice and emotional devaluation… may be perpetuating the very system they’re trying to replace.

We can honour our grief and acknowledge the pain of our earth. AND simultaneously, we can celebrate What Is and Love-into-Liberation that Which is still becoming. Just as we cannot hate our bodies into loving our bodies, we cannot resent humanity into healing our world. Hate, guilt, self-loathing and resentment towards our species will never result in more love.

Let our activism feel f*cking delicious, let our hearts soar, let our feelings feel, let our breath lead.

With gratitude and heart,

Marlee Liss

Marlee LissComment