The following post was inspired by one of the Fireside Conversations on Subtle Activism with David Nicol as part of Nurturing the Fields of Change programme in 2023.

It is no secret that we are living in a time of extraordinary upheaval and transition, impending ecological breakdown perhaps being the most significant expression of the all-pervading flux in which we find ourselves. While the heightened risk of the climate hitting tipping points is making headlines, it is important to ask ourselves what core capacities do we need to build and cultivate now? Across the world, the Subtle Activist movement is growing. This is grounded in a deeper understanding that resistance alone is not enough. Other than overt action, David Nicol, co-founder of EarthRising, proposes tools that pull on the deeper wisdom to assist us in collective healing, in particular the subtle activity of consciousness itself.

While there are many compelling reasons to nurture our spiritual intelligence, available scientific research suggests that our personal transformation can in fact transform collective consciousness. David Nicol grounded this fascinating dialogue in both experience and evidence of wide-ranging benefits of collective contemplative practices like meditation and prayer which seek to indirectly affect events in the social and political field by exerting non-local influence on the collective mindset. Examples include the phenomenon named as the Maharishi Effect, where large groups practicing Transcendental Meditation technique resulted in the reduction of crime rates in the U.S. The unprecedented gatherings in global synchronized meditations for peace are now also witnessing millions of participants joining from all corners of the world in order to change the psycho-sphere of surrounding societies.

I really appreciate, however, that part of the mission at EarthRising is to further contemplate the healing potential of the emerging harmony of critical mass on our ecological consciousness. We can speculate that their ongoing work is triggering a ripple effect and the associated emergence of similar projects, including a recent initiative called Earth Recovery Team. Merging together the power of mass meditation, we gathered to collaborate with the world’s rivers in order to shift consciousness related to restoring ecosystems around the planet.

It is important to note that Subtle Activism is not a substitute for physical action, but rather a potentially crucial component of a more integrated approach to social change. Instead of feeding the cycles of reactivity, according to David it is an opportunity to navigate more skilfully the social and planetary transformation since part of individual spiritual development inevitably involves making contact with our dysfunctional psychological frameworks that mark so much of our current destructive behaviours. According to David, one of the dimensions of Subtle Activism includes a growing number of group approaches that provide emotional release work, specifically designed to process aspects of our collective shadow.

In a separate discussion another guest speaker, Anton Baaré, has made a similar observation, suggesting that: “instead of panicking, with a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, we need to somehow find it within and between ourselves to show up in the world with ‘flow’ from our essence”. Non-violent civil dis­obedience might have helped back in the day, but the tactics of marching in the streets have done very little to slow down the corporate machine. Being invested in implementation of real-life solutions is crucial, but so is altering our participation in a more creative ways that points to great reserves of inner power that we have yet to really tap into. From personal experience, having ‘crawled’ through some of my activism days, I still witness so much unnecessary burn-out and disillusionment among the crowds, that I too feel some urgency to forge a spiritual container, large and powerful enough to collectively offer a profound holding and skilful eco-resiliency we are being called upon to cultivate with wisdom and courage.

Towards the end of the session one of the participants inquired if “this practice is the only way or the best way to tap into the planetary consciousness and hope that it will filter into the material realm?” For David, his sacred calling is to continue to “bring it through on a subtle plain because traditionally there hasn’t been a lot of focus there so its full potential has not been realised”. He contends that when integrated with more conventional forms of activism, this practise can play a crucial unifying role in any holistic approach to social change. With the increasing sophistication of internet planting seeds of awareness, I trust that subtle forms of activism like EarthRising will become more and more popular and look forward to welcoming David Nicol back in September, this time exploring how an astrological perspective can help inform and shape our collective healing.
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