by David “Lucky” Goff
As I have grown older I have noticed that my consciousness has been altered by the accumulation of years, experiences, hardships, and the proximity of death. Losses and gains have piled up and rebalanced the scale of my awareness. This has caused me to rethink many things, and to make choices that are surprising me. My self-image isn’t what it used to be. I’m finding that, all-in-all, these changes are leading me towards a deeper, richer life—a life that is more connected with the mystery of the greater immensity I am embedded in.
The words and ideas that follow represent a work-in-progress, a process of redefinition. They reflect a transformational flow that has swept me up and is delivering a more sensitized and older being back into this world. What I see now is not what I saw before. What I feel called to is only partly what I felt called to before. I am in flux, and the world is changing.
As I age, I am moving from having an external focus to a more internal one. This shift befuddles and intrigues me. My inner life is growing—adding perspective—and complicating my self-image and the world I live in. Unbidden, I am feeling and noticing things I once overlooked.
Recently, a new awareness has come to me, one that I’m calling “integral activism.” This is a form of action that integrates and combines “inner” with “outer” awareness. It preserves my deepening sense of integrity. And opens me more to Spirit’s power. There is an inherent balance in it, because it calls for transformation without recrimination.
This form of activism emerges naturally from the realizations that are coming through my “inner” life. Engagement is organic, by that I mean unplanned, spontaneous, and authentic. Basically, I exemplify a value rather than promote it. My form of integral activism creates pressure for change by my being the change desired. The choice to be active is not stimulated by any desire to influence or persuade another. There is no intent to change. That is left up to Mystery.
It is important to me that I am constantly acting on behalf of my values each and every moment, in all my relationships with strangers, and within myself. To do that, I have had to redefine inner work so that it becomes less “subtle” and more robust and engaged. I find that when there is no boundary between what is within me and my actions in the world, there is much more likelihood that I am going to be connected to the moment, others, and the Spirit.
Inner activism still relies on the cultivation of awareness (meditation, contemplation, and prayer) but is much more active. It uses focused, deliberate attention to actively practice engagement in four areas that I have identified as vital to the practice of applied attention. They have a synergetic effect, in that an increase of awareness in one opens up new terrain in others. Here are the areas I have thus far identified. Internal activism endeavors to:
- Uproot Internalized Oppression
- Free and Be Yourself
- Practice Community
- Cultivate Paradoxical Awareness
The following depiction of each element is not intended to be a full description. There is more to be discovered. Rather, these descriptions elaborate the terrain of each practice while providing a rational for their inclusion in my formulation of inner activism.
Uproot Internalized Oppression
There are a variety of forces at work shaping social reality, contesting for cultural adherence, and working at multiple levels trying to capture us. This runs the range from group and class power dynamics such as racism, ageism and sexism to subtler forms such as advertising, psychologizing, and other forms of pathologizing or dehumanizing assumptions. The social environment is rife with all of these clamoring ideas. There is a complex amalgam of assumptions that, when internalized, provide the preconceptions that lead to prejudicial beliefs. These beliefs rebound into a kind of self-negation and lead to a variety of self-image issues that will limit our effectiveness in embodying the life affirming values we hold dear.
An example from my life illustrates. I have discovered that I have prejudices about disability. I have had to be around other disabled people to see more clearly how these beliefs have poisoned my experience of other disabled people, and especially how these beliefs have impacted me.
The goal here is not to eliminate these messages/beliefs, but to identify and suspend them. As any interaction, or thought, arises it is reviewed to see if it expands or limits choice. This is an application of mindfulness that identifies thoughts and feelings that contain belief structures that limit.
Free and Be Yourself
This practice’s goal is freedom. This practice entails showing up authentically wherever one is. It involves a combined focus of attention upon authenticity and inner conditions that inhibit freedom of expression. As you can probably tell this practice has several challenges, not the least of which involves self-knowledge. It acknowledges that internal factors play as great a role in inhibiting freedom as external factors. This practice involves clearing the way within so one can give voice to differences, choose to offer a unique perspective, and add to the diversity of the moment.
Again, to use my life as an example, I’ve had to work with myself to show up as a disabled man. My wholeness, my humanity, is not obvious if I am unable to put myself out in the social world. To do so, I have to ready myself to face, out in the world, the very prejudices that I know are within me. My freedom to be me depends upon it.
All effective activism requires we show up as authentic as we dare to be.
Whereas freedom requires a self-reflective vigilance that is involved in uprooting internalized oppression, the goal of this practice is to make the migration from separation to connection. The practice of community leads to a practice field where one can meet the challenges associated with maintaining and expressing a self of one’s own in the midst of important social relations. Learning to use and/or withstand social feedback is important to the cause of activism.
Differences are highlighted (like my being disabled) in this practice and provide many of its benefits. The practice of community also provides insight into the way collectives create and maintain social realities. This provides a very dynamic environment in which practices of holding on to one’s uniqueness can be seen as paradoxically related to the quality of social connection.
This practice provides both support and challenge. It represents a precious chance to align and balance freedom with responsibility. This practice also hones the resilience and caring vital to any form of effective activism.
Cultivate Paradoxical Awareness
The practice starts with the acknowledgement that one has grown knowledgeable enough to know that one doesn’t know much. From this recognition emanates a greater recognition that inner, as well as outer, reality is composed of relationships that are paradoxically related. That means that things that appear solitary, and in opposition, are joined when viewed from a broader description.
As an example, the following words by Parker Palmer beautifully illustrate the mindset of paradoxical awareness and its power to transform situations (from A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life —Welcoming The Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World). This quote illustrates paradoxical awareness and demonstrates how this mindset transforms situations.
“If we are to hold solitude and community together as a true paradox, we need to deepen our understanding of both poles. Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from oneself. It is not about the absence of other people — it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others. Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other. It is not about the presence of other people — it is about being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”
This particular practice has helped me see how my disability has led me to new abilities. I now say I am Lucky because I have experienced the enabling loss.
The advent of these internal practices came about as I followed my own natural aging process, which has led me to a more inward and spiritual focus of identity and action.
When I had my stroke—and especially during this long aftermath of disability—I acquired (without intent) a more connected way of experiencing things. Alive, in a new way (for me), I have noticed how I have been naturally embellished through the aegis of getting older. I believe this is a process of integration aided by the actions of life. I like the sense that I am becoming aware, in a different way, at nature’s behest.
Aging is making a difference in me, and that difference has led me to value who I am more, and to more deeply consider the relationship between what is within me and what is without. This formulation of an integral activism is an outgrowth of that burgeoning awareness.
In 2003, David Goff had a brain aneurism. As a result of his stroke, and the onset of a rare brain syndrome, he nearly died and ended up permanently disabled. This experience had a transformational effect on David, which made him “Lucky,” and cued him into how radically connected all things are. This broader awareness now informs his approach toward what it means to be human. He maintains a psychotherapy practice specializing in psycho-spiritual development, and also writes extensively about the aging and elder experience and the psychology of interdependence. He is author of Embracing Life: Toward A Psychology Of Interdependence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .