Rocking Chair Activists: The Many Faces of Subtle Activism

By Rich Silver

The concept of sacred activism has captured the imagination of the Conscious Elders Network and many of us are exploring its multiple facets. I write here with a twofold purpose about a certain facet called “subtle activism,” a term recently coined by David Nicol, author of a book by the same name.

First, I would like to flesh out a bit of what is meant by subtle activism. Second, I would like to suggest that as we move from early-stage elderhood (where our gifts and contributions are in both our Doing and Being) into late-stage elderhood (where our gift is in simply Being), we can continue to have a significant positive effect in creating the world we long for. That is, as our bodies give way to a less physically-active life we can remain sacred activists, what we might call “Rocking Chair Activists”, working from the subtle levels.

So a bit about what subtle activism actually is. I was asked awhile back by a CEN member, “Just what is the difference between subtle activism and church?” While the term is new, subtle activism is not; it has been practiced in some form in temples, sanctuaries, and sacred sites for thousands of years.

Subtle activism differs from personal enlightenment practices, the practices commonly intended for personal awakening and transformation. Extending beyond personal enlightenment, subtle activism employs the use of common forms of sacred practice—mantras, meditation, prayer, chanting, healing visualization practice—for a particular purpose: to transform humanity and the world.  It may be done individually yet, as with most things, its impact grows exponentially when practiced in alignment with other practitioners.

It is probably not a coincidence that subtle activism practices and research are gaining momentum just as Earth and all life need greater intercession. Supported by the earlier research of Princeton’s Global Consciousness Project, The Heart Math Institute’s Global Coherence Initiative and David Nicol’s Gaiafield Project are two examples of an emergent form of contemporary subtle activism. Each of these initiatives brings people together remotely with a shared intention, using particular practices in an effort to transform the world and create a just and life-sustaining society.

But, does subtle activism have an actual effect in the world? Subtle activism, by its nature, is challenging to study—but let’s start with the emerging scientific research, as we live in a world where science and the rational mind claim to be the only source of truth, and quantification its game.

Subtle activism invokes quantum physics and the principles of the quantum field, nonlocality, entanglement, and entrainment. I will not elaborate here on these principles but suggest reading David Nicol’s book, Subtle Activism—or, for a more in depth look at the research, Lynne McTaggart’s book, The Intention Experiment, as a starting point.

Nicol tells us that over a century of scientific investigation offers substantial empirical evidence of nonlocal mind-to-mind and mind-to-matter interactions. The most prominent of these is the “Maharishi Effect” where more than twenty studies have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals demonstrating how large groups of advanced TM meditators with “super radiance” have improved social harmony, reducing crime rates in cities. I was personally part of a multi-day subtle activism practice of another form that dramatically reduced the crime rate in New York City during a “Violet Fame Vigil” in the late 80’s.

While there are methods to be mastered within the many forms of subtle activism, McTaggart indicates that three key features appear to determine the efficacy of subtle activism practices: intention, the number of people practicing, and the “rapturous attention” of the parties involved.

Let’s now look at two particular forms of subtle activism. Andrew Harvey writes in The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, “I have emphasized strongly here the necessity of ‘doing,’ but I also believe it is possible to construct a model of sacred activism that can accommodate people of a wide range of dispositions.” Harvey continues, “One alternative that I find helpful was proposed by the Christian contemplative Cynthia Bourgeault. In addition to the model of outward action…she proposes two other kinds of Sacred Activists: 1) those who pursue a withdrawn, contemplative life but who radiate their energies into the world to protect sentient beings and 2) those who work at the occult level, who are inherently contemplative but seek to alter the course of events by contacting spiritual beings and occult forces and molding them with their contemplative power in ways that secure and safeguard the human future.”

Bourgeault’s alternative sacred activism provides a frame for what I would like to share about my personal venture into the mysterious world of subtle activism, as I have been practicing both of these forms of activism for over three decades. Whether you are more rational or mystical, may I suggest that it is the practice of radiating energies into the world to protect and transform life that each of us can take up in our own way as subtle activists—even as we pursue outer activism.

The late beloved Elder, Thomas Berry, reminds us that humans cannot create the changes necessary in the world with our human wills, but only with our wills aligned with the will of the Earth and the Universe. From the rationally-minded perspective, alignment and entrainment is with the energies of the wondrous physical universe. From the mystically-minded perspectives, alignment and entrainment is with the energies of the numinous presence(s) within Earth and the Universe.

I would like to turn now to Bourgeault’s second alternative and recount a bit about my relationship to her claim of those who seek to alter the course of events by contacting spiritual beings. David Nicol tells us in Subtle Activism, “…it is a common esoteric belief…that behind the everyday world there exists an elite group of adepts—variously known as the Ascended Masters, the Elder Brethren, and other names—who are guiding the collective evolution of humanity.”

It is with some hesitancy that I choose to share this unconventional experience of my soul calling publicly, but it serves as an example of the esoteric activism that those who work at the occult level are drawn to practice. Around age 29, during my first Saturn Return— that time when astrologers claim your soul purpose gets a major jolt— I was contacted by the “otherworld.” A series of mysterious synchronicities led me to a lecture about “The Ascended Masters” in Sonoma County.

As I listened to the talk, a towering, turbaned “being of light” in a holographic-like light body appeared next to the lecturer. I looked around to see if anyone else saw this radiant being. No one seemed to. After a minute or so the being of light disappeared. I would later, following the trail of more synchronicities, arrive at the “Mystery School” the lecturer had invited us all to, only to find a grand portrait of this being of light in the main sanctuary. I would come to learn of the existence of a community of both female and male saints and sages residing in a non-material dimension, dedicated to guiding the evolution of life on Earth. There I received extensive esoteric training over several years, practices intended to help keep the evolutionary trajectory of humanity moving in the intended direction. I have been working with them daily, since. If there were one aspect of my life where “Who would’ve thought?” would be appropriate, it would be here!

An early teacher at the mystery school said, regarding our relationship to the primordial creative force, “Call it what you want, call it God, call it the universe, the mystery, Allah, Brahma—just call it.”

Mythologist Michael Meade suggests that if you are looking for an elder, look for someone with one foot in this world and one foot in the “otherworld.” For those so inclined, we can call for assistance in this world to those in the “otherworld” who are guiding and assisting the evolution of Earth. Though unpopular in our rational anthropocentric society, aligning our personal wills with the “great will”—call it what you want—is the first step of all effective subtle activism practice and any sacred activism for that matter. From that alignment and subsequent entrainment with those powerful subtle energies transmitted from the otherworld, we can focus on the transformation of the issues that break our hearts and outrage us about the world.

While we are not in the rocking chair yet, for those already practicing subtle activism, I invite you to join me in refining the efficacy our practices. For those new to this, I invite you to take up an effective practice, one that calls to your soul—perhaps with CEN’s Wisdom Council, the Gaiafield Project, the Global Coherence Initiative—or some other. And then practice; as they say, practice makes perfect. In this case, practice helps perfect the world.

Whether as an individual or gathered in groups, if we are full of sincere intent and aligned and entrained in “rapturous attention,” we can practice the art of changing the world from the inside out. Extraordinary times call for extra-ordinary measures. The many faces of subtle activism offer us just that.


Rich Silver, MA ABD, is a retired CA State Park Ranger and an award-winning educator and practicing EcoPsychologist. He is the founder and director of the nature-based wisdom school University of Earth, where he guides the school’s online graduate program in EcoPsychology. He also directs the EcoLiving & Learning Project for modeling the creation of a sustainable, life-enhancing society at UofE’s eco-spiritual campus in the Northern Sierra Nevada. As a lifelong devotee of creating a world that works for us all, where the human community, the natural world, and divine worlds go forward as one sacred community, Rich utilizes and teaches sacred subtle activism practices for personal and planetary transformation.

Sue Sorensen

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