Social change: an emergent creative process that begins with who/how we are being

I regularly exchange letters with Olivia Sprinkel about our intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual journeying. Recently, my correspondence with her collided with work I’m doing to develop a concept of Spirited Activism. The resulting ‘bang’ made me jump. This is one of those posts I’m writing as I bounce a bit in my seat. As I think the thoughts I’m thinking, I feel energized. I feel excited because I have a sense that I’ve just gone one level deeper into my understanding of Gandhi’s dictum: Be the change we want to see in the world.

Firstly, I now realize that Spirited Activism is emerging for me as a concept rooted in an assumption: social change is a collective creative process. I shouldn’t be surprised to realize I have this assumption. After all, a guiding motto for me is: “If we want to create a different world, we need to relate to our selves, each other and the creative process differently.”

Secondly, I have clarity that social change comes not from winning hearts and minds, but from opening, expanding and connecting them in ways that create internal shifts/transformations. In turn, through the creative process, this internal movement drives external shifts/transformations.

Thirdly, I now more firmly sense the importance of understanding that being precedes doing. Who/how we are being in the world determines what we do in the world, our actions, our creativity. If we are being hateful, insecure, disconnected, reactionary our creations, e.g. social, economic and political systems, institutions, policies, relationships will reflect and perpetuate this way of being. Equally, if we are being Spirited – which I take to mean loving, compassionate, fueled by integrity and wisdom (the intuitive kind), our creations will reflect this way of being. I have no doubt that the latter way of being is what will enable us to heal, create and live together in greater harmony with each other and the earth.

What does all this mean in practice?

The way I’ve started looking at it is to work with the dictum directly. For example, what does it mean to ‘be the change’ if the change we want to create is fewer prisons. We can’t be fewer prisons, can we? It doesn’t really mean anything, does it? At least not when put that way. It does come to mean something when we distill what wanting fewer prisons reflects – says about who/how we want to be. The ‘fewer prisons’ outcome has its roots in forgiveness and compassion. It reflects a desire to nurture human potential and to be optimistic about human nature – doesn’t it? So, being the change with regards to this issue really means being more forgiving, compassionate, optimistic and nurturing. Manifesting these qualities, we are likely to be able to come together and create alternatives to prisons and our hyper-punitive, Spirit-crushing justice system.

Some people are doing this – for example, by advocating for practices such as restorative justice. I’d like to see more of us advocating for the alternatives to prisons. Again – what does this mean? The change I’m saying I want to see is: ‘more of us advocating for alternatives to prisons.” How do I go about being that change? I know that if I thought about making or advocating for that change, I would be inclined to try and persuade people of the value of restorative justice. I might make the case for it socially and economically.

But what about if I am being that change? If I distil it, the change I want to see has many dimensions. It is about changing how I understand punishment and justice. It is about – as said – being more forgiving, compassionate, optimistic and nurturing. Thus being the change means that I must consider how I approach to punishment and justice in my own life. It means being restorative. It is means being more compassionate, forgiving and nurturing in my own life, including in what I put into the world – in everything that I create (from relationships, to ideas, to projects to campaigns etc).

By doing so, by being the change, I start to influence how others are being. I start to open, expand and connect hearts and minds with a particular kind of spirit. I also open myself up to new forms of creativity, as I relate differently to the world around me – I will see creative opportunities I previously could not have imagined. I write all this, thinking “Okay, I’m repeating myself here.” Whether it is fewer prisons or more people advocating for alternatives, I’m saying that being the change means me opening, expanding and connecting my heart and mind.

You might be, at this stage, wondering: “What’s her point in relation to social change and the creative process? My point is I’d like to see us be guided by the question: “How do we become catalysts for internal shifts in ourselves and in others that then influence, re-direct individual and collective creative processes?

As ever, more questions follow: “What if we approached – as is already being done around the world in many different ways (large and small) – social change as an unfolding, emergent creative process? And what if we accept that a crucial dimension of this process is awareness of how/who we are being while we are creating?” We can observe and ask ourselves: “Are we being fearful and coming from place of lack and loss? Are we being adversarial and disconnected from one another? What assumptions guide our behaviors? Are we being self-serving? Are we being cynical or optimistic? Are we being spiteful and vindictive? Are we being judgmental? Are we being compassionate? Are we seeking to bring out or crush the Spirit in each other?”

The world we create reflects who/how we are being. In the US, we’ve created a country full of prisons – we have 2.2 million people imprisoned! It might sound cliché, but let’s face it – it isn’t just the people in jail who are imprisoned. This mass incarceration reflects that we are being distrustful, cynical, pessimistic about human nature, dis-compassionate and unforgiving. I have no doubt that being this way is harmful in subtle and obvious ways, at the individual and collective level. If this isn’t who we want to be, who we think we are, then the main issue is we are being passive. After all, we aren’t coming together in droves to reject the mass incarceration endorsed by politicians who are scare-mongering and corporations that are profiteering. We aren’t coming together in droves to create alternatives.

Is this really who/how we want to be? Not me. Is this who/how you want to be?

Our creative collective process is way too constrained and constraining. Yet another question arises: “How do you think we expand it – how do we open up the possibility of our collective creative process?” My response to this question brings me back to the repeat theme here – We open up the possibility by shifting who/how we are being – the emotions, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions fuelling our creativity. We open up the possibility by expanding our consciousness. 

In turn, I repeat a question I posed earlier: “How do we each become catalysts for internal shifts in people that then influence, re-direct individual and collective creative processes?   

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2 Responses to Social change: an emergent creative process that begins with who/how we are being

  1. patrickandr says:

    Thanks for this Veena. This is something I have been noticing recently too – that the inner reflects the outer and so I need to be what I want to see. Spiritual teachers emphasise the lack of division between the inner and the outer – if we take this seriously, our whole view of the world changes. P xx

  2. Veena Vasista says:

    @patrickandr – Glad you enjoyed this post Patrick. I think the Be the Change dictum is one that we all know, and think ‘Yes, yes!’ very readily. However, since I’ve started trying to take it to heart, I’ve come to realize what a challenging instruction it really is!!! And also what a mind and heart expanding instruction it really is!! peace and love. v.

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