What is (R)evolution?

“We live in revolutionary times, but the revolution we are living through is a slow turning around from one set of beliefs and practices toward another, a turn so slow that most people fail to observe our society revolving — or rebelling. The true revolutionary needs to be as patient as a snail.” Rebecca Solnit in Revolution of the Snails: encounters with the Zapatistas as published in TomDispatch.com (15 January 2008)

A Scene:

Iman Aoun (Palestinian Theater Activist): Veena, have you participated in revolution?

Veena: No. And I struggle with this. I’ve met people who are putting their lives at risk in the name of revolution – who am I to talk about being revolutionary?  Now I’ve come to a point, though, where I think it is okay. I’m not claiming to be more than I am. I have experienced an internal revolution – a shift from being one way to being another. It has been a slow, hard, process. And it continues. And I’m convinced internal change and transformation matters to the collective revolution. I imagine  – I hope – that I will play a different role, make different kinds of contributions – more useful ones to social change.

Is (r)evolution a pretentious play on words? Possibly. Like all of us human beings, it is also possibly something else – possibly both this and that, however contradictory they might seem. For me, it is definitely much more than a play on words. I’ve stumbled across this form of the word revolution in different places, such as emails from Pancho at Casa de Paz in Oakland, California which included the following signature: “undocumented and unafraid, planetizing the movement of the ahimsa (r)evolution from some corner of our round borderless country…if you want to be a rebel, be kind…” I haven’t seen (r)evolution concisely defined, but we-who-use-it all seem to have in the common the desire to draw attention to the evolution component of revolution. 

What does that mean?

My working definition of (R)evolution:  the expression of power consciously and in ways that reflect  and give rise to loving, restorative relationships with our selves, each other, the planet and the collective creative process that is life.

Delving into the definition

Revolution has a variety of definitions: the overthrow of a government or system, replacing it with another; a full rotational turn on an axis; a sudden or momentus change in a situation.  The rotational definition invokes coming back to where one started. When it comes to the system/government overthrow or a sudden change to any situation, we usually don’t want to come full circle. The idea is change – for life to become different.

As we know, however, often one regime gets replaced for another that repeats the same tyranny, only in different forms. This is despite being comprised of the very people who overthrew the previous regime, in the name of change.  This is why I, like many others, choose to put the (r) in brackets – to highlight that (r)evolution has at its core evolution.  Evolution is defined as a  ‘gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex or better form.’ To this, I say yes and it is a process whereby our relationships with our selves, each other and our creative processes become healthier and thus we create restorative systems, structures and ways of living together. Restorative means capable of renewing health or strength.

Love/loving.   Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving suggests: “Love… requires discipline, concentration, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism. It isn’t a feeling, it is a practice…Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love.”  I like this idea of love being about a person’s relationship to the world and of love being a practice – but a practice of what?

Guided by Fromm and the Zapatista (r)evolutionaries of Southern Mexico, who often talk about working to create bien estar or well-being, I define love as a practice of indiscriminately promoting and encouraging well-being. Loving means expressing love.

Power means the ability to act.   

If I were to re-write my working definition, breaking down the key words of evolution, power, love/loving and restorative, it would look like this:  the expression of the ability to act consciously and in ways that reflect and give rise to relationships (with our selves, each other, the planet and the collective creative process that is life) that, as part of a daily practice, indiscriminately promote and encourage well-being and renewed health and strength.

A meaningful practice of being (r)evolutionary requires discipline and courage and – as Rebecca Solnit emphasizes in her article (see the beginning of this post) – patience.  The Zapatistas take the caracol to symbolize their collective journey. Caracol is Spanish for both snail and the conch shell. This word brings together the slowness of the snail with the coming together of people in community/collective action as symbolized by the conch shell. The conch shell has been used for millennia in communities to call people together – to meet, to eat together, to go to battle. The spiral shape of the snail and the conch shells captures the idea that the journey is not straight-forward, not linear. Sometimes to get from A to B, one must travel via J. Sometimes, going forward entails stepping backward. Sometimes a pre-requisite to going outwards is turning inwards.

Solnit, in her explanation of caracol, draws upon the mythical stories of Old Antonio – stories said to be told by Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista movement. She quotes from one story that says “the hearts of men and women are in the shape of a caracol…they say…that the caracol represents entering in to the heart…..they say…that the caracol also represents exiting from the heart to walk into the world.”  Slow-paced. Both heart and mind-based. Inward-looking and outward looking. (R)evolution is a daily practice to create transformation through – as Solnit describes – “a slow turning around from one set of beliefs and practices towards another.”

I believe collective social, economic and political (r)evolution mirror and are inextricably entwined with the processes of individual internal (r)evolution and that the two go hand in hand – the question of which comes first is a red herring – they emerge simultaneously in the on-going dance that is life and how we live together.

What does (R)evolution mean to you? What is your experience of the relationship between individual internal change and collective transformation?











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