These days we often hear that if we are to change our world to a loving, just and sustainable one, all we need is to change consciousness. At first glance, this seems to imply that action is not necessary, or important. But conscious action flows from an inspired consciousness. They are not separate but actually call forth each other.
As we start to recognize that spirit and matter are one, we also realize that the level of our own consciousness is reflected and embodied in our actions, our relationships and the material systems we live by. We are presently living in systems and structures that do not represent an enlightened consciousness – in fact, they often represent just the opposite: a consciousness of division, competition, violence, and fear. By default, we are forced to comply with them outwardly, even if inwardly they chafe against the yearnings of our soul. As our consciousness evolves we are compelled to heal these splits – the ways in which our spirit and our material life are incongruent.
As we come into an awareness of the interconnection and unity of all life, we are called into action to change the outer structures and systems by which we live.
Awakening to Change
As a student in the seventies and like many of my generation, I wanted to change the world. At a certain point, frustrated with the seemingly intractable obstacles to changing entrenched power structures, I came to the conclusion that nothing would change unless we changed our own consciousness at an inner level. I then embarked on a long journey which took me to India and for many years practiced yoga and meditation in spiritual communities. I even became a swami in an ashram myself.
After 25 years “on the cushion” I had a second awakening, as electrifying as the first. I suddenly woke up to the reality that not only had all those years of “consciousness transformation” not succeeded in transforming the planet but that in fact, we were on the verge of potentially cataclysmic climate change, ecological and economic collapse. I realized that inner work can’t substitute for outer work, but that the two have to go together.
My first awakening was to the truth of interconnection and Oneness; my second to the crucial importance of applying it in the world. The first was a blissful awakening; the second a rude one – but ultimately blissful too, because it embraced reality in its true fullness, which empowers the transformation from darkness into light.
Not Either/Or but Both and More
As enlightened consciousness and enlightened systems mutually bring each other forth, a new, holistic, evolving society emerges; greater than the sum of its parts, and far beyond anything we could have predicted. This means that true inner revolution is inevitably the basis of true outer revolution. Overcoming the false distinction we make between them is essential to the quantum leap in our evolution needed to heal both ourselves and our planet today. Beth Green, counsellor and teacher, speaks of the importance of “changing ourselves AND our world.” As she cogently puts it:
Outer revolution focuses on confronting someone or something outside ourselves. Inner revolution focuses on confronting ourselves, healing ourselves and then helping co-create a world that is more humane, sustainable and mutually supportive. Our world needs nothing less than an inner revolution.
We need to question everything: our personal assumptions, social and political institutions, ways of relating to one another and the earth, spiritual beliefs, healing modalities, the way we think and more. And we have to be willing to change it all.
“There’s no time for self-doubt and despair.” she urges us. “Let’s support one another to change ourselves, so that, together, we can change our world.”
A Culture of Wholeness
Beth also speaks of the new culture of ‘mutual support,’ which is “very different from traditional notions of support. Mutual support is the process of relying upon higher consciousness to guide our actions for the highest good of all, including us. It is the key to our own personal wellbeing, as well as a living experience of Oneness and community.”
Mutual support is a culture of wholeness, whereby the individual supports the highest good of the whole and the whole supports the highest good of the individual. We acknowledge that through supporting the highest good of all, we create a healthy whole that supports us all. We acknowledge that we are one and cannot be well at one another’s expense. And we also acknowledge that we need not sacrifice, because the good of the whole always includes the good of ourselves.
Combining inner and outer revolution is the fastest, most powerful way to accelerate both our own transformation and that of our society and our planet. By advancing our evolution both personally and collectively, it advances both exponentially, far more powerfully than if we work at either the inner or outer level alone.
A Transformative Force
Andrew Harvey, author of “The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism” powerfully spells out the need to bring the inner and outer levels of transformation together, super-charging the potential for genuine, deep-rooted change:
A spirituality that is only private and self-absorbed, one devoid of an authentic political and social consciousness, does little to halt the suicidal juggernaut of history. On the other hand, an activism that is not purified by profound spiritual and psychological self-awareness and rooted in divine truth, wisdom, and compassion will only perpetuate the problem it is trying to solve, however righteous its intentions.
When, however, the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born. This force I define as ‘Sacred Activism.’
As consciousness evolves, it is natural for it to seek new, systemic outer expressions. Going beyond the ‘either/or’ of consciousness change or outer change may be in itself the revolution of our times!