The Activist as Mystic with facilitator Dan Hines

Dan Hines Activist as MysticGabriola Ecumenical Society’s Spring Forum, “The Activist as Mystic,” engaged and delighted the 37 people who attended at the Rollo Centre April 22 – 23, 2016.

Led by experienced facilitator Dan Hines, the forum explored links between spiritual awareness and public actions.

Dan defined mysticism as, “dis–illusion, literally the absence of illusion.” While many see mysticism as a spiritual ascent to equanimity, Dan instead quoted Thomas Merton: “The second half of life is about descending,” a descent not to despair but to clarity about the material world. “Loss is the only teacher that you have after age 40.”

A poem by Naomi Shihab Nye also spoke of growth through loss.

“Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

“Activism” too is a word with a lot of meaning. Dan quoted a spiritual activists’ definition as, “the intersection between what is needed and what I love to do.” Activism is living one’s values actively, rather than “waiting for the activist to arrive.”

Models of self-development

Dan described various models of self-development. In one model, childhood socialization creates a divided self, with different outer and inner selves, making awareness if one’s true self difficult.

Participants also considered a “cycle of belonging” model, which usually starts with a grounded sense of connection to our physical place on earth. Our sense of place contributes to “a sense of identity, leading to a sense of values, which in turn activates our sense of responsibility, the capacity to respond to others by being activists.”

Another model suggested the self is more like a Mobius strip, where the outer and inner re-attach, making one continuous form.

Author Parker Palmer’s contrast between realism and idealism provided another model. Too much realism leads to cynicism. Too much idealism leads to loss of reality in a false dream world.

Dan remarked, “God comes to you as your life.” Your actions show your values. You can clarify your values from your actions, rather than clarifying your values before acting.

Navigating life

Dan described navigation as a metaphor for moving through life. Ancient Polynesians navigated by looking backward to where they were leaving, and feeling the rhythms of the ocean. They successfully crossed the open Pacific to distant islands they envisioned arising from the sea. The navigator’s task was to hold the vision.

One of several handouts was Joyce Rupp’s poem, “Old maps no longer work.”

“I keep pulling it out –
the old map of my inner path…
but there is nothing there now.”
…but then my mid-life soul whispers:
‘there was a time before maps
when pilgrims travelled by the stars’.”

Participants watched and discussed the video movie, “A Small Good Thing.” It revealed the stories of people leading lives of conscious personal and community development – starting a farm, a performance art project for at risk youth, the yoga “Centre for Extraordinary Living,” etc. “What seed do you have in you that is the very best in you?”

The forum concluded with a Taoist story of a woodcarver commissioned by a powerful prince to make an important carving. The woodcarver had to overcome his distracting fears of the prince to make the exquisite carving. He had to learn “the commission within the commission” to fulfil his life’s purpose.

A final handout from Thomas Merton on “Violence and Knowing” summed up the forum.

“…the frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace.”

“If you want to know me … ask what I live for, in every detail, and ask me what in my view prevents me from living fully for the thing I really want to live for.”

submitted by participant