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Subtle Activism: The Inner Dimension of Social and Planetary Transformation

by David Thomas Nicol

I am writing this article for The Catalyst at a remarkable time for me personally, but also for the emerging field of subtle activism. In the coming weeks, my book Subtle Activism: The Inner Dimension of Social and Planetary Transformation will be published, the first-ever Subtle Activism Summit will go to air, massive International Day of Peace celebrations — including our 4th annual BeThePeace global meditation event — will occur, a short film on subtle activism will be screened online to a global audience, and I will launch my first online course in Subtle Activism at the Shift Network. After many years of building foundations, the feeling is like being lifted up by a great wave and beginning to surf it to an unknown destination. It’s an exhilarating ride! These developments are very satisfying for me personally, yet I’m also excited for what the growth of the field of subtle activism represents for the evolution of consciousness in our world.

Subtle activism involves the use of consciousness-based practices for collective transformation, such as a global meditation to support a peaceful outcome to an international conflict. It is an aspect of an emerging turn in the consciousness movement beyond personal development toward concern for the world as a whole.

As Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has pointed out, authentic spiritual practice has always been for the sake of the whole. From ancient shamanic traditions to monastic and mystical orders within the major world religions, practitioners have long dedicated their spiritual work for the wellbeing of all life. In our modern, hyper individualized Western culture, however, spirituality has become largely focused on personal liberation, often to the exclusion of sociopolitical and environmental concerns.

This situation can partly be understood in historical terms as the outcome of the scientific and political revolutions that overthrew the dominance of medieval religious institutions, relegating all religion and spirituality to the private and personal domain. Yet our planetary situation today has become so urgent that we can no longer sustain this division. We don’t want, of course, to see a return to public influence of the dogma of institutionalized religion. But we do need to find a way to reintroduce a sense of the sacred into our public awareness. If we were to relate to the Earth as a sacred, living being, for example, it would be impossible for us to treat her the way we currently do. To bring about this shift at a collective level will require us to expand our spiritual vision beyond personal growth toward engagement with the world at large. It will call on us to develop new ways of being and seeing that are free from the dogmas of both religion and materialistic science.

Subtle activism represents a step in this direction. More than simply a philosophy of engagement, subtle activism is a methodology—or set of methodologies—for connecting spiritual awareness with collective concerns. It is not associated with any one spiritual method or tradition, but is an umbrella term that describes a wide variety of consciousness-based practices intended to support collective transformation. It is also no accident that subtle activism (in its modern form) is rising as a planetary force in the Digital Age. The Internet and its associated technologies are enabling the emergence of new capacities of collective awareness whose transformative potential we are only just beginning to glimpse.

To me, the power of subtle activism is simply this: There is nothing we cannot hold in our awareness together. There is no pain, no horror too intense for our collective spiritual presence to bear. Neither is there a level of joy or ecstasy too great for us to expand into with each other. We are an opening to the infinite, and through us can flow the unlimited powers of the cosmos. And, in being with the reality of our world situation in this way, we perform a service for the whole. Something in us and the world changes for the better.

By highlighting the potential contribution of subtle activism, we are not claiming that it is a substitute for the many concrete actions that will need to be taken to restore our planet to balance. There is an enormous amount of difficult, unglamorous work that needs to occur, from alleviating poverty to healing the divisions of racism to repairing the damage to the natural world to improving educational opportunities to….the list is vast. The paramount concern of many people is to secure basic survival needs. In the context of these gritty life challenges, the approach of subtle activism may seem too ethereal or impractical to be of much value. Yet even in relation to these basic concerns, a collective shift whereby we realize our interconnectedness with each other and all life may be fundamental, in that this awareness is what motivates us to take the necessary action.

For the past six weeks, I have been talking with a number of highly esteemed mystics, scientists, and activists in preparation for the first ever online Subtle Activism Summit. It has been one of the deepest joys and honors of my life to be in dialogue on this subject with women and men of such calibre as our guests on this series. From Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee to Buddhist and deep ecologist Joanna Macy, from scientist Dean Radin to spiritual activist angel Kyodo Williams, from spiritual teachers David Spangler, Sandra Ingerman, and Patricia Albere to visionary philosophers Sean Kelly and Christopher Bache—and more—each and every dialogue has been a treasure. I am very excited for how this Summit promises to lift the conversation about subtle activism to a new level of public visibility and awareness. Please do join us—and may we together stretch our minds and hearts beyond what we thought was possible in service to the transfiguration of our world.

To register free for the Subtle Activism Summit and to receive updates about David Thomas Nicol’s upcoming course on Subtle Activism -- click here.

David Thomas Nicol, PhD, is a new faculty with The Shift Network. He is director and co-founder of the Gaiafield Project, an action research center founded at the California Institute of Integral Studies that advances the study and practice of subtle activism. His forthcoming book Subtle Activism: The Inner Dimension of Social and Planetary Transformation is the first comprehensive treatment of the topic. He is also co-founder of BeThePeace, one of the world's largest global meditation events that occurs annually on the International Day of Peace (September 21). He teaches on subtle activism in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at the California Institute of Integral Studies and at the Shift Network. A former environmental lawyer from Australia, he now lives in Berkeley with his wife Kate and dogs Jackson and Peaches.

To learn more about the Gaiafield Project - click here.
To learn about BeThePeace - click here.


The Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive The Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in:
2015 Catalyst, Issue 17: Subtle Activism & 11 Days of Global Unity

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