Published on January 15th, 2022 | by Aya de Leon0
Climate Activism Goals for 2022: Spiritual Mediocrity
In my 20s, I sought spiritual solutions for my personal challenges. I attended Vipassana meditation retreats, built Yoruba altars, and danced and cried in raucous Black churches. In my 30s, I began touring as a spoken word artist and activist—my life was decidedly in the world.
In my 40s, I stopped traveling and became a working mom. When my kid was three, I did start going back to church in a radical African American congregation. The Black church was still a place where overwhelmed mothers could come with their kids and lay our burdens down. But when church changed service times and conflicted with my kid’s nap schedule, I slipped back into a secular life.
Since my 20s, I’ve also been using a peer counseling tool for trauma healing. I have spent many sessions crying, shaking, or releasing peals of nervous laughter. In peer counseling, I was exposed to the idea that feelings of discouragement are always based in our early trauma. Their theory suggested that any untraumatized human being facing a problem would just optimistically keep trying different solutions until they found one that worked. Only because we have experienced trauma and big emotional defeats in as young children are we vulnerable to losing hope and giving up.
I have held onto this idea in the last few years since I have become a climate activist. But our species doesn’t have a lot of time to try different solutions. As we face these huge existential challenges, I realize that I need more than just a chance to let my feelings out. I need a sense of spirituality to be effective and to sustain myself.
I came to climate activism through peer counseling and then more deeply through Hurricane Maria. As a working artist mom, I couldn’t drop everything to become a full-time organizer, but I decided to put it in the center of all that I was already doing. As a novelist, I could write about climate. As a college teacher, I could assign my students to write about climate, and as a mom, I could organize climate activities at my kid’s school. This year, I’m also organizing an online conference entitled “Black Literature vs. The Climate Emergency” in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, where I teach.
As 2021 drew to a close, I would rush through my parenting, teaching, writing, and activism—ungrounded. I was running on to-do lists and emails, always plugged in to my phone. My climate anxiety would spike with every piece of climate-related news. I needed to feel connected to something bigger. Bigger even than the movement to address the climate emergency. I needed a connection to something supreme.
I am a woman who has always been driven and who has very high standards. Because I have not been able to develop a deep and sophisticated spiritual life, I have settled for not having one at all. But what if I could lower the bar?
What if it wasn’t about doing it perfectly or well or even deeply. What if I just made contact with myself and my sense of the divine every morning first thing? It could take less than a minute. A couple deep breaths. A quick prayer. At least one stretch of my body. Dust off the altar at least once in 2022. Was it possible to aim so low? Would it even make a difference?
I can report that, so far, it does. I have been starting my days with a couple of distracted breaths and a quick prayer where I often get sidetracked. I pray for the health and safety of my friends, family and loved ones, as well as everyone else in the world, and always end with a prayer for climate justice. I was taught that affirmative prayers give more power to the solutions you want to manifest.
Most importantly, it has been making a big difference to me. I know that the spiritual forces of the universe are bigger than the fossil fuel industries and capitalism and all the oppressions that hold the climate crisis in place. I believe that these spiritual forces love us and want to support us. It helps me to tap in to that every day, even for just a minute or less.
So here’s my word for the new year:
SELF-SLACTUALIZATION: noun – a lax seeking of spiritual mediocrity.
As a climate activist, I need spirituality. We have no idea how we are going to get out of this crisis. Yes, we have wonderful solutions—like the Green New Deal and other frameworks that can get us to zero emissions. But how we are going to defeat the short-sighted forces that benefit economically from the climate emergency and resist those solutions? We simply don’t know. I aim to move forward in my activism with joy and connection and a sense that anything is possible, but that’s more than a notion, given the threat we are up against. In addition to using emotional tools to deal with my moments of fear and despair, I need to lean into that bigger not knowing with curiosity and faith. To develop that ability, I can’t operate in pretense about my spiritual development—I am where I am, authentically stumbling along toward greater faith, and of course, putting action for climate justice in the center of my life.