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Gentle Protest: Step-by-Step

St Winifrede's Pilgrimage Trail

The New Year finds me at my desk, with a clear intention: ‘Finish what you’ve started.’ For three years, a book has been gestating and 2022 is the year for its birth. My focus, as ever, is how to bring mindful awareness into daily life, in a way that creates needed change. How do we face the suffering around and within us, and act to transform it? The theme of the book is Compassionate Activism, and one of the joys of this type of research and practice is that I open my eyes to the people around me – the quiet change makers who keep moving towards the light, even during times of darkness and no matter how far away that flickering candle seems to be.

Jane Burt, a friend since my first year in South Africa, exemplifies this approach of gentle protest. Between the Solstice and Christmas, she undertook a 3-day solo hike through England and Wales, along St Winifrede’s ancient pilgrimage trail. Her intention was to raise money for Sekwanele, an organization in South Africa supporting women who have experienced gender-based violence. The choice of trail was apt – when St Winifrede rejected Caradoc, he cut off her head in rage. Where it landed, pure water sprang forth. The earth opened to swallow Caradoc, while Winifrede’s uncle placed her head back on her body, restoring her to life. (Full story here)

Jane’s solo hike brought several issues to light. In so many places in the world, particularly the global South, women are not safe to walk alone. Her journey, step-by-step, reclaimed this right to safe passage. She also reflected on her relationship with the land and the rivers, greeting trees as friends. Traditional healer and engineer, Rutendo Ngara, talks of trees as the closest living relative to humans. We both have ancestral roots, connecting us to that which has gone before. Our branches reach up towards the light and out to others. When we find our home ground and trust our steady trunk, the world cannot topple us. The worldly winds of praise and blame, loss and gain, cannot blow us away from our purpose. The money raised from Jane’s walk will build a shelter for the women of Sekwanele. Here they find refuge in each other’s companionship and take self-defence lessons. In solidarity, they have declared that ‘Enough is Enough’ and are standing up against the normalized violence in our patriarchal society.

I once ran a mindfulness weekend with Jane at a pecan nut farm. She taught the walking meditation and invited us to let our feet gently kiss the earth. There was reverence in her words both for the vulnerability of the human body, and the tender presence of our mother, Earth. Where the two meet, we as humans can become whole again, returning to the connection that has been lost as we gaze at screens instead of trees.

Jane’s act of kindness, as we so often find with altruism, has circled back to support her, the one with pure intention. She writes of her own healing during this pilgrimage and the tears that flowed freely after swimming in the Holy well. When part of our psyche has been frozen with fear, tears mark a return to life. We heal others through our own healing and transform the world from within. This is a form of gentle protest - the act of taking a stand, or a step, connects with the intent of others, allowing the reach of our action to spread. You can extend the reach further by donating here. For those in South Africa, you can donate directly via Zingela Ulwazi.

Care for those who have been harmed takes priority over punishing the perpetrators who do what they do because they too are suffering. This does not betray justice but works alongside it. It is the tender work of reconstruction where the new generation heals the wounds of those that have gone before, not meeting oppression with oppression, but with the slow, arduous work of regeneration. Construction of Sekwanele’s safe meeting house marks the move towards reconstruction of society. I start the year with a wish that one day, men and women, black and white, rich and poor can walk side by side, in solidarity. May we even transcend these false binaries in the direction of humanity, and may humans once again find their symbiotic place in the natural world.

Thank you to all the gentle protestors reading this. Your deep compassion is what can heal our world. May 2022 be a year to delight in these beautiful acts of kindness and replenish us all for the journey ahead.


If you'd like more ideas on the type of activism that invites you to Transform the World from Within, my 10-day audio course is available on this site.

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