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Weaving the Threads of Compassionate Activism

There’s a mysterious power that arises in the presence of pure intention. One small kind act from one person in one place can spread all around the world...


Recognising this truth has been one of my biggest joys in writing my book, ‘The Compassionate Activist’ alongside witnessing how many compassionate activists exist. I am simply amazed by the number of kind and intentional people I meet, particularly when the news tells a very different story of humanity. The quiet approach of compassion may not make headlines, but more and more I feel part of a mysterious weaving that extends worldwide.


Last year, my dear friend Jane Burt started the #Winefred4Women campaign, raising money for Zingela Ulwazi by walking an ancient UK pilgrimage route to St Winefrede’s Well. She had chosen to support a programme which empowers the women of Acornhoek in South Africa through self-defence classes, permaculture and small enterprise development. The organisation needed to build a hall for community activities. Within just a few months, funding came in from all directions and the hall rose from the ground through the skills of local builders. Recently it opened its doors as a gathering space.



This year, while Jane walked the route again through snowy Wales, with Zingela Ulwazi Trustee Stella Horgan, I sat in the hot North-West province, on a meditation cushion. The retreat was being held at the Tara Rokpa Centre, where I used to practice with Jane. Sitting alongside me was someone who had just returned from a gathering to commemorate the opening of a community hall. Guess which one? Yes! The beautiful hall in Acornhoek.


This was Lebogang Seitshiro, another compassionate Earth carer and social justice activist. In conversation, we discovered our multiple threads of connection. Lebogang is from Botswana, a country close to my heart, where I lived for 18 years. She is a life member of Somarelang Tikologo – Botswana’s environmental organisation that had once been run by a close friend of mine. We also discovered that we are both part of the Earthrise Collective, meeting online every full moon to explore the intersection of Ancient Wisdom, Activism and Alternatives, particularly in the face of the extreme climate events that are impacting so many in the global South. She had even attended the Compassionate Activist book presentation I had given to the Earthrise community.


Lebogang, on witnessing the polarisation that can happen in environmental and social activist circles has matched her outward work with the inner journey of meditation and communion with nature. Once she found the Engaged Buddhism tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and its harmony with African wisdom, she felt at home and during the pandemic, took the chance finally to slow down and go inward. Meditation, spiritual connection and physical movement are part of Lebo’s inner healing journey, essential in integrating the shadow of adverse childhood experiences that impact so many.


These challenges have served as the fire beneath her compassionate engagement, knowing that her personal story represents the collective story of many women. While at University in Kentucky, a girlfriend was beaten up on campus for her sexual identity. The administration wanted to smooth over the situation, but the young women realised that it represented a far broader issue of discrimination. They started a group called the Alternative Lifestyles Student Organisation (ALSO), for anyone needing support in the face of sexual, racial, and all other prejudice on campus.


While in the States, she saw the devastation being caused to Mother Earth by our beliefs and views of separation between each other as people, and between ourselves and Nature, awakening her commitment to Earth care. On returning to Botswana, she set up a paper recycling company, called Boswa Recycling while volunteering for several community youth initiatives. More recently she registered Asase Harmony which works to create a caring, flourishing and compassionate society that recognises kinship ties and the continuity of life. Within distinct landscapes Asase Harmony encourages movement from an extractive economics to regenerative practices, and co-creation of emotional well-being, right livelihood, and spiritual families and communities. While Lebo’s connection with Zingela Ulwazi is recent, it emerges from the same mycelium of compassion in the face of hardship that also inspires Stella and Jane.

Lebo and I talked about creating spaces for healing, which often include the arts and ancient wisdom practices. Once people can talk together and listen deeply, ideas on how to meet daily life challenges emerge and flower spontaneously. These healing circles create spaces for connection and hope and are the foundation of compassionate activism.


In the space of two weeks, Lebo was hugging a baobab tree with Stella, Stella and Jane were hiking through Wales, and Lebo and I were sharing together at TRC. Now, I just need to meet Stella, and we can close and energize this circle of compassionate activists. Who knows what lies ahead as we tap into the mysterious power that is woven into existence through altruistic intention.

 

Please follow the Winefrede4Women crowdfunding campaign to find out how far they are towards supporting activities at Zingela Ulwazi: https://chuffed.org/project/winefride4women






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