Brave New Dharma from the Brave New Pope

The Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, speaking to the press, framed Pope Francis' recent Encyclical, "Laudato Si' , On Care For Our Common Home," in starkly transformational terms, "As it emerges clearly from the Encyclical, the environmental crisis is essentially a spiritual problem."

And indeed, in his Encyclical, Pope Francis puts forward an unflinching critique not just of the modern economic and political systems but also of the modern qualities of the human mind. At the beginning of Chapter Six, he states: "Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life." (P. 202)

When a figure as prominent as the Pope who recently identifies a lack of awareness of our common origin and mutual belonging, "above all" what needs to change if we are to care for the natural world, we know that "Transformational" or "Inside-out" activism has reached the mainstream. Let it be remembered that by 2015, inside-out activism had arrived. Indeed the conversation about Inside-Out Activism has progressed to far in this area that some of us have begun asking what the heck it is.

One possible definition is that Inside-out Activism is based on the view that inner change is the foundation of all positive and lasting social change.

The logic of this definition is pretty simple: If we assume that our inner landscape has governed the actions that created the current societal conditions, it follows that we will not be able to create different societal conditions without a different inner landscape.

The conversation soon deepens when we ask what kind of inner change is needed. One kind of inner change that comes to mind is an increase in knowledge about the environmental crisis. Ever since Al Gore released the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," the mainstream understanding about the changes to the environment have been steadily on the rise. Unfortunately for us, new information does not necessarily lead to new behavior. Rather, new behaviors are only adopted with new motivations to do so.

As Pope Francis implies, a community out of the habit of empathizing with the sufferings of others may not be motivated to change a course that leads to their suffering. Likewise, if we can not clearly envision the future, we may also be unmotivated to change a course that leads to a future we don't desire. And a 'quick fix' culture that has become addicted to immediate gratification and gain will not be able to pursue a path that preserves the planet even if it is motivated to do so. So motivational factors such as empathy, long-term vision and freedom from addiction to immediate gratification are essential to a community's ability to care for the planet.

But why is the Pope now emphasizing these points? Why is our ability to save ourselves the business not only of the Pope, but of spiritual leaders in general? The reason is that the development of empathy, long-term vision and freedom from attachment are essential aspects of a spiritual awakening that a person undergoes as the result of a gradual raising of consciousness. Indeed, the increase in our community and temporal horizons and the decrease in attachment and addiction can be said to be aspects of our fundamental process of waking up. This is part of what it means to say that "the environmental crisis is essentially a spiritual problem."

This understanding suggests a better definition: An Inside-Out Activist practices the raising of personal, collective and societal consciousness as the foundation for effective environmental action.

This definition has the advantage of suggesting specific and practical ways we can move towards structures that will sustain us into the future. And though it is just the beginning of a conversation, by now, this conversation is taking place not just in the Vatican, but also here in the Upper Valley as well. It's taking place in so many ways and places that it is beginning to feel like the beginning of a new environmental movement. The great thing about this movement is that it is based on the deepest and best wisdom that we each have to offer. Only through translating our deepest wisdom into action can we achieve the future we desire.

If all this sounds too dang complicated, you can just remember A-E-I-O-U. Action for the Environment from the Inside Out begins with You!

simon dennis