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Becoming an Activist

Photo by Rebeca Gutierrez Fickling - @rebegutiz

If I sit still, I can hear the echoes of voices on the other side of the world. They carry on the wind. Sometimes they make my heart tighten like a rope and my breath stop. Perhaps this is why we can’t stand to sit still. Because when we do, we have to hear the voices. Cries of mothers in distant lands who see their children chismembered by bombs before their very eyes. Girls whose genitals are mutilated so they don’t (god-forbid) fall to the temptations of their clitoris and cheat on their husbands with other men. I hear the howl of abandoned dogs stoned by street children and poets being tortured in prisons where freedom of expression is but a dream.

When I sit still, I hear the racing hearts of calfs separated from their mothers in slaughter houses and crying chicks sliced alive because they were born male.

I hear the gasp of cracked mud and dry river basins burning for water, and the cackle of trees ablaze in forest fires.

And then I hear a laugh close-by or a car and I’m plummeted back into my world of compliance and privilege. And then, usually, I cry. Sometimes quiet tears hidden behind my sun glasses. Other times shaking shoulders and a snotty nose that are harder to conceal.

The other day, in the middle of my capoeira class, I had to leave the room and lay on the ground in a dark corner, overwhelmed by the thought of dogs being massacred at Korean dog festivals.

There is so much pain in the world. It debilitates me and makes me close in on myself. Angry at everyone for allowing it to happen. For not doing anything. For continuing to buy their diamond rings and Starbucks coffees in plastic cups. People so hardened they can’t hear the voices that travel to us on the wind.

And not only do they not hear them, but they attack those who do with words. “What a hippy,” “you’re too sensitive,” or even “witch!” I’ve heard it all.

So not only do we have to push past the boulders of the pain of the world, but also of the attacks from people who don’t want the surface of the lake of their lives disturbed.

If you, too, are the ’sensitive one’ who has been handed the cloak of invisibility by those who don’t want to see, this is for you. You’re not alone.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed, or debilitated, drop evermore into the stillness. Don’t be afraid. Because though you may hear the suffering of the world, if you keep dropping deeper, you will eventually come to another, quieter voice. And it is wise as time.

Listen. Drop. And let yourself be guided by it. It is with the wisdom of this voice that you can become an activist. Lead by the knowledge of the ages all confined in one place.

The most powerful of things are hidden in plane sight. All we need is within us. We just have to sit still.

So, if you too hear the suffering of the world and are ready to step up and take action, here is a little something I’ve learned on my journey that I hope will help you either begin yours, or deepen it if you’re already on it.

Becoming an Activist

Protest against illegal deportation of Nigerian asylum-seekers in London

When we think of an activist, our mind often paints the picture of an angry protester taking to the streets with a banner. Though this individual is very much an activist, not every activist is this individual.

Being an activist does not just mean protesting and holding banners. There are actually lots of different forms of activism. An activist is someone who takes action: ‘act’-ivist. The purpose of this action is to make a change. It can be environmental, political, social, cultural, or even spiritual, but all call for a change of some sort.

What I have learned about being an activist is that EVERY action I take has to be in line with what I’m fighting for. It’s not enough to take pledges online or attend campaigns to not use single-use plastic, or palm oil, or buy fast fashion clothes, if I’m then going to go and get a take-away coffee in plastic, or but food with palm oil in it, or have a shopping spree in Zara. Our every-day actions have to be in integrity with the cause we feel strongly about.

So for instance, if I am tired of seeing videos of turtles confusing plastic bags for jellyfish or of finding pieces of plastic instead of shells on beaches, I take action to not comply to that which makes me upset. In this case, plastic. I become an activist if I ditch plastic.

Another example. If I can’t sit through watching videos of the journey animals make from farm to plate, then I probably shouldn’t be eating them. Ditching animal products, based on my emotional response to animal agriculture, would make me an activist.

Every time you make a choice that is in line with your values, you carry the invisible banner of the activist. Because every choice we make casts a vote for the world we want to live in. So every time you choose to do something with change in mind, you are taking action. No more feelings of overwhelm or debilitation. If we are doing our bit, guided by our own inner compass, it’s easier to sleep at night ;)

More often than not, activists are heroes without capes. They are individuals who take action on things they feel strongly about, without expecting anything in return. No fame, no money, and sometimes not even any recognition.

I meet such people all the time, and want to share one of their stories here. Though this woman may never be recognised by any mainstream news channel or make it into a bestselling book, she inspires me to keep at it. And I hope she will do the same for you.

Activists: heros without capes

Meet Señora L. She has asked to remain anonymous because what’s she’s up to is not exactly legal.

This legend of a woman is from the Andalusian countryside in southern Spain, and works at the cafe I come to write at. The first time I came, I handed her the coconut milk I bring and, instead of mocking, dismissing or criticising, she smiled and asked if I’m vegan. I was surprised as ‘vegan’ continues to be an alien word in most of southern Spain. I cautiously said yes, and she lit up and told me all about her journey to give up meat, how much she loves drinking plant milks straight from the bottle, and how she rescues street cats and has made a sanctuary out of her little apartment for them. This was what grabbed me. She rescues abandoned cats, and currently has 30 cats in her tiny apartment. Some of them are paraplegic, some of them are blind, some of them even have to wear diapers. Whatever their situation, señora L has made it her responsibility to look after them in a country where animals are, for the most part, seen as commodities or nuisances.

It’s estimated that there are 100.000.000 (one hundred million) abandoned companion animals in Europe. Life on the streets is hard and brutal - they are not seen as beloved companions but as vermin that anyone can mistreat and torture in every possible way, without getting penalties or imprisonment. This happens every day in Spain.

“Lots of people see an abandoned animal and ignore it. They think someone else will do something. I don’t. I take every animal I can and try to give it a chance. There’s nothing like looking into the eyes of a helpless animal.”

Señora L rescues homeless cats and gives them a home. Some of the cats are paraplegic, some have to wear diapers, some are so malnourished they don’t make it. But she uses funds from her own pocket to pay for their vet visits, food, and whatever other medicine they need, to nurse them back into health.

This woman is an activist. She is taking actions based on her emotional response to injustice. She walks her talk.

I would love to help her pay for all her expenses by organising a fundraiser soon, but in the meantime, just sharing her story in the hope that it will inspire you to take action on that which you have an emotional response to. Whatever it may be!

So that is the path of the activist. It can be lonely, it can mean spending whole meals defending your lifestyle choices and actions. You will most likely be outnumbered at every social event you go to, and dismissed into categories that make others feel better.

Just remember, you’re not alone! The señora Ls of the world are going strong!


So, you want to be an activist?

Then it really comes down to two things:

Individual change: Rethink your choices, habits and patterns in your every day life. And start shifting them to be more in line with your values, in whatever way works best for you! However small and insignificant your actions may seem to you in the larger scheme of things, remember its individual drops of water that make up the ocean.

Global change: Take action on the things in the world that upset you by joining movements, organising campaigns, or simply raising awareness by using forms of communication like social media or meal-time conversations! Find out what your tools of expression are. Perhaps it’s writing, or making short videos, or even crafting small workshops to offer at schools. Share your findings and passion with others through whatever means feels right for you!

Let’s listen to the voices that are carried on the wind and use our inner compass to know what to do and how to take action, individually and globally. If everyone began to make these changes, the world would be a very different place.

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This is beautifully written Gabriela and very inspiring on so many levels. Inspiring and motivating by helping us feel we are not alone in feeling like we’re living in a “grand illusion”. Your words give us all a place to take action instead of just wishing the world would “wake up”. Thank you for your strength in being a healer, a teacher and leader. ❤️❤️❤️

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