Transformative social change work engages inner awareness and personal development practices to enhance the effectiveness of organizations working toward a just and sustainable world. Hidden Leaf Foundation has been supporting transformative change for over 20 years; during this time, we have come up with working definitions for some of the key terms used in this field. Additionally, we have compiled a glossary of the inner awareness and personal development practices used by our grantees in their work for social change.
Some Key Terms
What follows are umbrella terms developed by Hidden Leaf Foundation to define our field of work.
Personal Awareness: When we are conscious of the internal source and motivation of our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
Inner Awareness Practice: Any regular activity that helps us to still our minds and reflect on our internal conditioning—to turn our gaze inward—in order to become more centered and more aware of our habitual patterns.
Transformative Practice: Inner awareness practice that not only helps us reflect inwardly, but also enables us to develop new ways of thinking and acting—and ultimately to change the way we show up in the world.
Organizational Awareness: When inner awareness is honored and encouraged within an organizational setting to the extent that the collective organism has self-reflective capacity.
Social Change Agent: An individual working to bring about a more life-affirming society.
Frontline Organizations: Issue-oriented non-profit groups working both at the community and the national policy level to bring about a life-affirming society.
Progressive Movements: Collective efforts to promote peace, social justice, environmental health, human rights, etc.
Transformative Organizing: A model of social justice organizing that integrates personal and spiritual awareness practices into community organizing techniques in order to transform power structures for the benefit of all.
Transformative Social Change Work: When activists use inner awareness to support their efforts to promote systemic structural changes toward a positive society.
Social Transformation: When our collective actions are aligned with our highest values such that human culture is just, peaceful, ecologically balanced, and enlivened by spirit.
Life-affirming Society: A just, peaceful, ecologically healthy, purpose-driven, compassionate society.
Glossary of Transformative Practices
As noted above, Hidden Leaf defines “awareness practice” as any regular activity that helps us as individuals and collectives to still our minds and reflect on our internal conditioning—to turn our gaze inward—in order to become aware of our habitual patterns. We suggest that these awareness practices become transformative when we use them to develop new ways of thinking and acting and ultimately to change the way we show up in the world. Thus, transformative social change work is when activists use inner awareness to support their efforts to promote systemic structural changes toward a positive society.
What follows is a working glossary of transformative practice terms. Much of this material is drawn directly from our grantees’ websites and from applicant proposals, refined by us into glossary form. We expect this document to grow, both in number of practice terms and in precision of the language. At this stage, there is some redundancy between the terms, because many of our grantees and allies articulate their inner work differently (but with much overlap and intersection). If you are a practitioner of transformative social change and have additions or changes to suggest to this glossary, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Below, we first present a list with a short statement hopefully encapsulating the essence of the practice. Later we elaborate in an extended glossary of the terms.
Basic Glossary of Practices
Centering: Tuning inward to become more open, present, and connected.
Ceremony/Ritual: Ceremonies and rituals are practiced within organizations and during gatherings typically to provide an emotionally-rich context to invite in that which cannot be accessed by the cognitive mind alone.
Check-ins: A practice of beginning meetings with designated time for all participants to “check in” with each other and themselves to enable them to become more present with the current setting, people, and tasks at hand.
Compassionate Agitation: A practice of kind, but rigorous, accountability between colleagues.
Contemplative Practices: An umbrella term for practices that invoke a reflective, introspective, and expansive state of mind such as moments of silence, exercises in creativity, relational practices, intentional movement, and ritual.
Courageous Conversations: A practice of intentionally and boldly facing into a difficult conversation despite the presence of tension or perceived tension.
Deep Listening: A way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it.
Forward Stance: Bringing movement into movement building. A practice and a way of being that work with stance, energy, rhythm and awareness to enable us to hold and channel our power in specific ways.
Journaling: A writing practice to explore the movement of one’s inner experience.
Meditation: Usually a silent sitting practice that moves one toward emptying or concentration of the mind.
Mindfulness: A state of active, open attention on the present.
Personal Ecology: The practice of finding a wholesome balance in all realms to sustain over time our commitment to a larger purpose.
Personal Mastery: Six core practices that support consciousness and transformation (Purpose, Vision, Partnership, Resilience, Performance, Personal Ecology).
Radical Hospitality: A commitment to invite, welcome, receive, and care for others.
Relationship Building, Conscious Relationships: To act on the value of interdependence rather than isolationism.
Self-Talk: The practice of noticing your inner “running monologue” and intentionally shifting it towards positive or affirming language.
Somatics: A path of embodied transformation which supports us in aligning our values and actions.
Storytelling: A communications tool and a practice of deep truth telling.
Tai Ji: A series of moves that, when practiced together, supports groups in moving together as one — building energy, awareness, rhythm, and alignment.
Transformative Coaching: A model of coaching to create sustainable change through deep awareness — awareness of body, emotion, values, and needs.
Transformative Leadership: A leadership style that nurtures the capacity for presence and alignment within self and others and thus manifests inner wisdom in the outer world.
Transformative Organizing: An approach to organizing that recognizes personal and societal liberation as interdependent or deeply interrelated.
Visioning/Vision Retreats: A focused period of exploration and creativity, during which participants access their deepest dreams for the future.
Wheel of Change: A planning tool for transformational change that works with three domains of human systems: hearts and minds, behavior, and structures.
Yoga: Commonly understood as a practice of physical postures, with an emphasis on strength and flexibility, and an ultimate goal of union between the mind, body and spirit.
Extended Glossary of Practices
Centering is one of the simplest and most common forms of inner awareness practice. The “center” refers to a relaxed yet focused state of mind/being. The practice is one of tuning inward to encourage this state. Centering is an internal state rather than a specific body position. Centering practice is especially helpful in the midst of strong emotional states such as excitement or anxiety, and is used when one wants to feel stable and prepared before a potentially stressful event.
Ceremonies and rituals are practiced within organizations and during gatherings typically as a symbolic gesture to invoke and invite non-cognitive states of being, to strengthen relationships between practitioners, and to open participants to a more spiritual or emotional state. A ceremony can be as simple as creating a sacred space for objects of meaning, or it can be an actual traditional ceremony offered by a spiritual leader or practitioner. The emotionally rich context of ceremony helps invite in that which cannot be accessed by the cognitive mind alone.
The practice of beginning meetings or gatherings with designated time for all participants to “check in” with each other and themselves—surfacing how they are feeling in the moment, what thoughts or concerns they may be holding, and/or their mood—to enable them to become more present with the current setting, people, and tasks at hand.
“Agitation” is a venerated tradition in community organizing that helps people see the disconnect between their values and their actions, and challenges them to embrace their own power. Making compassion the root of agitation turns it into a positive vehicle for transformation. Merged with a principle of “don’t be nice, be kind,” the practice of Compassionate Agitation provides nurturing support and rigorous accountability between colleagues in social justice organizations.
An umbrella term for awareness practices including:
- stillness practices like quieting the mind, silence, and centering
- creative practices like journaling
- generative practices like loving-kindness and visualization
- relational practices like deep listening, story, and council circles
- movement practices like labyrinth walking, dance, and Qigong
- ritual practices like ceremony and creating altars
A practice of intentionally and boldly facing into difficult conversations despite the presence of tension or perceived tension. Courageous conversations are open, honest, and direct. They typically involve cultivating an awareness of ones own conditioned responses to the issue at hand, deep listening and interest in the others’ perspective, and developing a larger perspective to discern common values and concrete points of divergence.
Deep Listening is a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment without trying to control it or judge it. The practice is to let go of our inner clamoring and our usual assumptions and listen with respect for precisely what is being said. For listening to be effective, we require a contemplative mind: open, fresh, alert, attentive, calm, and receptive. Deep Listening is an active process. As a practice, deep listening requires that participants witness their thoughts and emotions while maintaining focused attention on what they are hearing. It trains them to pay full attention to the sound of the words, while abandoning such habits as planning their next statement or interrupting the speaker. It is attentive rather than reactive listening. Such listening not only increases retention of material but also encourages insight and the making of meaning.
A technology utilizing a mind-body approach to movement building. A practice and a way of being that work with stance, energy, rhythm and awareness to enable practitioners to hold and channel power in specific ways.
- Stance is how we move through the world. We can have a walking, standing, sitting and lying stance. When we are standing or sitting in Forward Stance we have 60% of our body leaning forward. This is a stance in which we are in a state of readiness and able to take action.
- Energy gives life to stance. The energy of a forward stance is deep, strong, and rising and can be sustained over time and through challenging circumstances.
- Rhythm is the pace of our actions. Individuals, organizations and the world around us have an inherent rhythm and pace. In Forward Stance, we have an awareness of rhythm and we are intentional about our pace.
- Awareness is a clear, broad sense of what is happening around us. Too often, we have tunnel vision – only seeing what is directly in front of us – the project we are working on, the action we are planning. The awareness of Forward Stance provides context and ability to see what is actually happening around us.
Forward Stance emphasizes proactive and strategic actions to build successful and sustainable movements. It brings physical and experiential elements to movement building work and provides a way to “get out of our heads.” It is built on the premise that the mind and body are interconnected in ways that allow for physical experience to enhance and shift the ways the mind can understand, absorb, learn, and imagine.
By refining our ability to look within we learn to hold and channel our power in specific ways that are relational to others, allowing us to see what is all around, rather than what is simply in our line of sight. Whether we are working on a challenging campaign with our allies or at an action demanding change from our opposition, Forward Stance provides tools that enable us to strategically and proactively move through difficult situations with clarity.
The practice of exploring (through writing) the movement of one’s inner experience. A journal differs from a diary, which usually records the unstructured events of a person’s life. Journal entries are reflections of the mental, emotional, and imagistic occurrences within the writer.
A family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration.
Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you are mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience. It is a nonjudgmental quality of mind which does not anticipate the future or reflect back on the past.
Personal Ecology, Work/Life Balance
The practice of finding a wholesome balance in all realms to sustain over time a commitment to a larger purpose. Given our pervasive cultural (and activist) tendencies toward over-activity, the practice of Personal Ecology is to find and maintain a balance that nurtures both our excellence and our sanity. This is the call to “be the change” and “live the values,” rather than working in a frenzied way toward the goal. This practice also includes consciously prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family, and spiritual development).
Six core practices that support consciousness and transformation:
- Purpose: to live and lead from that which gives our life meaning
- Vision: to create and articulate a clear and compelling picture of our desired future
- Partnership: to build and maintain strong interdependent relationships that advance vision
- Resilience: to lead from a powerful place of responsibility for ourselves, our actions and their impact
- Performance: to enhance our capacity to produce results that further our vision
- Personal Ecology: To maintain balance, pacing, and efficiency to sustain our energy over a lifetime of activism.
A commitment to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers. Understood as a spiritual practice, both the answer to modern alienation and injustice and a path to a deeper spirituality.
Relationship Building, Conscious Relationships
To act on the value of interdependence rather than isolationism. “Flexing the cooperation muscle (or ‘sharing & caring’ muscle), as a much needed antidote to the competition muscle bred into us by the dominant culture.” Recognizing commonalities across lines of difference.
The practice of noticing your inner “running monologue” and intentionally shifting it towards positive or affirming language.
A path of embodied transformation. Embodied transformation is foundational change that shows in our actions, ways of being, relating, and perceiving — it sustains over time. Somatics pragmatically supports our values and actions becoming aligned. It helps us to develop depth and the capacity to feel ourselves, each other and life around us. Somatics builds in us the ability to act from strategy and empathy, and teaches us to be able to assess conditions and “what is” clearly. Somatics is a practice-able theory of change that can move us toward individual, community and collective liberation. Somatics works through the body, engaging us in our thinking, emotions, commitments, vision and action.
Somatics is a holistic change theory that understands both personal and collective transformation from a radically different paradigm. Somatics understands both the individual and collective as a combination of biological, evolutionary, emotional, and psychological aspects, shaped by social and historical norms and adaptive to a wide array of both resilient and oppressive forces. All of this gets embodied through both resilience and survival strategies, and social and cultural practices become “shapes” or embodied worldviews, habits, ways of relating, automatic actions and non-action. Somatics practice helps us recognize and move beyond our conditioned tendencies to embody new forms of power and resilience.
A communications tool and a practice of deep truth telling. Story bridges personal experience and collective wisdom; it is a means for sharing ideas and making cogent arguments by tapping imagination, emotion, and spirit while honoring reason and truth. The power of story is an enduring cornerstone of all human cultures, as well as the subject of validating scientific studies of how we make sense of the world.
Tai Ji (Breath & Movement Practice)
The Tai Ji practice is a series of ten moves that, when practiced together, supports groups in moving together as one. The series can be repeated an indefinite number of times—fast or slow, with or without sound—to build energy, awareness, rhythm, and alignment. The first five moves are “setting” moves and represent getting grounded and ready to act. The latter five moves are “striking” moves, and represent taking action. As practiced within progressive change work, each move corresponds with a particular aspect of organizing and movement building, and can be practiced alone or in any combination to build a practitioner’s capacity to develop their consciousness around that specific concept. For example, the first move—”yuht” (This is the number “one” in Chinese)—can represent “taking the first step forward.” A group of people can stand in a line, side-by-side, and “yuht” together to build a collective sense of power and awareness when they move together, as one, in the same direction, with a shared purpose.
The “Leadership That Works/Coaching for Transformation” model creates sustainable change through deep awareness: awareness of body, emotion, values, and needs. Pathways include: exploring needs and values, expanding ways of seeing an issue or challenge, using visioning, metaphor and imagery, using body work (embodying emotions, movement, and sensations to go deeper), exploring and embracing polarities and shadows, and helping the client step fully into her power.
Transformative Leadership as practice inspires and aligns others to successfully achieve common goals. It nurtures the capacity for presence and alignment within self and others and thus manifests inner wisdom in the outer world. A transformational leader tends to the whole system, embodies the very practices they preach, collaborates as if their life depends upon it, engages the heart, and connects to the source.
Transformative Organizing Practice
A framework for social change. Transformative Organizing is an approach to organizing that recognizes personal and societal liberation as interdependent and deeply interrelated. It is about creating deep change simultaneously in three areas: how we are as people, how we relate to each other, and how we structure society. As a practice, it builds the skills necessary to create leadership teams characterized by norms of authentic communication, shared vision and analysis, alignment of resources, and high performance that can define and achieve ambitious visions for change.
A focused period of exploration and creativity, during which participants access their deepest dreams for the future.
Wheel of Change
A planning tool for organizational change. The Wheel of Change is based on the understanding that to create true and lasting change—transformation—we must work with all three domains of human systems: hearts and minds, behavior, and structures.
- Hearts & Minds: Our hopes and dreams, thoughts and feelings, what we believe is possible or impossible; the ideas, perceptions and beliefs that shape our experience.
- Behavior: What we do and don’t do, our choices and habits, the norms and unspoken agreements by which we interact with others.
- Structures: The external systems in which we live and work: the hierarchies, processes, practices and cultures of our organizations, communities and society.
These three domains continually reinforce each other, tending to keep individuals, organizations and society resistant to change. The Wheel of Change is a simple yet profound model for true, systemic change—guiding us to work in an integrated way to shift our inner experience, our actions, and external realities—a roadmap for transformation.
Commonly understood as a practice of physical postures, with an emphasis on strength and flexibility, and an ultimate goal of union between the mind, body and spirit. Within the physical practice, we connect the movement of the body and the fluctuations of the mind to the rhythm of breath. Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward. Through this process of inward attention, we learn to recognize our habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them. We become more aware of our experiences from moment to moment. The awareness that we cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or a goal to be completed.
Mindfulness is the courage to see things as they really are.
— Scott Hunt