Transformative social change work engages inner awareness and personal development practices to enhance the effectiveness of organizations working toward a just and sustainable world. Within this field, we aspire to create fundamental changes, not only within individuals, but also within groups and society as a whole. Awareness practices currently being used in progressive non-profits include: contemplative meditation practices; embodied movement practices; deep listening and other interpersonal communication tools; music, poetry and visual art; work that helps align values and actions; and improved wellness and organizational sustainability practices. Some practices are drawn from traditional religions while others are borrowed from newer spiritual approaches, psychological wisdom, and organizational development strategies.
By “turning their gaze inward,” more and more social change organizations are developing wise and compassionate leaders, strengthening the health and sustainability of their organizations, forging effective coalitions, growing healthy movements and cultivating new ways of envisioning our society. Incorporating inner awareness practices into our work lives, reconnecting with our values and motivations, and creating more alignment between inner and outer work can result in radical transformation for those laboring to effect social change. For example, Social Justice Leadership works with grassroots leaders in New York City to develop practices that help them stay centered, focused and, therefore, more effective in all aspects of their lives. Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice uses a technology called Forward Stance which teaches participants to align with their core power, so that they can more effectively build collective power. Mindfulness practices help Forest Ethics’ staff engage productively with their would-be adversaries—rendering successful campaigns to protect millions of acres of old growth forest and the lives of those who depend on them.
A new challenge awaits us at the beginning of the twenty-first century: to go beyond fragmentation…and be open to total living and total revolution. In this era, to become a spiritual inquirer without social consciousness is a luxury that we can ill afford, and to be a social activist without a scientific understanding of the inner workings of the mind is the worst folly. Neither approach in isolation has had any significant success… As we deepen in understanding, the arbitrary divisions between inner and outer disappear… Life is not fragmented; it is not divided. It cannot be divided into spiritual and material, individual and collective… And each passionate being who dares to explore beyond the fragmentary and superficial into the mystery of totality helps all humanity perceive what it is to be fully human. Revolution, total revolution, implies experimenting with the impossible. And when an individual takes a step in the direction of the new, the impossible, the whole human race travels through that individual.
— Vimala Thakar
Some of Hidden Leaf’s key allies describe this work well:
Movement Strategy Center describes it this way: “We use the term transformative movement building as an umbrella to describe the diverse efforts of groups and individuals to fundamentally change our political, material, social and spiritual reality. Transformative movement building links the process of individual transformation to group and social transformation. In this framework, inner change and outer change are deeply connected. Transformative movement builders seek to synthesize wisdom and practice from spiritual traditions (often focused on deep inner transformation) with social change traditions of the Left (generally focused on social analysis and systems change). Transformative movement builders share a deep commitment to holistic individual, group and social change, driven by a connection to something larger than themselves… Transformative movement building has the potential to reshape the vision, values and practice of organizers and organizations. It holds promise for a long-range cultural shift in the progressive movement.”
Seasons Fund for Social Transformation says, “Change must happen in the imagination of people before it can take hold in larger culture. Transformative social change engages the imagination through inner awareness practices at the individual, organizational and societal levels in order to more effectively address the root causes of systemic injustice… Contemplative practices can transform the way leaders run meetings, plan campaigns, set expectations, communicate with one another, understand power dynamics, negotiate with adversaries and evaluate programs… Individual transformation can lead to more positive working relationships, more effective organizations and stronger coalitions. It may also help to create a more cohesive social change movement and ultimately a more just society.”