“When the joy of compassionate service
is combined with the pragmatic and practical drive
to transform all existing economic, social and
political institutions, a radical divine force is born.”
– Andrew Harvey
“Networks of Grace” is Andrew Harvey’s term for groups of people working together to inspire and serve others. Both Yoga Plus Joyful Living and LA Yoga published excerpts from his new book, The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, this month.
Clearly this is a hot topic – Yoga Plus reported that according to the Corporation for National and Community Service the number of people volunteering in the U.S. grew by a million from 2007 to 2008. Yes, unemployed people have more time on their hands, but the numbers are also indicating that people have seen the dire and increasing need around them and are rising to the occasion.
So how do we get ourselves organized and start making effective and lasting change in our world? Harvey suggests finding 6-8 other like minded people and organizing yourself around one of three areas:
1. Profession – for example yoga teachers have similar skills and can devote those to a common cause – perhaps team teaching at a housing project or nursing home. Retired people who have been working at the same profession as others in their network are especially potent sacred activists as they have both the time and the experience to make a significant difference.
3. A Heart-Breaking Cause – war refugee children, environmental degradation, etc.
Finding local people who are interested in your topic is becoming increasingly easier with the rising popularity of social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter.
So why should you work together instead of individually? Because of the incredible synergy that’s created when people cooperate. Six people working together have much more impact than six people working alone – it’s almost mathematical – you can multiply the effect rather than add.
But the problem of course is that six people working together can also drive each other nuts. So how do you avoid these problems? Harvey suggests these four requirements:
1. A Commitment to Spiritual Practice – each person in the group should commit to a daily practice of meditation or prayer.
2. Begin Meetings with Contemplation – each meeting should begin with 15 minutes of meditation, prayer or the reading of a sacred text.
3. Commit to an Atmosphere of Joy – meetings should be undertaken with the highest positivity. What I would call, the spirit of Dharma. Everyone attending should set their intention that the meeting itself and the work that comes out of it is being done for the highest good of everyone present and the highest good for the world. Meetings can center around a meal or the sharing of food and drink – in the spirit of cooperation and sharing.
4. Shadow Work – to protect the network against falling apart because of egos and manipulation, the group commits to doing some sort of “sober, intimate and kind shadow work.” This will enable the work that comes out of the group to be inspired and grounded.
I have noticed in my own life that over the past year I have been increasingly drawn to working in groups to create social change – including in our neighborhood, the Burton Street Community and in the larger world. I joined three new committees, two at UNCA and one with the Greater Asheville Yoga Association, just in the past few months. I see yoga practice and philosophy as central to all the groups that I am involved with.
Through yoga people change individually, but yoga can also serve as a prevention strategy for so many social problems including substance abuse, obesity, heart disease, back pain, anxiety and depression. Yoga is one of the simplest, cheapest and most directly beneficial approaches to improving public health.
I notice when I meditate with others that somehow the energy is different, I feel more peaceful and somehow am able to go deeper into myself. I have spent many years meditating in groups and what I’ve realized over time is that there is a pull that is beyond us. I used to think that it was because I was sitting with swamis and other people who practiced more than I did and that I was surfing on their energy. And I still think there is some truth in that, but moreso, I now believe that the group itself is the source of the difference. Practicing together is a literal shift towards Oneness.
When people improve their individual health (physical, mental and spiritual), they can then direct their energy towards applying the “Oneness” strategy of yoga to the world. If we all looked at the world as if each individual was really a member of our family, we would be better able to address so much of the educational and economic disparity that plagues us and truly move ourselves, together, towards the Divine. Individual practice helps us to see others with greater compassion and care – but collective practice elevates our vision beyond ourselves.