Gangaji: Conscious Activism Dialogue
A revealing and illuminating dialogue between Gangaji and Simone Marie Lorenz on the challenges of consciously engaging in activism in today's world.
This dialogue between Gangaji and Simone Marie Lorenz covers so much ground, including their each of their lives as activists.
Gangaji shares about being arrested and spending time in jail, and her many mistakes made and lessons learned along the way.
This exchange is rich, illuminating, and empowering. Together, Gangaji and Simone provide insight into ways in which we can better respond in a more empowered and effective way to what is going on in the world.
Background: In 2001, Simone Marie Lorenz was inspired to create the "Conscious Activism" project — dialogues about how to more consciously and effectively engage in activism with some of our time's great consciousness teachers and agents of transformation:
Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti, Andrew Harvey, Gangaji, Byron Katie, Shariff Abdullah, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Marshall Rosenberg, Mary O'Malley, Cheri Huber, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Don Beck, Catherine Ingram, and Gary Altrichter.
Simone: I’m exploring how we can do activism from greater conscious awareness rather than from separation and egoic identification which can so often create more problems and keep the fighting mentality going. Looking at the world around us, is this not desperately needed?
Gangaji: That’s right! We have to see that.
Simone: How might we respond the various crises on the planet without projecting our unconscious need for enemies and conflict to give us some inflated sense of who we are? And if we’re not being motivated from fear or anger, what can we be motivated by, and can it be effective?
Gangaji: Yes, is it even possible?
Simone: What do you see as an alternative way of doing activism?
Gangaji: Obviously, the only thing is to wake up, right?
Simone: Yes, that’s the ultimate consciousness activism.
Gangaji: Really, it is because everything you said is all about identification. And identification needs protection. And identification makes enemies and finds enemies. That’s the truth.
Simone: Early in your life you were involved in social activism. Can you share anything about those experiences?
Gangaji: Yes, I would love to share that. Initially, I did some activist work when I was teaching school in Memphis, Tennessee and it was right at the time of desegregation. I was in a school with primarily black students and white teachers. So it really raised my consciousness enormously.
I grew up a Mississippi southerner and I was around black people all my life but I was really conditioned and believed them to be subhuman. Really different from human beings. Wonderful, and I loved them, but different from human beings. So there was definitely a shift that had to occur and it started because of a teacher I had in college. And then later, ending up at this black students’ school as a young teacher was wonderful. It was enlightening.
It was also right at the time that Martin Luther King was coming to Memphis, Tennessee because of a garbage strike and it’s also where he was shot. I was married to a socially prominent doctor and I was teaching school and we both became very moved by seeing how unconscious we had been and seeing the absurdity of it, the horror of it, and how far back it went in our particular family histories.
So we felt like we had to make some kind of statement. We began to march in the civil rights marches and we invited some black people over to our house which was totally radical. That’s about all we did. [Laughter] That was the limit. That was exhausting but it started something and it was actually thrilling to step out of an identification I had had of myself and step into a new identification.
There’s this kind of self-righteousness that goes with activism that feels really good, you know?
Simone: Sadly, all too well.
Gangaji: Initially it’s innocent and it does feel good just because one is telling the truth and there is a broadening of the mental expanse, but within that is an “us versus them” and I made a lot of enemies at that time, just in the way I would talk to people I had been friends with for years. I would talk to them and preach to them. I became a preacher. It didn’t and it doesn’t work.
At the same time the Vietnam War was happening and at that time all doctors were put into the military for a couple of years. So my husband went into the military and we went to Washington, D.C. which was a great place to be because there were a lot of demonstrations and marches. I became very active in that. I wasn’t teaching school, I had a lot of free time and became a marcher, a demonstrator. And again, it felt really good and I made even more enemies, and friends too of course. But it just sort of ended when we left Washington and moved to San Francisco where I got caught up in a whole other thing.
This was in 1972 so it was amidst the whole drug explosion and a different way of living. I left my husband and after some years I met my present husband Eli, who had been an activist most of his life, from the time he was sixteen on. He had come to Mississippi on the freedom trains, on the freedom buses, and so that was a huge identification in him.
And he was also a spiritual seeker. I was not a conscious spiritual seeker until I met him. I had spiritual experiences but in him for the first time, I linked the two — that you could be a political activist and a spiritual seeker. I had sort of left my political activism behind when I got to San Francisco and then, after meeting Eli four years later, I picked it back up. Maybe just to please him, just to be a good seductress — if he likes politics then I’ll be political again.
And this was really a pivotal time because we were living in a little town in Northern California and they were going to — and did — put a nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo and we thought that was a really bad idea since there’s an earthquake fault that runs right through it.
So a group of us became part of the Northern Alliance of the anti-nuclear movement and became nonviolent trainers. We were training people to be nonviolently protesting and arrested. As a nonviolent trainer and protester I went to jail for about two weeks with a group of women from this town. It was a beautiful experience and it was an important experience. The actual going limp and being carried away by the policemen in all their SWAT gear and being in a very small jail with a group of women and having to work with that, was beautiful.
Gangaji: But it was also clear that it was play for me because I’m in the middle class, it’s not like I’m really in jail. I got to experience jail while knowing we weren’t going to be in jail for a year or two years or even six months. So it was useful but it was still play.
And I also got to see a very important thing, I got to see the identification. That in order for us to feel good there really had to be a bad guy and they really had to be very bad — and they were! We would have meetings with the Pacific Gas & Electric people and they were horrible. They were just so ignorant in the things they would say and the way they were treating us and so they were easy targets for being the bad guy. But it was the first time I didn’t like the feeling of hatred that was being generated and that’s because in the time of meeting Eli I had begun the spiritual search too.
So I saw that there’s something really off here. Unfortunately, I found it in the spiritual groups too. Have you experienced that as well?
Simone: Yes, time and time again, and each time, so painful and heartbreaking.
Gangaji: Right, because it's the same thing. There is an identified enemy, whether it’s the unenlightened, whether it’s the Christians or whether it’s a Buddhist or whoever, somebody. “I’ve got it now and they don’t,” and the preaching begins, internally if not externally. That was a huge realization because the activism was dramatic and wonderful and yet it didn’t feel right.
So I just put politics aside. I didn’t see how it could work. I didn’t see how it was possible. The identification seemed so deep in me and I saw it was deep in everybody else too and I didn’t have a clue how it could be dislodged. It seemed to me that the answer was to retreat from everything —to just not be involved in politics. I did that for a few years. I didn’t read newspapers and I didn’t listen to news. We never had a TV and we just lived our life. It was a spiritual quest.
But we didn't escape the identification in the spiritual quest, it was still there. It was the same thing. It was only when I began to mature and recognize that that’s really the root of the whole problem everywhere. That it’s the same thing whether we call it political or spiritual, or therapeutic, or whatever we name it, it’s still this root of egoic identification that then generates suffering in every direction, internally and externally. This is akin to what you shared with me earlier.
Simone: I would get so hooked when engaging with groups doing activism. At the time, I could see that there was no way we could be effective operating from fear and spewing anger all over the place. There was so much fear around what would happen if we didn’t stop the insanity in society, but we were the insanity as well.
Gangaji: Yes, exactly.
Simone: My body didn’t handle it well. I would get wiped out and be unable to function because I was such a sponge for all the negative energy. Fortunately, the body’s clear message was actually a blessing.
Gangaji: That’s right, fortunately.
Simone: I had to step back from all the activity and look at what was going on. But it also didn’t feel right to retreat and isolate myself either. My heart couldn't let what was being perpetrated in the world go unaddressed. That’s how this project was born. I knew I needed to learn how to better combine the inner consciousness work I had been doing with the outer activism rather than just being secluded or separated in a spiritual practice or retreat somewhere.
Gangaji: I agree. That’s not satisfactory. It is for some people and that’s fine. I believe what we’re really talking about is if there is this kind of affinity and love for the world, then that in itself legitimizes the political play. At one point I thought everybody should be political since politics touches everybody. And then at another point I thought everybody should withdraw from politics and then the whole thing would crumble. Now I realize that it’s where your heart is. Ramana Maharshi was not political at all. They begged him to be political because India was in such trouble at the time he was alive. But it just wasn’t...Simone: It wasn’t his nature.
Gangaji: That’s right. It wasn’t his nature. I believe that that’s an important message for people to get, that if it is your nature to retreat, that’s fine. And if it is your nature to be involved, that’s fine also.
But this is really important to be in truth about because there’s often a spiritual overlay that one shouldn’t be involved. There’s a kind of spiritual thing about not reading newspapers, or not being up on what’s happening, not voting and it’s dangerous. Of course it’s dangerous. Historically, we don’t have to look so far back. In the 1920s, in Germany, there was a flourishing of a kind of new age spiritual recognition and a withdrawal from politics.
I have to say that that’s a very important part of my message to people, that if you are drawn to activism, if you are interested in it, then this is part of where you bring yourself. Your awakening is brought to that realm, brought to the realm of political activism. Like this book you’re writing. It’s a way that you can share it without being beat up by it.
Simone: Regarding the non-dual teaching of the East “Accept all as it is”, that everything is perfect as it is, I have seen a misunderstanding of this in some of the spiritual community. People thinking, “It’s okay, we’re not supposed to change anything, not supposed to get involved, so let’s just be passive.”
Gangaji: Right, “let’s be passive.” That’s still doing something, you see, it’s just more subtle. It’s just an egoic concept about what not doing is.
Simone: A belief, rather than what is actually alive in them or are moved towards.
Gangaji: That’s right. Because really it’s taking a moment to stop — as you must have done when you realized that, “I’m getting beat up by this doing activism, this is horrible, something is really wrong here.” There’s a moment where you just stop. Where you retreat into the cave in your heart. Where you’re just absolutely still. Where you find peace, rather than look for peace. Where you find perfection, even in the midst of undeniable imperfection. And then it’s the surrendering to that that leads your life into its natural purpose without all the figuring it out that we are trained to do, and are conditioned to do, and which the ego takes over so easily. It can take over anything but it so easily takes over what we are trained to do.
Simone: Hearing you speak of your own experience, of how exciting it all was when you were involved in the activism, I am reminded of the kind of power rush, the intense adrenalin rush that happens in the body. It can become addictive when we’re identified with the drama and excitement of it all.
Gangaji: Yes, that’s absolutely true.
Simone: Can you speak of an alternative motivation for activism other than egoic identification, and feeding off of drama, anger or fear? Regarding activism, some people see acting from love as airy-fairy or just an unrealistic concept, or as passive and weak in comparison to the power of fighting, as illusory as that is.
Gangaji: Yes, that’s the challenge.
Simone: With a limited understanding of love, people may think, “Well nothing will change if we just go around loving everybody." Could you speak to the true meaning of being motivated by love?
Gangaji: We can see that every revolution may start with the most altruistic, true understanding of injustice and what needs to change, but those movements have gotten co-opted every time — the American revolution, French revolution, Chinese revolution, Russian revolution. It’s clear in history that the power itself corrupts and we finally have to be willing to be mature enough to see that within ourselves, how the flush of power corrupts our own motivation, which started actually as love — love of human kind or a love of the planet.
The flip-floppy, new-agey kind of '60s love certainly won’t work with because that’s not about love, that was just about sex really. [Laughter] That was just a psychedelic trip. At its core it was beautiful but it also got corrupted by the power that comes from that because there’s a huge adrenalin rush there.
It seems to me that there has to be a maturity and whether we as a species are at that point or not I don’t know. I don’t believe that anything can truly happen until we are at that point collectively or critical mass-wise, where there are enough people who really have the maturity to tell the truth individually and collectively, about the corruption from power, adrenalin power or political power or guru power, whatever — power over — how that has continued and continues to corrupt the innocence and the inclusion of the truth of love. Not the feeling of love, but the truth of love which is naturally caring for oneself and recognizing oneself in everyone to some degree.
Even if you’re just seeing humanity or the Earth, and you see that the Earth gives us life — there’s a natural love for the Earth. This is very basic and can be ecstatic and blissful, but in general it’s a very basic ground of love. And that’s all we have in the end. We have experiences of power, but they will go because they eat up themselves and they eat up the host.
So what we are left with is the invitation to love and to not know. Because part of the experience of power is the intellectual knowing, the self-righteousness and the preaching, and “it should be like this” and “you need to change” and “we need to do this” and that’s been true in every movement. Just take a moment and reflect — even if it’s just historically — every generation has known what “should” happen and every one has made a mess of it.
There’s a power in not knowing, in just opening, opening to see. And this is huge because this strikes at the root of the identification because the whole basis of egoic identification is built on protecting the form. The form is vulnerable.
One of the gifts of the nonviolent training was that you were just there at the protest site. You were not going to be violent whatever the police did. We didn’t expect them to do anything although there was a little tear gas. But in the generation before, in Selma and Birmingham they had done quite a lot. They had set dogs on people and had beat people. And of course violence is happening all over the planet now. People get arms chopped off or are randomly killed or raped. There’s a huge amount of rape all over the world.
I was just reading about how in Bangladesh there’s this rampant epidemic of rejected suitors throwing acid in the face of the women that reject them and although there are laws against it, nobody’s prosecuted. I was speaking to this woman who had recently emigrated from Russia and she said, “You don’t even hear about it but Russian women are raped all the time.” She could not tell me how many times she had been raped by her ex-boyfriend, by his friends, by strangers. Raped.
There’s violence so rampant on the planet and when one takes a stance of nonviolence — and I wouldn’t even say that that’s my philosophy, I don’t think it’s always appropriate to be nonviolent — but when one is willing to be vulnerable like that what happens is the protective measures and the fear that those protective measures are based on are exposed. There is a realization, “Oh my God, who knows? This could turn bad.” It has before — Tiananmen Square. Nobody thought it was going to be like that and it just turned out violent.
So there’s a facing death of the form that has to occur and that’s what Gandhi and Martin Luther King talked about, the willingness to say, “Okay, hit me. Beat me. I’m here. I’m not moving. I’m coming back. You’ll have to kill me. You kill me, there will be other people who will come back.”
Nelson Mandela was in jail for the whole prime of his life. There’s a power in that but it is based on the power of love and it’s based on the power of, “I will not hate you, and if I hate you I will not act on that hate. I will not follow that hate, even at the risk of my own life.” This is huge.
And again I want to say that nonviolence is not necessarily my position, I’m not attached to that. But in my life it was very appropriate to shake lose some identification with form that prepared me for finally getting at the root of that identification. I firmly see that if we don’t wake up it doesn’t matter what changes happen — that we’ll be corrupted by our power to change. We have been corrupted by our power to change.
Simone: So much so that we’re on the verge of extinction, in spite of all our humanitarian efforts.
Gangaji: That’s right.
Simone: There seems to be a call for something new, a greater creativity to come up with sustainable alternatives. Especially now that we’re faced with the corporate globalization of the world.
Gangaji: Which has already happened. It’s a fact. It’s happened.
Simone: So rather than just opposing it and fighting it and making corporations “the bad guys” what can we do? These “monster” corporations are actually made up of people. In our fighting them, we find ourselves again being in a state of war with other people, so what could be an alternative approach in this situation?
Gangaji: I can’t even say that I’m against opposing it, because it seems that that has its place. If somebody burst into this room with malevolent intention for us I would jump up and oppose that. It’s like a wild animal out of control. You know it as part of the Earth but it’s out of control and it’s time to say, “Stop.”
So I’m not even against activism as it has been because that’s part of the whole too. And perhaps that even has to continue to get our attention. If there weren’t opposition to any number of things how would we even know what’s going on in the world? Which is the way it was centuries ago — the kings said, “Do it”, and it was done, and maybe you found out about another tax or something five years later.
It’s just that for those who have recognized the futility and the incongruity of this opposition within themselves, there must be a call for them to not know so that, as you say, creatively something new can come forth so that there can be a merging of activism and non-activism, where something altogether unknown is revealed.
Simone: So that the actions we take can be a conscious response rather than an unconscious reaction?
Gangaji: It must finally be a conscious response.
Simone: The action itself may be the same but the energy behind it could be different.
Gangaji: Yes, it might be the same. And there’s even a place for unconscious reactions. Sometimes you don’t have time to access what is going on, to ask who is this man coming at me with this weapon?
Simone: You don’t have time to meditate first and get clarity.
Gangaji: Exactly. It’s like, what’s the unconscious reaction? Stop this, or run.
Simone: Then there’s a trust also.
Gangaji: There’s a trust in the whole and also without buying into the momentum of the conditioning of the whole. It’s really paradoxical, extremely paradoxical. And it’s also very humbling. There is, to me, a saving grace in the humbling of it. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t active but you are much more humbly active than we’ve ever been willing to be because we don’t know what mistakes we are making at this time.
We assume that we aren’t making the mistakes, that “they” are making the mistakes. If we can assume that mistakes are being made everywhere, and we are certainly making mistakes that we are not conscious of, then there is at least a humility and a willingness to see as we go along. We can see that perhaps the way I’ve been talking to the utility people or corporate America is not exactly in rapport. [Laughter] Perhaps there’s a way of being with them so we can actually meet, that we can actually talk.
I remember a demonstration in San Francisco, when I was a nonviolent trainer, and we were in a line waiting to get into a meeting and there was this guy that looked really horrible. This was the post-hippie era but he was really into the whole dirty, hippie look. And I said, “You know, I really believe our message would be heard much better if you’d clean up your act a little bit because they’re just going to dismiss you. They’re just going to ignore you.”
He didn’t relate to that at all and who knows, he may have been right. They’ve got to learn to accept everybody, too. So that’s at play as well. But there must be, for some of us, a willingness to speak the vocabulary of those we are trying to reach and to be informed to a certain degree so that we’re not just dismissed as “fringe.” Although we are the fringe and we have to recognize that we’re the fringe, we also have to recognize that fringe is where the change happens. It’s where real change always happens and then it percolates back to the center.
Simone: So we can do our part to at least meet the other side.
Gangaji: Yes, and that is met within ourselves, because that is the only place the other side exists. The whole web of us vs. them is built upon, “I’m worth surviving” and “What will it take for me to survive?” And of course you can see that globally if you’re identified with the corporate culture, this is part of survival. That’s the way they see it, they see themselves as warriors and that they’re playing the role of a warrior. And they’re getting the benefits of the role of a warrior and the adrenalin rush.
But to recognize that that dynamic is also going on internally in the spiritual warrior or the activist warrior. It’s the same thing. Until we can see that we just participate in the same way, we’re just tribe vs. tribe. The strong will win and we aren’t the strongest that way. We don’t have the money, we don’t have the ammunition, and so there has to be something else.
Simone: And it's important to be aware that there’s something more important than just our temporary physical survival — like how will we survive, how will we live?
Gangaji: That’s right.
Simone: By playing their game or coming from Truth.
Gangaji: That’s right.
Simone: The “big Truth” not the personally owned "my truth."
Gangaji: Well, that’s it. And that’s just huge. If you look at it in a certain way, what we’re talking about is a near impossible task. It’s not the way human beings are programmed. It’s always been about conquering, it’s always been about territory and so we are really speaking about a huge evolutionary shift. Clearly, either the shift will be made or the extinction will happen. Or something else will happen — we’ll colonize space or something — who knows. But looking at it now, there’s an urgency. There’s a sense in many, many people that something has to change. Something more than this same old pattern of they hit us, we hit them, over and over.
Simone: Let's look at acting from Oneness. When we speak about acting from a consciousness of Oneness, for many people it can feel like it's just a concept. If one hasn’t experienced it directly, or doesn’t sustain awareness of it, how can support people to go beyond an intellectual understanding of it — so that it doesn’t just become a conceptual belief?
Gangaji: It’s like a religion then, a Oneness religion. But beyond an intellectual grasping for what Unity is, what's true is that Unity’s been here all along and you’ve known it all along.
Simone: And yet most people are looking for that big, supernatural experience of what Oneness is.
Gangaji: Yes, that’s right. They’re expecting something. If you are willing to let go of any picture or any idea of what Unity consciousness is, or any idea of what any state or feeling you should be having is, then you realize that Unity consciousness is simply what is always here — regardless of feeling.
There can be feelings of separation but they’re appearing in Unity consciousness. Then you don’t have to suppress your feelings of separation because they’re in the way of your realizing Unity consciousness. There can be anger or there can be hatred or there can be violence. You don’t have to suppress the arising of those human things, because they’re arising in Unity consciousness. Of course, you don’t have to act on those impulses either.
Part of the huge mistake I see when speaking with people is that many of them are spiritually conditioned because of spiritual experiences and the states that they evoke and they want those states back because it felt very good. This is the corruption by power again. Those are very powerful states. So then the mind gets corrupted and it’s like a drug. It’s really no different from a drug. It releases the same kind of endorphins and it’s like, “I have to have more of that Unity consciousness, that’s what I need to get. And I need to be experiencing that all the time.” And of course you don’t have time for that, no one has time for that, it’s like being stoned all the time. You couldn’t get anything done! [Laughter]
The truth of Unity consciousness, the truth of realization is so much simpler because it’s already here. It’s simply not identifying with a thought about who you are and what you need to feel, or a feeling or an emotion or a circumstance. And recognizing in that instant — it takes less than an instant — what’s here, what’s here right now.
And then you see it’s always here. Then the action that comes from that is more honest. It may not always be pleasant but it’s more honest because it’s not about trying to get to That, it’s coming from That. You see the trickery is that the mind can’t capture That. It can’t remember Unity consciousness — luckily — or it would just be another object. You can’t remember it. It’s not rememberable, because it’s present.
Simone: It's not real now when it's a memory from the past.
Gangaji: That’s right. Then it’s an object. You can remember sensations you had in wonderful experiences, exalted in altered states, but Unity consciousness is present in the most ordinary states. Everything is here. So no excuses! [Laughter]
Simone: Do you have any suggestions for those times when we find ourselves in situations that feel absolutely hopeless in the face of overwhelming unconsciousness and darkness? How can we maintain integrity and light and stay centered?
Gangaji: I speak to people about this all the time. It’s not usually in the context of activism but it’s the same question in an emotional context. And all that is ever needed is to meet whatever is appearing. Now that doesn’t mean if the murderer is running into the room that you don’t run out, I don’t mean it like that. But if there’s negativity — whether you’re just looking at the world today, or you’re experiencing it in yourself or experiencing it in your family — if you can stop for a moment, there’s a moment of retreat that I have discovered that has to occur.
To just stop and meet everything within you. Meet the heart and the nonverbal madness without resisting it and without indulging it because there’s a kind of dramatization of indulgence that can happen where one goes mad with the negativity. So to not go mad with it but to meet it in an open way of exploration. It can be terrifying because it’s huge and it seems annihilating and there’s a fear that arises that you can be annihilated by this negativity. But just stop and the fear is there, but without following the story of the fear, just meet it within yourself.
And then there’s a discovery that the waves of negativity part and there is a sanctuary of love and peace. This has to be directly experienced. Then there’s a recognition that what one has been fighting on the outside is really once again a reflection, a projection of the inside. Not that it’s not there but it’s a meeting of the fears — childhood fears, genetic species fears, fears that have not ever been met. We have within our genes the memories of our very superstitious ancestors, with really demonic kinds of beliefs. And this has to be met so that we can recognize that the demons — your demons — can be set free, liberated. It’s my realization that this is natural in stopping and meeting what is appearing, without taking that to be an absolute religion.
If you’re in an abusive situation, leave the situation, then stop and meet the horror of that, the shock of that, the terror of that. Also it doesn’t mean don’t get therapy, it doesn’t mean you don’t take care of your needs. All of that happens and you just take a moment to fall into what has been resisted throughout time. And then you aren’t part of the resistance anymore, you’re part of the liberation.
Even the resistance has had its place, and I really want to stress that. I’m not saying it’s inappropriate to resist. It’s appropriate to resist at certain times. Sometimes there’s just a misunderstanding of words. Everything has its place. But what has been overlooked is the possibility of seeing what everything is placed in. And that’s you. That’s who you are. That’s who one is. That’s Unity consciousness.
Simone: So it can be appropriate to move with resistance in a particular situation and to do that without being in separation from others or within oneself.
Gangaji: Yes, that’s right. And when you have been willing to face death and you realize that even if this body dies because of these negative emotions I’m experiencing, even if it really does annihilate this body, I AM. This body is gone, but I AM. The nervous system, the memories, the history, the relationships, all gone, but I AM. So the attachment of consciousness to the particular body is, if not severed, loosened. There’s more space. Then, when resistance is appropriate, it’s appropriate. It has nothing to do with a me or them, it has to do with the play. If your finger has gangrene you cut off your finger.
Simone: It’s an appropriate response.
Gangaji: Exactly. You don’t say, “Oh it’s sick, but it’s me, I love it, it’s fine” and then the gangrene just spreads. Soon you’re going to have to cut it off. So it’s an appropriate response and maybe a painful response, but it’s an honest response.
Simone: And the response would not be about power or unity against something.
Gangaji: Yes, that’s really important.
Simone: People often unify against a common enemy or a cause or a situation. But it’s not actually unity. It’s an illusion, a forgery of unity.
Gangaji: Yes, although as with the metaphor of the finger, in a sense you’re preserving the unity of the body, so you get rid of this finger that otherwise would destroy the integrity of the body. And it’s worth losing the finger, it’s disposable, it’s dispensable. We’re all disposable and we will all be disposed of and once that is directly recognized — then until that disposal happens — there’s a life force that’s freed up for this creativity that you were referring to. For what’s been unknown. And more of a willingness to see mistakes and a willingness to see habits and patterns that when seen just fall away or if they continue don’t cause harm.
It takes just an instant to recognize your Self and that recognition then continues throughout time for as long as this body is alive. There’s a deepening and there’s a broadening, but the essential experience, the essential instant is that willingness to die right now. Then there’s a realization, “Oh! What I was so trying to keep from dying is going to die.” And let it die. And then until it dies, how is time spent? So much time is usually spent around avoiding that question or protecting oneself from the reality of that question or protecting the body from death.
This is to me what is possible at this time — that that energy can be freed. That attention can be freed. Where it goes, how it’s used, I don’t know. I’m not a prophet at all. I don’t have any sense of what will happen, how much time we have, any of that. I just know that there are people at this time, who understand what that means — how much energy is built around that protection of the body. And they have tasted the release of that and have experienced how much freed energy there is.
Simone: And what would you say to those who say, "If all of the physical world is impermanent anyway, and the essence is eternal, why should we do anything to preserve the Earth or humanity?"
Gangaji: Well, people do say that. That’s halfway around the circle. Half baked. If you just follow it all the way through, you see that even that which is impermanent and unsaveable is one’s Self. This is consciousness, and it’s true that we can’t save the planet and yet the planet is our mother. Just as you can’t save your mother, when your mother’s going to go she’s going to go, but you are there to save her until the last breath — yet without the illusion that you can actually save her. But still your whole life is given to that, because how else is your life to be lived? If it’s to be lived in a cave, then that’s where you are, enjoying your cave. But if it’s to be politically active....
I think what you’re referring to is what some people bring up when there’s a burnout, when there’s a feeling of futility or hopelessness. Then it’s imposing a spiritual belief on “What’s the use?” I think we’ve all experienced that. “What’s the use, it keeps happening, it doesn’t change, it seems to get worse, so what’s the use?” But when one really faces meaninglessness, or “no use” or the impossibility of being saved or saving, there’s something that opens up — that the essence of meaninglessness is absolute meaningfulness. And the essence of not being able to be saved is redemption. But this is something that can never be understood by the mind because it can only hold polarities. It’s a paradox. It is only understood directly in experience.
Simone: So when you see that this planet is not going to physically survive forever, animals and people are going to die away, once you get to really accepting that then our natural movement or essence can emerge which would just be to love. There would just be love moving in the world.
Gangaji: Yes! [Laughter] And this surprises people.
Simone: And love would naturally move us to take care of each other and the planet without any strategies or thoughts of the future.
Gangaji: That’s right, that’s perfect.
Simone: But we don’t usually get to that place.
Gangaji: And people are very afraid of getting to that place — that it will be the opposite of love because people have such a profound distrust of what their core nature is.
Simone: Yes, that I couldn’t possibly be naturally loving! [Laughter]
Gangaji: [Laughter] That’s right. That’s the dilemma, to really invite that sense of despair or meaninglessness or hopelessness, and to the degree where it is met, such a discovery is made. I look at my life when I was searching, searching everywhere, for happiness and then spiritual happiness — however it was defined. And that was completely appropriate at the time, but to look back at that, there was so much energy and attention to try to escape the void or the meaninglessness. Then to stop and fall into the void, into meaninglessness, into hopelessness, and all of a sudden, my life is now of use! Before it was just about taking. That’s the divine paradox, that there is a flip. It’s just like with Ramana, even though he was not political — he wasn’t a political activist in any sense of the word — he’s had a profound political effect. Just by being himself.
Simone: A revolutionary.
Gangaji: Yes, by being true. But not by plan or agenda or idea.
Simone: Not seeking his sense of value or identity through that.
Simone: That was one of the things I had to face when I initially took a break from the activism groups and projects. Without them I felt, “Well then, who am I? What’s my purpose?” And I saw how I had been getting egoic validation from finally feeling that I had some value in the world by doing all the activism. And then once I let go of those activities I had to really look at what my motivation had been and how that was tainting my actions or preventing me from being as effective as I could have been had I not been attached to the activism in that way.
Gangaji: That’s right, that’s a huge leap. That’s really huge because you have to face so much. And that’s how your sensitivity really served you.
Simone: One of the things I’d like to go back to and explore further is when you said that we have our spiritual concepts of what Unity and Oneness are, but that anger and hatred may arise in that as well. Could you expand on that a bit more?
Gangaji: Well, we are aware of anger and hatred, and Unity includes all.
Simone: So don’t make those feelings the enemy.
Gangaji: That’s right. That gives us a devil and then what happens is that there’s a suppression of that feeling and it goes underground. And the attacks become more unconscious or the internal attacks are there. Totally inappropriate attacks, like you attack somebody who is walking by your house rather than somebody who has actually burst in. It gets distorted because the human animal has these emotions that were part of the survival of the body. And if we try to get rid of them we’re trying to form our idea of the evolved human being rather than meeting the emotions as they appear — to recognize what’s deeper than human — that which is the unified principle.
Simone: One of the things I’m concerned about is that hard core activists in the street getting thrown in jail or laying their life on the line may feel that this is new age fluff and that we don’t know what we're talking about because we haven’t been in their shoes. How can one respond to this other than that many of the old ways of activism haven’t ultimately worked?
Gangaji: Well, I think it’s to be expected that it will happen. There will be opposition. Let it break your heart. It’s heartbreaking. You know where you’re coming from and you will be misunderstood. You will be greatly tested. To what degree we don’t know, but we’ll find somebody who will misunderstand you and condemnation won't be far behind.
Simone: It’s impossible to speak everyone’s language.
Gangaji: Yes, exactly. And maybe some will understand what you say. What a blessing that is. It’s pretty amazing that anybody understands anybody considering how primitive and limited communication is and how distorted it gets. So the offering really has to be something that’s between the lines, something that can resonate and that you have no control over in terms of who will resonate with it. It could be somebody who has done really hard time.
There are people who have resonated with satsang who have been in jail for many years. And wow, what a surprise that was! I knew I wanted to speak to people in prison but I had no idea it would be so well received. And on the other side there are spiritual seekers who totally write me off, so what to do? It’s heartbreaking. The whole business of being human is heartbreaking.
Simone: Life is heartbreaking.
Gangaji: [Laughter] Yes, life is heartbreaking. It just is and that’s actually good because that also keeps us humble and keeps us open. If we let the heart break and break and break and break, then we see what’s unbreakable.
Conscious Activism Dialogue with Gangaji & Simone Marie Lorenz
February 3, 2003
© 2003 Simone Marie Lorenz