The Three Dimensions of Integral Activist Training

As part of her recent European research trip Holly Hammond was fortunate to meet Guhyapati, founder of the Ecodharma Centre, and to be trained in England by alumni from the Sustaining Resistance program. It is truly inspiring to see the impact Ecodharma has had on European social movements. Here Guhyapati outlines the underpinning of Integral Activist Training – stay tuned for more articles.

corneli body square copiaWith a long history of progressive social struggle, Catalunya currently boasts some of the freshest political organising in Europe. The Ecodharma project, based in the region since 2009, is a post-capitalist training collective offering a rich platform of trainings to hundreds of activists working on the frontlines of social change.

Just over ten years ago Frederick Jameson claimed that it was easier to imagine the end of the world than it was to imagine the end of capitalism. This sentiment rang true for many people working for systemic social change, but today in Europe that is changing. We are living through a historical point of disruption from which new possibilities are emerging. The stalled engine of neoliberal growth, an increasing sense of distributive injustice, bankrupted political leadership, and the “fierce urgency of [the ecological] now”, are the cracks out of which fresh and creative social engagement is growing.

We call the approach we offer at the Ecodharma Centre ‘Integral Activist Training’. It is ‘integral’ because it seeks to engage our intelligence at multiple levels with a fully holistic approach. It is commonplace to describe our modern predicament as one of alienation. We work on the premise that healing this alienation involves attending to three dimensions of connection: namely the connections between people and people, people and themselves, and between people and nature. Restoring these connections is key to both personal and collective empowerment. Our trainings seek to address these three dimensions in an integrated way.

fieldConnecting People to People concerns the social and interpersonal dimension. It is about developing skills to work together. It is about the way we embody our values in the groups we work in to restore collective agency. It is about developing fresh and responsive forms of political organising that can support pluralistic yet transversal movements, deeply valuing what we have in common without denying the creative potential found in our differences. It is about bringing forth a ‘responsive social field’ in which people can flourish through the work we do together. Fundamentally, it concerns how we create contexts for collaboration which enable us to transform ourselves as we work to transform the world.

Connecting People to Themselves is about the inner and personal dimension of our work. Working with others can be challenging. To stay resourced we need to know ourselves deeply. We need tools that help us develop psychological integration and responsive awareness. We need to develop the inner resource of emotional resilience that can support long term engagement. Radical politics has always been about the transformation of consciousness and the formation of new subjects or individuals. In the past this has often been achieved through shifts in views and ideology. Today we can work directly with the quality of the mind and heart to realise a cognitive vitality that avoids the pitfalls of ideological closure, and helps us to keep learning as we go.

three vultures body copiaConnecting People to Nature: Acclaimed activist and author Vandana Shiva suggested that our ecological identity is perhaps our most fundamental identity. Modern life often hides this from us. Through practises that help us restore our connection with the non-human world we find an enriched and expanded sense of who we are, freed from the binds of individualism and instead deeply woven and reconnected within the broader web of life. This dimension of connection provides nourishment whilst enhancing our resilience and motivation. Further to this, connecting with nature also involves the cultivation of an ecological intelligence. Nature, after all, is a teacher, and our approaches to social change can be greatly informed by ecological and systems thinking. We can live and organise in a world of systems so that ecological intelligence supports and strengthens our organisational development, our strategizing and our movement building.

These three dimensions underpin all of the trainings we offer at Ecodharma, including ‘Sustaining Resistance: Empowering Renewal‘ course which is now a point of reference for people working to develop sustainable activist training in Europe. ‘Transformative Collaboration‘ offers key tools for collaboration alongside an inner exploration of what we bring to our collaborative work (for better or worse). The training helps people become more aware of the unconscious tendencies they may bring to groups and helps ensure that the collaborative work we do offers a context for the transformation of both ourselves and the world. ‘Mindfulness for Social Change’ offers the powerful tool of mindfulness to support people working to promote sustainability, social justice and wellbeing in the wider social sphere.

In response to growing numbers of people attending our trainings we will be launching a new residential training centre next year primarily focused towards capacity building in social movements. Its name is the Ulex Project and it will bring activists from across Europe together to strengthen pan-European connections, help develop more cooperative strategies, and enhance movement resilience. As a progressive vision for Europe is being strongly challenged by a fast growing far-right, it feels especially relevant at this time. To keep informed about those developments you can sign up for the Ecodharma newsletter or join the Ulex mailing list here.

Feeling inspired to visit Ecodharma? Meanwhile, take some time to reflect on how your connections with others, yourself, and nature are going.

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