Mystical Activism and
The Psychology, Spirituality and Mysticism of the New Aging
I'm a retired clinical psychologist, with a second doctorate in ministry, an ordained interfaith minister, a writer, but mostly I'm a husband, father, grandfather friend, and lifelong mystic. I've been writing and lecturing on conscious aging as a spiritual and mystical experience for over twenty-five years. Then, more recently, I came to see that a spiritual and mystical awareness of life is also critical to our survival in the rapidly escalating climate crisis, so I wrote, Mystical Activism: Transforming a World in Crisis in support of climate activism. But now there's even more. As the coronavirus burst upon the scene, I realized that climate change was only one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," joining the coronavirus pandemic, population explosion, and the related worldwide economic meltdown. We are heading into a sustained global crisis. Increasingly, I fear for the future of my family and friends, as I'm sure you fear for the future of your loved ones, and I worry for the future of the human family and life itself. This is not academic to me, it's in my awareness every day, triggered by each news report, email, telephone conversation, and article I write. I live and breathe it constantly. So do you.
I have been gathering articles on the global apocalypse for the past several years but my deep dive into this fast-moving literature has recently become extremely disturbing. As a result, this is the most difficult but important piece I have ever written (indeed, this is my fifth or sixth revision because it's that important to me).
A sustainability leadership professor from the University of Cumbria (UK), Jem Bendell tells us that, at the current pace of runaway global warming, we can no longer assume that humans will figure out a way to avert environmental and societal collapse within the next ten years. Bendell states, "…the evidence is mounting that the impacts will be catastrophic to our livelihoods and the societies that we live within…when I say starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war, I mean in your own life." While some have argued that Bendell's words are extreme or irresponsible, few disagree about the severity, pace or consequences of global warming. And our growing horror has led to what a condition known variously as "climate despair," "climate anxiety" or "climate grief" – the fear that we're all going to die from this ecological nightmare - and I think many of us know exactly what this syndrome feels like. Even more alarming, the "first responders of this environmental 911," the climate scientists themselves, are experiencing debilitating levels shock, anger, grief, depression and despair over their own findings and those of the scientific community at large. Scientists are truly the canaries in the environmental coal mine.
But what do we do? How do we respond? What can we do? In this crisis, we are all novices, experts, seekers and activists. And we all have something to offer. For my part, I want to describe the importance of our inborn mystical nature and its potential for responding meaningfully to this Earth crisis and invite you to awaken the experience of mystical consciousness to guide and sustain your life and climate activism. This is not about being heroic, and it's not "woo woo," it's about being deeply grounded in who and where we really are and why we are here at this time in history. Let's start with the concept of Mystical Activism.
The Emerging Voices of Mystical Activism
Matthew Fox and Creation Spirituality have always been deeply rooted in the mystical experience of Creation – the Via Positiva - and our transformation from mystics, who experience the world as sacred, to prophets who defend it as holy ground. Fox now brings these mystical themes to the immense crisis of climate change, telling us, "An absence of the sense of the sacred is the basic flaw in many of our efforts at ecologically or environmentally adjusting our human presence to the natural world…" Fox adds, "More than ever, then, we need to stop and sit and be present to the Via Positiva to allow our love for the world and the world's love for us to be deeply felt. This can carry us beyond nationhood and ethnic or racial or religious smallness into the much bigger world of creation itself. Love will be the source of our energy and of our imaginations that will render us effective agents for deeper change. Not superficial change, but a change that begins and ends with the reverence and gratitude we all carry in our hearts toward the universe that has birthed us. With that kind of deeper perspective, our prophetic callings stand a better chance of effective results." That is a beautiful description of Mystical Activism.
Fox is hardly alone in this call to sacred awareness. Joanna Macy, a longtime Earth activist and climate prophet, says, "While the truth that we are headed toward extinction is a terrible shock, it has the potential to quicken our collective awakening, powering a profound transformation of our world. This transformation begins within." And now listen carefully to her next words for they are profoundly mystical, "We need to know ourselves, not only as individuals, but as co-creators within a deeply ensouled web of life where all is conscious. Once we align with the reality and depth intelligence of consciousness itself, we connect with a spiritual and moral power that gifts intuitive wisdom, guidance, and courage…In essence, we are awakening into the profound intimacy of all things, where we directly know that all beings, nature, the earth, and the cosmos are a part of ourselves." This, too, is Mystical Activism – an awareness of the deep unity of conscious being.
Another eloquent voice of Mystical Activism is Kristal Parks, a long-time peace activist and mystic, who writes, "Mystical activism is intoxicated with life, in humble harmony with nature and empowered by the creative energy of the galaxies. It's motivated by adoration and love to act on behalf of all beings." And she adds, "…a new kind of human being is required, one that consents to being a partner in an evolutionary leap beyond our wildest imagination, a leap beyond war and violence. This challenging task beckoning to us requires a profound healing and transformation at the deepest core of ourselves and our social structures and institutions." To me, it is absolutely clear now that we must take this leap.
Lastly, we turn to cultural historian, Thomas Berry, a profound and visionary thinker on ecological spirituality, the universe story and, by implication, Mystical Activism. He writes, "Perhaps a new revelatory experience is taking place, an experience wherein human consciousness awakens to the grandeur and sacred quality of the Earth process. Humanity has seldom participated in such a vision since shamanic times, but in such a renewal lies our hope for the future for ourselves and for the entire planet on which we live." Berry's words are a prophetic, elegant, and sublime description of the essence of Mystical Activism.
What is Mystical Activism?
Let me now define what I mean by Mystical Activism. The word mysticism simply refers to the firsthand experience of the divine. It's not weird or far out. We've all had big or little mystical experiences, like the stunned amazement of meeting our newborn child for the first time, standing in silent awe gazing up at ancient redwoods, feeling the palpable holiness of a sacred place, or simply being deeply present at the passing of a loved one. In these moments, the mind stops its chatter, perception heightens, and we subtly experience the sacred Presence that pervades Creation. It's a breakthrough of the divine into personal awareness. Mystical consciousness arises from this same awakened, thought-free, sacred awareness, only now we learn to experience it intentionally. In its fullness, mystical consciousness unveils the exquisitely beautiful, infinitely precious, and timeless reality known as Creation. Permeated by the divine, everything is perceived as sacred, including us, for the Beloved has become the world and everything in it. This awakening of perception leads naturally to Mystical Activism for we act now from a conscious unity with Creation and instinctively strive to protect her. In the process, we experience the kind of world we want to live in. This is "mysticism in action!" Failing to see the sacred nature of reality, on the other hand, we'll go on desecrating Creation, exploiting her as an endless supply of raw materials, a cash cow of new consumer products, or a garbage dump for toxic waste and discarded packaging.
Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist and religious scholar, implicitly describes the awakening of Mystical Activism in this way, "This is Eden. When you see the kingdom spread upon the earth, the old way of living in the world is annihilated. That is the end of the world. The end of the world is not an event to come, it is an event of psychological transformation, of visionary transformation. You see not a world of solid things but a world of radiance." Mystical Activism involves this same transfiguring perception of "reality," revealing a pristine, love-filled, immanently conscious, and incredibly beautiful place called Creation. Awakening the paradigm-shifting power of sacred perception, we find Eden once again, becoming mystics in our transformed experience and prophets in our defense of the sacred. This transformation can provide the source, energy, courage and ultimate meaning of our work
The First Step: Falling in Love with Creation Again
How do we awaken our Mystical Activism? In my writing, I have presented numerous exercises on the mystical experience of Heaven on Earth that culminate in Mystical Activism, but here is a new and simple one that we might call, Falling in Love with Creation Again. It is based on the realization that nature makes us mystics and mystics always return to nature for healing, transformed perception, inspiration and courage, because it's a return our divine home. The exercise focuses on two very short poems that reflect the mystical perception of the world as original blessing. Read them carefully and awaken a memory of your own mystical experience of Creation.
Ah to be alive
On a mid-September morn
Fording a stream
Barefoot, pants rolled up
Holding boots, pack on,
Sunshine, ice in the shallows,
Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard on toes
cold nose dripping
creek music, heart music,
I pledge allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island
under the sun –
With joyful interpenetration for all
Do you see how the poet moves from mystic to prophet, from the mystical celebration of the sensory world to a pledge of allegiance to her very existence? This next poem confirms this mystical commitment.
Wherever you are is home
And the earth is paradise
Wherever you set your feet is holy land…
You don't live off it like a parasite.
You live in it, and it in you,
Or you don't survive.
And that is the only worship of God there is.
Wilfred Pelletier and Ted Poole
Now, take a moment to remember a time when you felt this kind of sensory connection with Creation, a time when nothing mattered but wonder, beauty and awakened perception. Do this silently for 60 seconds to bring your memory back to life inside you and just dwell on the memory for a minute. Now, write about your experience of Creation and the deepest feelings you experienced. When you're done, understand that the world offers you such awakened perception every single day. It's why we are fighting to save the Earth.
I close with simple words from Joanna Macy, "This is the most exquisite moment on Earth. We all need to fall in love again with what is…Is anything sweeter than being with the mother in her suffering?"
Aging with Vision, Hope and Courage
We are facing a multifaceted global crisis of unprecedented proportions: the exploding coronavirus pandemic, accelerating climate disruption, unrestrained population growth, and the potential collapse of financial markets and civilization as we know it. It's going to require thousands of changes and a radical transformation of consciousness to survive. This worldwide apocalypse now pushes humanity into a new and unfamiliar world and there may be no going back. But it is also an invitation. We are being called to reinvent our lives, our work, and our civilization in a new consciousness of Creation. The virus is but a wake-up call and trial-run for sweeping social, political and spiritual changes, and conscious elders, like you and me, have profoundly important roles to play right where we are. The old world was rife with manmade problems – political corruption, wealth inequities, global warming, overpopulation, homelessness, racism, sexism, and ageism – it's time for a new one.
The Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19): The novel coronavirus began in China, probably jumping from Pangolins butchered in "wet markets" to humans in a process called zoonotic transmission. It is one of many similar infectious viral diseases, including MERS and SARS. Bacterial zoonotic infectious diseases also exist around the world, such as anthrax, bird flu, lyme disease, ebola, and the Bubonic plague. The first case of coronavirus was detected at the end of 2019. Epidemiologists expect that 70% of the world will eventually be exposed with older people disproportionally endangered (mortality rates currently estimated at 8% between 70 and 79 and 15% over 80). The virus may also cycle back through the population, possibly in seasonal waves, eventually settling permanently into the population unless scientists develop a successful vaccine. While the majority of the infected will survive with absent or minor cold-like symptoms, more serious consequences include pneumonia, kidney failure, and catastrophic buildup of pulmonary fluid with dire respiratory complications (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) leading to death. To mitigate against this highly contagious and expanding public health threat, numerous countries moved to close borders and shutter schools, restaurants, entertainment venues, and businesses, in addition to prescribing temporary self-quarantines or even total population lockdowns. The World Health Organization has now declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.
The Climate Crisis. The Earth is getting hotter every year. Heat-trapping CO2 is higher than it's been in 3 million years and the last five years have been the hottest on record. It's called the "Greenhouse Effect." Why is this important? Rising heat radically supercharges the weather all over the Earth, creating dangerous heat spells; ferocious hurricanes, tornados and forest fires; monsoon rains; expanding deserts; dying oceans; coastal flooding; inland draughts; an escalating tide of climate refugees; and massive species extinction. Climate scientists say we are facing a possible collapse of biological and social systems threatening civilization as we know it. In fact, a consortium of 11,000 scientists from 153 nations made this announcement last November, "We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency…The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity." And the lead negotiator for the Paris climate agreement added in February, "What's at stake over the next decade is nothing less than the future of the planet and of humanity on the planet. That's no exaggeration, that is no hyperbole. That is actually scientific fact."
Population Explosion. Adding to this expanding nightmare is the mounting pressure of population growth. When America was founded, there were less than one billion people on Earth. When I was a child in the fifties, the world had 2.6 billion people. Now it's 7.7 billion. By 2050, we will exceed 9 billion people on Earth. Because we lack the sustainable resources to feed this growing population, we borrow dangerously from the future - draining aquifers, cutting down forests for farming, over-fishing the oceans, and poisoning ourselves and nature with pesticides and plastics. Earth's growing overpopulation will result in polluted water and air; superbugs and new parasites, microplastics in our oceans, soil, air, snow, and bodies; overwhelmed hospitals; rising crime; more deforestation and wildlife deaths; widespread food shortages; regional conflicts over food and clean water; desperate migrations, and even war.
The Economy. In the wake of the desperate social-distancing measures to contain the coronavirus, unemployment skyrocket, consumers reduced spending, stock markets roiled, and the economy headed into recession, creating financial hardship and insecurities throughout the world. Global warming also affects the economy. Excessively high temperatures disrupt agriculture, harm health, and shut down energy webs; extreme weather threatens water and transportation delivery; loss of property in storm disasters can bankrupt insurance companies; and coastal flooding will overwhelm vulnerable oil refineries like those on the Gulf Coast and Northern California. Because of our global interdependence, these economic risks represent collective vulnerabilities. No one and no place is immune to systemic breakdowns nor can they be reliably predicted. Social and political instability, climate-caused infrastructure damage, and the challenge of retooling the military to non-fossil fuels also pose severe national and global security threats in a rapidly warming world. Traditional capitalism itself is now literally unsustainable because it relies so heavily on continuing economic and population growth in a system of finite resources. Last but not least, the greed and corruption of many lobbyists and elected officials represents a horrifying obstacle to constructive action. For example, after Brazil's president gave the green light to illegal land invasion, logging and burning, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon surged past three football fields a minute; and the U.S. president deregulates environmental protections everywhere and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.
As implied above, these four disasters all interact, extending and potentiating each other's harmful effects. For example, global warming can enable the further spread of infectious diseases (including the coronavirus) by increasing areas of optimum temperatures and humidity, cause flood-induced water-borne illnesses, release ancient viruses and bacteria from melting glaciers, and spread diseases via insects and rodents migrating to warmer climes, bringing Dengue Fever, West Nile Virus, Flesh-eating Bacteria, Brain-eating Amoeba, Tick-borne diseases, Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus.
Creation Spirituality Communities
St. John's Communities: "Psychological and Spiritual Tasks of Aging Men."
Luminary at Sunnyside: "The Three Secrets of Aging."
ASA 2018 Aging in America Conference
"Initiation, Transformation and Revelation: The Mysticism of Aging"
March 28, San Francisco
Creation Spirituality Conference: Sacred Earth - Sacred Work
"Finding Sacred Work in a Sacred World"
April 26-29, 2018, Asheville, NC
Stillpoint at Beckside "What Do Aging Men Want"
John Robinson 7-9:00 pm, 9/14/18, Bellingham, WA
Stillpoint at Beckside "Enlightened Aging"
John Robinson 9-4:00, 9/15/18, Bellingham, WA
Sage-ing International 2018 Global Conference:
Elder Voices Transforming the World
"The Divine Human in a Divine World: the Final Transformation of Sacred Aging"
"How Is Your Aging Going?" Group Discussion
October 25-28, 2018, Oak Ridge Conference Center, Chaska Minnesota
"Introduction to Mysticism and The Mysticism of Aging"
Unitarian Universalist Webinar for UUMystics
Sept 19 & Oct. 17 UUMystic.org
"The Divine Human"
Oct. 3, www.sage-ing.org/webinars
Earlier Talks and Workshops:
Sermon and Workshop: “Where Do I Fit? The Discovery of Personal Wisdom and A Place in the Universe.” Center for Spiritual Living, Tacoma, WA, 7/15/07.
Retreat: “Sacred Sight.” Mercy Center Auburn, Auburn CA. 7/27-29, 2007 with Fr. Joseph Mitchell.
Keynote Speaker at the Spiritual Care Week Symposium, 10/26/07, University of California, Davis Medical Center, Chaplaincy Department: “Healthy and Unhealthy Spirituality: A Spiritual Psychologist’s Reflections”; “Integrating Psychology and Spirituality: Theoretical and Practical Considerations” (Psychiatry Grand Rounds); “Psychological and Spiritual Care: What Do I Do Now?”
"A Men's Gathering on Aging." 3/12/11. Lions Gate Hotel, Sacramento, CA.
Five Session Lenten Class on "The Magic of Aging" at United Church of Christ, Fox Island, WA. 2/17-3/24/13.
"The Magic of Aging," CSourceWisdom National Webinar, 8/2-30/13.
"The Three Secrets of Aging" and "What Aging Men Want" workshops at "Gifting the World as We Age" conference, Sag-ing International 2014 Conference, Seattle University, 8/21-24, 2014.
"Initiation, Transformation and Revelation: The Magic of Aging." 6th International Conference on Aging and Spirituality, The California Endowment, Los Angeles, CA., 10/4-7, 2015.
Keynote Talk and Workshop: "The Transformation of Self and Consciousness in the New Aging." My Spirit Flies, Louisville MKP Elders Circle, 11/13-14, 2015.
"Lent and the Mystical Jesus." Fox Island United Church of Christ. Fox Island, WA. 2/14, 21, 28, 3/6/16.
"Conscious Aging" (Three Lectures). Creation Spirituality Communities 2016 Gathering: Honoring the Elders, Nurturing the Future. Berkeley, CA, 7/28, 7/29, 7/30/16.
"Finding Your Calling: Giving Back to the World." Conscious Elders Network National Gathering 2016, One Earth, One Humanity, One Future! Mercy Center, Burlingame, CA, 9/19/16.
"What Will I Give Back? Discerning My Gifts and Alternatives in Caring For the World." Sag-ing International 2016 Conference: Wisdom and Spirit in Action. Loveland, CO 10/20-23.
"What Will I Give Back? Discerning My Elder Gifts and Possibilities." The Shift Network Transforming Aging Tele-Summit, March 7-9, 2017.
"The Divine Human: The Final Transformation of Sacred Aging." 7th International Conference on Ageing and Spirituality. Concordia University Cnicago, 7/4-7.
"The Divine Human: The Final Transformation of Sacred Aging." Sage-ing International Webinar, 10/3/17.
"Elder InnerViews." Creation Spirituality Communities Ongoing Series. Interviews with Jeremy Taylor, 5/18/17; Gina Rose Halpern, 9/19/17; Alexandra Kovats, 10/19/17.
"What Will I Give Back? How to Discover What Your Soul Still Longs to Do." 3rd Act Magazine, Fall, 2017.
Robinson, John. The Divine Human. Watkins Mind, Body, Spirit Magazine. Winter 2017, Vol. 52, pp. 52-52.