Activism and Contemplation: two sides of the same coin?

Leeds has a fantastic activist community. People are fighting for change on many fronts: climate change, asylum seeker and refugee rights, air quality, the airport expansion, inequality, mental health, I could go on. When I started in my role as Development Officer for the Leeds Methodist Mission I was inspired by the passion of the individuals and groups that I was seeing around the city.

At the heart of all activism is the belief that the world can be a better place and that we, in our small way, have the power to demand that vision of a better world becomes a reality. It can be exciting and energising when progress is being made but for many, including at times myself, it can feel an exhausting and disheartening journey littered with road blocks and hurdles that at times feel insurmountable. Activist burnout is common.

I wondered if it had to be this way. As I started researching the topic I discovered the many Christian and secular writings about the relationship between activism and contemplation. They seemed to suggest that when we create spaces of stillness and silence in our day and look after our inner lives we are healthier and happier people and therefore activists. I also discovered the work of the Craftivist Collective which encourages gentler forms of activism. This means that taking action can build us up rather than exhausting us as well as having an impact.

I found the complementary relationship between these two apparently conflicting ideas helpful. It inspired me to think about how we could create spaces that encourage people to engage with both sides of the coin here in Leeds.

Working with Miriam at Leeds Church Institute we started our monthly ‘Everyday Activism’ events. We bring people together around a topic for learning, reflection and connection. We also take a small, encouraging action on that topic, for example at our Ethical Fashion event we each sewed a heart to say thank you to high street shops who have made an effort to be more ethical and sustainable. The action was enjoyable and relaxing (unless you really hate sewing) but it also had an impact of encouraging these brands to keep going as their efforts to be more ethical had been noticed and appreciated.

I hope going forward we can continue to create spaces that rejuvenate and energise, bring moments of calm and reflection but also help make our vision for a better world a reality. So watch this space as we explore activism and contemplation further.

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