In June 2018, Spirituality & Practice and our partners for The Practicing Democracy Project, the Fetzer Institute, convened a gathering of 24 spiritual leaders at Fetzer's Seasons retreat center in Michigan. The leaders represented a spectrum of religious and spiritual traditions. Our intention was to bring the wisdom and practices of our respective paths to bear on the challenge of reinvigorating the U.S. democracy.
Along with mealtime and evening informal conversations and group experiences of spiritual practices, the participants brainstormed in small groups how they could "practice democracy" in specific scenarios. The sharing of the small groups' comments with the whole group was recorded. From the transcripts of those conversations, we've collected their ideas. We then went through Spirituality & Practice's collection of spiritual practices to find matches to their suggestions for each scenario.
“You are attending a neighborhood meeting or town council meeting. The group is considering a proposal on an environmental issue (such as a permit to allow development). You have strong opinions on this issue, yet understand that there may be a need to compromise because the group has divergent views on the subject. What spiritual practices would you bring to this situation? Practices to build confidence and resilience? Practices to give voice to the prophet and justice-seeker? Resistance practices? Listening and openness practices?”
Convening participants discussed the nature of this imagined meeting and decided to start with the assumption that it was a governmental meeting. Within that framework, it would be important to establish transparent and clear processes so people knew what to expect. Here are the practices they suggested, from setting initial ground rules to expressing regrets and appreciations afterwards.
- Meet beforehand with people you know who have a differing opinions and use the diversity of thought for mutual learning.
- Sing alone or with others to get more attuned to the web of creation.
- Find ground rules for dialogue that everyone agrees will contribute to successful collaboration.
- Meditate on loving-kindness.
- Visualize yourself as helpful rather than confrontational.
- Set an intention against stereotyping.
- Engage in shared service with other community members outside the meeting.
- Tell stories as part of your presentation, whether in a formal or an informal setting. They touch the heart and enrich people's understanding.
- Consider the guidance of ancestors and the needs of the unborn, as in this Seven Generations practice.
- Keep in mind gratitude for the Earth.
- If circumstances allow, sit in a circle.
- Use active listening, setting judgments and reactions aside.
- Show empathy toward others' views on controversial subjects.
- Turn to wonder practices for relief when the going gets tough.
- Practice compassion as a way to get into the mind-frame of “not you and me but we.”
- Forgive people's ignorance so that you can focus your mind and intentions toward peace while still working for justice and healing.
- Offer to hold a pilgrimage through the affected area as part of decision making, to help people better understand the problem by immersing themselves in it.
- Breathe deeply. You may even be able to suggest a pause in the meeting that allows people to breathe and to think clearly, deescalating tense situations.
- Practice tonglen to transform negative situations into something more positive.
- Step back from destructive wording and use life-giving language.
- Keep your internal dialogue gentle as well.
- Faithfully summarize or "mirror" what you hear others saying.
- Be kind, and remember that it's not the same as being nice.