Love In the Time of Chaos – Part 5: The Power of Loving Activism

Love In the Time of Chaos is a five-part series featuring the collective advice of the Be Here Now Network’s teachers on dealing with the chaos of the current political climate with love, compassion, and equanimity.

In the end, were The Beatles right when they sang the words, “love is all you need”? Chances are it’s really not quite that simple. But as we come to the end of this series, it’s never been clearer to me that in this time of anger and polarization, these days of fractured souls and chaos, that love and respect for every living being – including Donald Trump – is our brightest beacon of light moving forward.

Loving Activism

Fortunately I’ve got Sharon Salzberg, host of the Metta Hour Podcast, to back me up on this one. She asks us all to take a chance on love:

I keep coming back to the cultivation of love and compassion as the antidote to fear and anger – that I need another way of moving in this scenario, with as much adversity and difficulty and challenge as there is. Why not take a chance on loving kindness and compassion, and see what the cultivation does? I don’t really believe in any way that it will make me passive or give up.

When we talk about love, it is not merely a feeling, it’s an ability. It’s an ability that is flowering or not. In some ways that really is the basis of practice: to return to those innate abilities and give them a little breathing room.

So, how can we be socially active, but with love? Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman brings up the concept of loving activism on the Mindrolling Podcast:

Loving activism is not just sitting back and saying, “Oh it’s great, just ruin me or kill me.” Loving activism can be quite harsh in some cases, in actual action like getting arresting, or bluntly saying, “You’re crazy,” or, “You’re wrong.” Something with force, but more like the force of a martial artist. Like good old Grasshopper [from the TV series “Kung Fu”], he would throw the cowboy out the window with a smile on his face in a relaxed manner.

So that’s loving activism where, even though you’re opposing this policeman or this person and you’re in front of them, you are not thinking that they automatically have to be evil. You are seeing the opponent not as an object of hatred, but as an object of concern – you want them to be better off, and you feel to oppose them is helping them getting better off in a particular case.

The Pussy Hat thing, those marches were happy occasions. And this is the key, I think. Try to find the sources of happiness within yourself and around you, and then help the people who are unhappy, and therefore causing evil. You may have to share that happiness with someone who’s about to do some terrible thing, to help stop them from doing it. You may even have to be forceful sometimes, like a mother will be forceful with a child who’s hurting itself or going to hurt something else in some careless way. But they don’t hate the child. They just love the child. But you can have fierce love. You can have fierce compassion.

Love and Respect

We return one last time to the fountain of wisdom that is Roshi Joan Halifax, who talks about our moral character:

I think we’re at a time where the development of moral character is essential, and we have to get clear about what our values are. For me, one of my values is love. I love political satire, but too much derision is unhealthy. The other value I feel is essential is justice. And threading these two with each other, and to see them as balances of the same thing: goodness.

So let’s see if we can dial back some of the scorn, division, bullying that has overwhelmed so many people today, and bring forth what Ram Dass and so many of us care about, which is love and respect.

Finally, I wanted to end with a little classic Ram Dass. I went back into our archives to dig up this little ditty from 1980 or so, proof that though the year may change, the game remains much the same:

The game isn’t to polarize; the polarization is what exacerbates the problem. It’s not us against them, it’s us cleaning out ourselves. That is becoming more a part of social action, and that’s the way things change. I don’t think you should underestimate the power of conscious love and caring.

Now let me talk about love just a little bit. We have a couple models of love. In general, you can think of the distinction between romantic love and conscious love. Romantic love is ego love; it’s where you love another person. In a way, they are a connection that turns you on to the place in yourself where you are love, where you experience “I am in love.” You get hooked on your connection and end up wanting to posses it, just like any junkie does, because you want that feeling of being in love.

As time goes on and as your awareness expands and you start extricate yourself from your own separateness, as your mind gets quieter, you start to dwell in the place where you literally are consciousness, which is the same as love. You are in love, which is in the flow, in the present moment. And at that moment, your need for other people is replaced with your joy and delight in being with them; it’s not needful any longer. It’s not needful love. It’s not painful separation because you already are it.

So you can be in love with the universe, deeper and deeper, and everybody you look at is your Beloved. And you don’t have to do anything about it; you can merely dwell in this space. And those that are ready to be in this space of love with you are, and with those that aren’t, you have compassion to allow people to be who they are. The development of compassion, to allow people their space to do what they do, is essential. And the only time you are called upon to limit that is when that space limits the rights of others to awaken. That’s where our social action comes in.

And when the social action is based on love, not anger – look at how the English commented on Gandhi. Even after he broke the back of the British Empire, they still said they respected, loved, and honored him because, at all times, he respected, loved, and honored them.


May we all respect, honor, and most of all, love everyone.


Written by Noah Markus on behalf of Love Serve Remember Foundation

If you’re interested in the other parts of the Love in the Time of Chaos series please read below:

Part 1 – A Guide to Compassion in 2017

Part 2 – Reactivity

Part 3 – Navigating Through Anger

Part 4 – Dealing with Fear and Anxiety

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