new-lifeboat-hour-header-tallJuly 21, 2016

Long-time activist, Scott Brown is a seasoned advocate and organizer for social justice, but he brings more to his work than a passion for peace and fairness. Like many activists, Scott lived his vision of social justice from the neck up until one day when his life fell apart, he was compelled to expand the personal reach of his activism to the heart and belly. In the process, Scott learned that authentic and effective activism is a “whole-body experience.”

In Active Peace: A Mindful Path To A Nonviolent World, Scott Brown invites the reader to consider how large the activism landscape actually is, and the root cause of everything the activist dreams of healing has its root in one reality: The illusion of separation. Most activists would agree that injustice issues from a separation from each other and from the Earth community, but few fully understand the momentous barrier that separation from oneself poses. In fact, Scott ventures to assert that activism isn’t genuinely restorative unless the activist is being healed. But healed from what?

Perhaps most ubiquitous is our mind-less-ness—our lack of consciousness of our psychospiritual selves. It is through developing mindfulness, Scott Brown argues, that we become whole. “Mindfulness is the orientation that ties the threads together and creates endless opportunities to experience interrelatedness in our day-to-day lives…What we are after here, ultimately, is psychological and spiritual development leading to an expanded sense of self.” (6) Humbling indeed, Scott asserts, is his experience of spending fifteen years as an environmental campaigner without the basic life-changing tool of mindfulness.

While the book’s title Active Peace may imply that this book is mostly about peacemaking and living harmoniously with other beings, it is important to understand that the kind of peacemaking Scott Brown has in mind is fiercely active, committed to self-exploration and personal transformation, and employing restorative justice in the world. Without these, the author declares, peace is not possible.

For the author, to restore, means to “make firm again.” For the activist/mythologist, Michael Meade, restoremeans to “re-story” or to find the new story that mirrors our predicament. The old story, of course, is that we are separate beings, disconnected from ourselves, each other, and Earth, and the new story, resounding and reverberating throughout Active Peace, is the new story of relationship.

Many activists proudly proclaim their atheist predilections and have no interest in words such as God, the Divine, the Great Spirit, or the sacred. Scott Brown is not attached to any particular words to describe the spiritual essence that he believes lies at our core and at the core of all that is. Nevertheless, he asks the activist to consider that the principles that drive one’s activism have their roots in that spiritual essence. Human history, he points out, is a very long story of how we have become separate from that essence. From the shift from hunter-gathering to agrarian living to the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition of sin and separateness to the scientific revolution to our current obsession with technology as savior, “The belief in separateness leads directly to violence,” says Scott. In fact, “To fully appreciate what the belief in separateness has wrought, it will be helpful to look in more detail at the two most basic ways it shows up in our lives: The human/nature split and the human/spirit split.” (23) Scott explores these two splits and how they arose, and very importantly, how we can heal them.

He offers four foundations for Active Peace and a Nonviolent World: The restoration of our relationship to the world, to ourselves, to others, and to Nature using restorative activism, mindfulness, interpersonal skills, and Nature-based practices. As a result, we discover Interbeing—the notion and the felt experience of interconnectedness with all of life.

Active Peace outlines and explains the Five R’s of Restorative Justice: Responsibility, Respect, Relationship, Repair, and Reintegration. It is, as Scott points out, “…what justice looks like beyond the illusion of separation.” (149) He also brilliantly addresses the shadow side of activism—the lack of self-awareness that leads to unprocessed grief, self-righteousness, and a failure to see the larger picture systemically. From my own experience I notice that one of the most common and formidable obstacles in activism is one’s unwillingness to grieve. It is far easier to be consumed with the fires of activism which guarantees burnout and even aggression. However, if the fires of activism are not tempered with the water of tears, burnout is certain. Whereas activists often confess that they are concerned that if they allow the waters of grief to flow, they will become passive and ineffectual. In fact, as Active Peace argues and my own experience attests, deep grieving in a safe and supportive container, actually strengthens one’s commitment to activism and restorative justice.

Transpersonal activism is the focus of Active Peace, and the book offers a number of practices for vibrant, mindful, compassionate peacemaking. None of it is about giving up or abandoning the struggle. All of it is about deepening one’s commitment to restorative justice, mindful activism, and the surrender of outcome—to be sure, a struggle, but also profoundly natural, for as Scott Brown reminds us, “Making peace is the most natural thing in the world once we begin to live into the truth of interbeing.” (196)

Carolyn Baker, Ph.D, is the author of several books including Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse: Cultivating The Relationships We Need To Thrive and Collapsing Consciously: Transformational Truths For Turbulent Times.