This week the Global climate strike took place. Friday morning I woke to a young friend's messages. She lives in Australia and had just partaken in her first protest march and the power of taking action for something that her life depends upon was palpable. In turn, she was inspired and moved by those even younger than her she is 19 and was inspired by those who were aged 9 and 10 marching alongside her. As the photos from the climate strike marches in Australia, Indonesia, India, Thailand start filling our news and social media feeds we can literally see how many people took to the streets. Just as we can be wowed by the logic of the inarguable numbers tells us that not everyone took to the streets in protest. In Australia alone, a full national march would have seen 22 million people in the streets. So while there was a good number protesting, there was also a large percentage that did not.
In any given situation we always have three choices: action, non-action, and no action. Each is a distinct decision or state of being. Action is clear but there is a little more ambiguity between non-action and no action.
Action is often physical in nature and requires us to move beyond a state of inertia. But action can also be a decision (so mental) that creates change. An action movement does not need to be dynamic, we can begin to move slowly but it does require us to shift out of our current state of being. Action is, of course, essential for life and death, both of which are created due to shifts in energy.
Birth is the first action we take to come into the world but there is a lot of extraordinary power in the forming of a human being. Death is also action-packed. As the dying body goes through distinct but often-subtle changes, actions occur minute to minute. The last action we take during a trauma-free death is the exhalation of the breath. And if left alone, a body would continue to exhibit dynamic actions as it begins to breakdown.
Sometimes action is voluntary and sometimes it is involuntary. At least once in your life you have either heard or said, "just do something!" Usually at the end of a period of time when things don't seem to be moving forward or you've been spinning ideas around in your mind and you can't find the end of the thread to pull yourself out or up, or along a line of action. Taking an action, any action even if it leads us down the "Via Negativa" (the negative road) some distance, it gets us off the starting block.
The difference between no action and non-action is a little more difficult to distinguish unless you are conscious of your behavior or studied Eastern philosophy.
No action is passive but it is an action in and of itself. One decides not to take any action whatsoever about a situation or decision regardless of whether the consequences are positive or negative. A lot of us fit into this category especially when the issue is so large (climate for instance) that we don’t know where to start. We become numb, overwhelmed, or anxious about taking the ‘wrong’ action and so we do nothing. Except, in reality, we have made a conscious decision not to act, usually out of fear. Some of the millions of people who did not march in Australia took this approach, no action.
Non-action is an active form of being and can be either dynamic or subtle.
In its dynamic form, non-action harnesses our energy and learns to hold it both physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you think of a cat in the moments before it pounces you can see non-action in action. To those who are unaware, it can look as if the cat is sitting doing nothing but there is a lot of energy going towards its hind legs and hips ready to spring into action.
Non-action can also be subtle, as in when we deliberately decide to let the situation unfold naturally. The key point of this is that the decision to wait is conscious and deliberate. To the outside world, it can look as if we are doing nothing, avoiding confrontation, or difficulty when in fact we are waiting for what actually lies underneath or behind the situation at hand to reveal itself. So unlike no action, decisions made about non-action are made from centeredness, calmness, and focus.
Life presents to every one of us a variety of situations where we have to decide if we are going to take action, take no action or practice non-action. Each situation is unique and requires us to take a different approach. Some things that we might want to consider when making our decision is what level of impact will we have if we act or if we do not act. What are the consequences of those decisions in our lives and the lives of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, or nephews? Indigenous cultures believe that each one of us can impact the seven generations of relatives from whom we descend and the seven future generations, some of who are yet to be born. When we view ourselves and our decisions as potentially impacting thousands of our direct human relatives, does this change the approach you take? If you view your decisions as impacting our non-human relatives, does this change the approach you take: whether action, no action, or non-action.
My young friend does not have children of her own. She marched with her peers, friends her own age but she saw, felt, and thus became very aware of the intergenerational impact of the actions, no actions, and non-actions of the generations above her. And although not fully conscious of our intergenerational responsibilities as human beings, the 9 and 10-year-olds marching alongside her decided upon the approach they are taking. I am humbled and grateful.