One of the early stirrings of the Activist in me came in 1989 at the tender age of 16. I was watching BBC news and seeing the Chinese student democracy protesters being brutally crushed by the autocratic forces of the Red Army in Tiananmen Square. It awoke in me a strong desire for social justice and for the empowerment of the underrepresented so that they could speak up, be heard and make their contribution.
Later when I was 21 and studying at university I discovered meditation. One evening as I was experimenting with various meditative practices I had an experience of vast, spacious, mind-blowing transparency. It impelled me to question everything I had previously understood about life, and sparked an insatiable spiritual quest in me. That journey progressively led me to turn away from "worldly concerns", including my activist leanings, and by the age of 25 I found myself living happily in a Tibetan Buddhist community in central France. I immersed myself fully in the spiritual life, taking vows and the monastic robes, learning Tibetan texts and complex liturgies, and eventually undertaking a traditional 3-year meditation retreat.
I was doing my best to adhere fully to the Buddhist principle of non-attachment - or at least my understanding of it. My practice focussed on transcendence and I had come to view "ordinary" concerns such as a career, relationships, sex and politics as somehow lower and less meaningful than the monastic life. However, once I had finished my 3-year retreat I found that this way of thinking became increasingly unsustainable. Family matters meant I had to leave the monastery and return to London, the celibate life and absence of physical affection became problematic, and I felt a lack of overall vitality. I started to deviate from reading books only about Buddhism and to delve into the world of western psychotherapy. At the same time there was a big scandal in my community when it was discovered that one of the head monks had for years been involved in sexually abusive and manipulative relationships.
Yet as so often is the case, these crises also carried opportunity. My life gradually moved away from monasticism and at the same time my new found interest in psychotherapy led me to discovering Voice Dialogue, a tool that has underpinned the way I view life ever since.
Working with facilitated exercises and sessions was a revelation. I found that my psyche consists of a multitude of autonomous selves, each with their own unique perspective and embodied expression. I discovered the possibility of experiencing a range of different worldviews that all existed within me. But perhaps most poignantly for me at that time, Voice Dialogue showed me that the form my spirituality had taken was merely one aspect of who I was. In spite of my focus on non-attachment I was in fact attached! I was identified with a spiritual persona that had become a "Primary Self" in me. I saw how this Spiritual Self had become autocratic and all consuming in my life. This new awareness helped me to let go of the hold that this part had over me and I started to become reacquainted with aspects of myself that had been left behind by my monasticism.
Voice Dialogue became a kind of bridge that helped me cross back into fully embracing the world and worldliness once again. I eagerly attended a number of John's courses, learned to facilitate the process and brought into the light of consciousness all kinds of Selves. The Protector, Pleaser, Tiger, Jewish Elder, Fairy, Rebel Teenager and Accountant were all there and able to reveal themselves when given sufficient space and attention.
As I engaged with this process and became acquainted with the importance of listening to all of these voices, an important realisation dawned on me: it was exactly the same in the outer world as with the inner - all the voices out there had at least some truth and wisdom and needed to be heard and embraced for society to be healthy and functional.
This understanding coincided with a rekindling of my Activist Self that had emerged earlier in my youth. Creating fora of inclusion where as many diverse voices as possible could be heard and taken into consideration became something very dear to my heart. Upgrading democracy to be more intimate, participative and inclusive rather than merely a representative system that ultimately serves narrow interests of a few became a passion.
Today my explorations into greater democracy in politics and the workplace extend into the domain of self-management, which gives individuals the democratic right within a certain structure to even be autocratic! An innovative governance system known as "holacracy" enables individuals in an organisation or system to take on roles as autonomous agents whilst remaining connected to and in communication with others. I'm also involved in an initiative for crowdsourcing a new national constitution that is open to a wide range of social inputs.
As I pursue these interests I am aware of similar paradoxes at play as when I was attached to the Buddhist view of non-attachment. For example, an exclusive identification with democratic processes that are all-inclusive and oriented towards consensus decision making can and do get bogged down in a way of thinking often referred to as the "tyranny of structurelessness"!
My practice of Voice Dialogue has taught me that whether we're dealing with the voices of our inner world or the outer systems of our society, it's imperative that we strive for greater awareness and acceptance of the many and varied Selves that inform and influence our lives. In this way we will avoid becoming stuck, and so continue to evolve - both as individuals and as a community.