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The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
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Summer 2005 Newsletter - Social Justice Edition


And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet
and the winds long to play with your hair.

— Kahlil Gibran

I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.

— John Muir


Connecting with the Spirit of Nature

Standing in the middle of a desert, gazing at a full moon, listening to the wind rustling through the leafy trees, looking at the sun emerge from the dark underworld at dawn, observing the rhythmic movement of the tide at the shore’s edge, or observing the stars in the dark of night evokes reverence and awe for the power and sacredness of nature. We are humbled by the silence in the deep forest, exalted by the beauty of a rainbow, and stunned by the intricacy of a spider’s web or the rapture of a volcanic eruption. Allowing ourselves to be drawn into these experiences of the natural world, and to be deeply engaged in concentrated loving attention is the precise moment of contemplation. Being in those few precious seconds before thoughts or words are expressed affords us the opportunity to be in perfect alignment and we experience oneness with nature. In that moment we transcend time and space.

The natural world has a lot to teach us about life. Whether you live in an inner city or the countryside, if you pay close attention to the trees or flowers you’ll notice that branches curve and shoots fork. These remind us that our life is a journey of many twists and turns. Similarly, standing at a stream’s edge, you’ll notice that the water finds its natural level by either flowing over, around, or under the rocks. This is a metaphor for the ways we surrender to life’s circumstances and situations we find ourselves in. Is our foundation solid and stable or do we allow ourselves to be distracted and “topple or roll over” when life gets a little rough?

So, on one of those extremely hectic days, step outside to a nearby park or take a long drive in the country. Take a long walk, do a walking meditation, sit by a babbling brook, or lie on the green grass and meditate on the clouds and experience the calming and slowing effect of the natural world. Nature refreshes and rejuvenates us, cleansing us of fears, self-doubts, and worries.


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Mini-retreat in nature: Ideas for the busy activist and organizer

Begin by researching nature sites near and far in your city, perhaps identifying the ones visited more and less frequently. Look for hiking trails, botanical gardens, or inexpensive camping facilities in nearby national forests. Sometimes churches, universities or colleges have spectacular gardens and well-kept grounds.

Here are some mini-retreat ideas we’ve come up with. If you have any other ideas, we would love to hear them.

  • Meditate on the stillness of the Earth for as long as you like. Write about your experience in your journal.
  • Do a 20 minute walking meditation in one of your favorite places.
  • Feeling anxious about your upcoming community meeting with public officials? Try allotting two hours to find one of your favorite places, lie down directly on the ground, and listen to and be comforted by your favorite jazz or hip hop artist, soothing sounds of nature or any other of your favorite sounds.
  • Take an extended lunch, sit on the rooftop of your office building and draw, sketch and color like your life depended on it.
  • Celebrate the success of your recent campaign or canvassing efforts by nurturing yourself with a long one-hour private spa. Take a ritual bath. Fill your bath with hot water and add your favorite essential oils and floral petals. Light candles and place a fresh bouquet of flowers in the room. To top it off, how about adding your favorite music to the mix — Mozart, Hip Hop, R &B, salsa, whatever. To make it a completely meditative or contemplative experience, focus on your breath. And should the mind wander, bring it back to the breath for the entire duration of your spa experience.

So you don’t have a tub! Then take a shower in minimal light. Light one candle. Shower with scented soaps. Then follow the same suggestions as above.

  • If you can’t leave your house, apartment or office, take 10 minutes at your desk, bedroom or living room to do a Virtual Journey in Nature. Visit
  • Gather a group of friends and colleagues and create and tend a space of beauty in a community garden. As an alternative, make a window garden with desert plants or fresh herbs.
  • Join a local community garden club in your town or city.
  • Take a few hours on a weekend to create a virtual garden in your apartment with fresh flowers and plants.
  • Establish a regular “be in my body day.” Put on your favorite music and dancing shoes and delight in the embrace of your ecstatic nature.

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Activists and Organizers Retreat at Omega Institute

Omega group

The Center invited 18 social justice activists and organizers (and three children), emerging leaders in our Social Justice Program, to participate in Omega Institute for Holistic Health’s inaugural Service Week Program. When participants were asked to use three words to describe their time at Omega, many chose “release,” “reflection,” “relaxing,” “refreshing,” “joyful,” “renewing,” “rejuvenating,” “healthy,” and “self-care.”

Omega was the ideal venue for these activists and organizers. Besides the healthy food, being in nature (and away from the chaos of city life), they particularly appreciated having their own private and designated space. This was an important factor in the group’s ability to spend time together beyond the short time we met as a group each day. Many of the leaders used the space in the evenings for spontaneous conversations on issues relative to their social justice work and explored together, for example, what it meant to hold non-violence as a principle when working with communities facing tremendous suffering. Our designated space was our collective “home” at Omega, and in it we laughed, played cards, and watched movies. In addition, many in the group who have a consistent spiritual practice or are developing one especially liked having access to the Omega’s sanctuary for meditation and the yoga and movement classes. Those who had a deep connection and intimacy with the natural world enjoyed access to trails and the lake. There was something for everyone.

Omega’s Service Week was a time for these activists to “do nothing.” Ninety percent of their time was spent in quiet reflection, rest, and rejuvenation. The group met in structured dialogue for only 3 hours a day. It was truly a retreat for them in the fullest sense of the word.

“This retreat has been a true blessing and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity. I hope I can continue to build and grow with the Center for Contemplative Mind and the participants and bring these experiences, learnings and opportunities to more folks.”

“Hoping that Service Week continues and that other local grassroots organizations are contacted so that they can have this opportunity as well. We discussed knowing other groups/activists that could really appreciate this experience.”

Thanks to Omega

We would like to thank the Omega Institute for a truly rejuvenating and wonderful week there at the end of May. The Center’s staff also enjoyed Service Week, a week of free retreat time given by Omega to non-profits engaged in service work. We nourished our bodies with delicious and healthy food, expanded our minds with talented teachers and rejuvenated our spirits with good company in such a lovely setting. We are grateful for the generous donation of the friendly staff’s labor and the facilities. It was a blessing to, in turn, open up our spaces to 18 activists, providing them with an unprecedented opportunity to network with each other, learn contemplative practices, and get in touch with their core values which first drew them to service work. It also helped us think together about how we can collaborate in the future to develop more contemplative organizations. Thank you Omega!


Spiritual Activism Retreat at Garrison Institute


In June, the Center helped steward a meeting hosted by stone circles on spiritual activism, which included 50 individuals in the field and also allies from other sectors (media, funders, academics, etc.) The purpose of the meeting in part was to articulate and document spiritual/contemplative approaches and practices in the social justice movement.

Rose Sackey-Milligan (Social Justice Program Director), Mirabai Bush (Executive Director), and Board members Rachel Bagby and Rachel Cowan attended the gathering, and were energized to be in a space where the accomplishments of the movement thus far and the momentum toward future activism were so evident. Participants were working on diverse social issues, ranging from prison reform to reclaiming Vieques, PR to youth education and organizing. This great diversity of issues made it clear that spiritual activism is not issue-based, but is really about the underlying principles of equality, equity, compassion, justice, liberation, etc.

Discussions included western dharma and social change, liberation spirituality, vision and values, training, curriculum, and societal shifts.

As Mirabai said in a letter to the participants, "Something has happened in the movement, at least among the people convened - a deepening, a sincere holding of the unholdable truth, a commitment to the work for justice from as real a place as possible and an understanding that the spiritual/contemplative source is what feeds that commitment."

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Check out our new website

Thanks to the dedicated effort of website team Carrie Bergman and John Berry, the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society recently unveiled its newly designed and renovated website. See it here at

The new site has many new features, including new program websites, a new section to help with understanding of contemplative practices, along with a new publications archive, F.A.Q, and history sections. We hope you enjoy the "open" feel to the site's design and welcome further comments and suggestions to make the site even better!

Contact the website team

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Recommended Reading

Brave HeartsBrooke Shelby Biggs, Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activists Handbook ( England: Anita Roddick Books, 2003).

You know the names Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela. But have you heard of Roy Bourgeois, Neta Golan, or Sulak Sivaraksa? How about Vandana Shiva, Daniel and Philip Berrigan, or Janusz Korczak? They, and the dozens more spiritual activists in this book are the heirs to that great tradition of faith-based activism. The spiritual activists in this book are environmentalists and gay-rights activists, peace workers, land reformers, child advocates. They are Buddhists and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, Baha'is, Jews and Quakers. The stories of these modern-day prophets of positive change will inspire you, and the resources provided in each chapter will help you put your own beliefs to work in the world.

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church ( Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005).

Holmes's research—through oral histories, church records, and written accounts—details not only ways in which contemplative experience is built into African American collective worship but also the legacy of African monasticism, a history of spiritual exemplars, and unique meditative worship practices.

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Upcoming Events

cmind event = official Center for Contemplative Mind event

cmind event
Transforming Organizing Culture through Contemplative Practice:
A Gathering for Emerging Leaders

Garrison Institute, Garrison, NY
September 22-25, 2005

Registration Deadline: August 15th

Download materials (.pdf format):
Invitation Letter
List of Mentors
Registration Form

Join us for a weekend of practice, creative reflection, dialogue, community building, and strategy. Our focus will be on ways in which increased mindfulness, reflection, and contemplation can be helpful to a diverse group of people representing all sectors of the social justice movement during these challenging and difficult times. Experienced activists, many with years of know-how integrating social action and practice, will be sharing their stories and perspectives. The cost of your stay at Garrison and your travel expenses from the northeast and mid-Atlantic states of MA, CT, RI, NY, NJ, and PA will be covered by the Center.

The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, founded in 1997, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which works to integrate contemplative awareness into contemporary life in order to help create a more just, compassionate and reflective society. The Social Justice Program works with a diverse group of people representing all sectors of the social justice movement. It offers support to social justice organizers and activists committed to changing the existing culture of organizing and to creating a stronger, more sustainable movement for social change.

If you are interested in participating, please contact Rose Sackey-Milligan, SJP Director, at (413) 582-0071 or write to, in order to receive a registration form. You can also download the registration form as a .pdf document or a .doc document.

2nd Annual Robeson Social Justice Summer Institute

July 21-23, 2005
Boston , MA

Sponsored by Social Justice Education

Global Youth Education, Liberation Movements and Organizing, Art and Activism.

SJE offers 3 days of presentations, workshops, community engagement, and dialogue for teachers, organizers, and cultural workers.

To register or get more information, go to or call 617 524-6600.

6th Annual Yoga Summit and Retreat

July 20-24, 2005
Temescal Gateway Conference and Retreat Center
Pacific Palisades, CA

To register or get more information, call 800 404-8118 or go to

The Conference on Spiritual Activism

July 20-23, 2005 Berkeley, CA
Feb. 10-13, 2006 Washington, D.C.

Goals of the conference:

1. Challenge the misuse of God by the Right to justify militarism, dismantling of social justice and ecological programs, and assaults on the rights of women, gays, and lesbians

2. Challenge the anti-spiritual bias in some parts of "the Left"

3. Support a New Line of kindness, generosity, ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe to replace the dominant ethos of selfishness and materialism.

For progressive people of all faiths, and spiritually attuned secular people as well.

For more information please visit or contact

Being Change: the Way of the Activist

August 6-11, 2005
Vallecitos Mountain Refuge, Taos, New Mexico

Presented by stone circles

Spiritual Activism is not a philosophy- it is a Way of life. The fullest integration of an intellectual understanding of justice and an embodied realization of liberation requires committed time that we may not encounter in our daily lives. Periods of retreat dedicated to this integration where activists commit to deeper reflection, contemplation, and presence are an essential part of maturation and growth.

For this reason, stone circles is offering a 5-day retreat for activists across the country that will provide activists with a structure that supports their spiritual practice while developing their strategies of social change. The retreat will provide abundant time for silence, spiritual practice, structured and unstructured reflection, discussion, and workshops on change theory, group dynamics, and political strategy.

For additional information contact: jesse maceo vega-frey
Or visit

9th Annual Meditation Retreat for Activists of Color

August 14-21, 2005
Taos , New Mexico

Offered by Vallecitos Mountain Refuge

This retreat is an intensive introduction to meditation practice. Scholarship Retreat: There is no charge for first-time successful applicants and there are limited travel scholarship funds available to first-time attendees in financial need.

For additional information visit Vallecitos.

Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program

Social Change Organizers of Color Invited to Apply

Deadline: December 1, 2005

The Alston/Bannerman Fellowship Program is committed to advancing progressive social change by helping to sustain long-time activists of color. The program is designed to give these activists the financial support and freedom to "take a break and recharge."

Each year, ten organizers of color working for social change on a broad range of issues are awarded the Alston/Bannerman Fellowship. Fellows receive $15,000 to take sabbaticals of three months or more. Previous fellows have worked on issues from environmental justice to fair wages, from immigrant rights to native sovereignty, from political empowerment to economic revitalization. Fellows have the freedom to use their sabbaticals however they think will best re-energize them for the work ahead.

To qualify for an Alston/Bannerman Fellowship, an applicant must be a person of color; have more than ten years of community organizing experience; be committed to continuing to work for social change; and live in the United States or its territories. Both individuals for whom organizing is a full-time job and those for whom it is voluntary work done outside of their employment are eligible to apply.

Visit the program's Web site at for complete fellowship guidelines, application materials, and information on previous recipients.

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We would love to hear from you!

Submit a letter, story idea, or tell us about events, conferences, retreats, books, or articles that may be of interest to others. Email your information to

We will gladly accept information on published nonfiction on healthy living, personal growth, and contemplative practices.

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The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
199 Main Street, Suite 3
Northampton, MA 01060 USA
phone: (413) 582-0071
fax: (413) 582-1330
general email:

Questions, concerns? This e-newsletter was made & sent by John Berry