In Conversation with Barbara Abdinor
“I have had the honor and pleasure of knowing Barbara for many years through our association with Corelight. Barbara is a very special human being – both compassionate and fierce who has always had the courage and grit to tackle issues that most of us shy away from – it is my hope that whoever reads this interview will receive wisdom that she imparts and the clarity, insight and the necessary tools to navigate the path of the Sacred Activist….
Barbara: I just want to say thanks for the invitation to participate with you in this way. Much love and many blessings! And thanks for all the work you do.
Prem: Thank you Barbara – it is such a pleasure to collaborate with you in this way.
Prem: Can you give us some background on how you became an “Activist”?
Barbara: My mother tells me I asked “What is government?” when I was just two years old, so my interest in politics seems to have come through from a very early age. I also remember my mother suggesting that if I threw my chewing gum down, an animal could it eat and die. I began taking responsibility for personal actions in that moment and I think it was when I was birthed into environmentalism.
Later when I was establishing my spiritual path I became disheartened at what I commonly saw: a desire to transcend this world and its suffering while simultaneously abdicating all responsibility for what’s going on. By then, I had already read some of the work of Sri Aurobindo as well as activists works by authors like Arundhati Roy. I was also influenced by the autobiographies of some of the great politicians who has approached politics from a spiritual perspective for example Gandhi and Malcolm X – both of whom had an deep commitment to truth and allowed their lives to break down multiple times in order to realign themselves. Sri Aurobindo was instrumental in demonstrating a path that was both personal and political. He was also one of the profound spiritual masters who opened doorways for women.
When the woman who was to become my teacher Leslie Temple-Thurston spoke of integrating the transcendent path with a very worldly way of being, I fell in love! I found a spiritual home. It was expected that our personal path as a seeker must be merged with action in the world. Of course everyone has an individual way of doing that and not everyone is called to politics, or feminism, or environmentalism, but all three have called to me.
Prem: What do you believe makes Activism – “Sacred”?
Barbara: I think for a long time we have separated the transcendent from the immanent. So we have all these big splits, like heaven and earth, and matter/body and spirit. Patriarchal tradition has valued the transcendent over the immanent or worldly. I think that has been a mistake and one of the very basic reasons why we live in such dark times. There has been a devaluation of the earth and of the feminine. It is interesting to consider that the word “matter” has the same root as the word “mother” in many languages. God the Mother is very concerned abut the happenings here on Earth! It Matters!
So activism is very worldly. It’s meeting the suffering of our world head on and it’s a method of bring the transcendent into the world.
For me – it is the acknowledgement of Love as the driving force that makes activism Sacred…
“Love is the word – wonderful and Infinite”
Prem: How do your personal practices feed into your work in the world?
Barbara: I’m highly sensitive so I pick things up all the time and I think a meditation practice has always given me the space to find a way to meet what I am seeing and feeling. Over may years my meditation has become a kind of ongoing tool I use all the time. You posted recently about radical self acceptance being a doorway to healing. It think that’s it, meeting the inner space no matter how beautiful or difficult with radical acceptance. I think many years of training on a path brings you to a place where even if it’s difficult, part of you knows that if you face this, you’ll get through.
I’m relational too and I have always seen relationship as a spiritual path. When we are in a close relationship our light and shadow become easily triggered. It brings us close to our own wounding and shadow places and the experience of having our light reflected back at us is exquisite!
More recently I have begun an exploration of ritual, particularly ritual which connects to the astrological movements. It’s interesting to me because I went to a Catholic primary school and it left me with a feeling of ritual being hollow and meaningless. In more recent times I have been guided to work in a ritual way on my own and occasionally in a group. I guess it feels to me like a super focused prayer in alignment with greater Cosmic forces. I’ve only facilitated one group but we created a simple ritual for “Unity in Diversity”. It was astoundingly light filled! It’s on my radar to do again abut I don’t at all want it to fall into the empty ritual space I mentioned, so it’s all percolating.
Prem: You have a relentless dedication to bringing various global issues to the public via social media and networking, can you speak about the role of social media in building the Power of One, how effective it is in bringing people together and your contributions on social media platform?
Barbara: Social Media has been a good space for me. I enjoy the people I meet from all over the world. I really just find it fun! Since I am aware of the deeply divisive discourse in many places in our society, I’m normally trying to bring some balance and nuance to various situations. Especially the most polarizing ones! The internet has been an exceptional training ground for me, to learn to meet people in a way that is effective. Once again I think the basic premise is to understand the suffering and to meet it with love. and I am not talking about a kind of sentimental love but a profound love that holds as well as cuts.
It’s nice sometimes when I bump into a Facebook friend who never says a thing on Facebook and they let me know they love my posts. I find that inspiring, that others are inspired in some way. I think we can bring higher dimensional seeing to things of the world and the internet is an overwhelmingly safe place for women to have opinions.
Prem: What inspires you to keep going despite the dismal local and global picture?
Barbara: I think in early 2015 I really bottomed out with the global picture. And when it broke it amazed me how I had actually not been applying the spiritual principles and how I’d become lost in the Maya. and perhaps there is perfection to that, so I’m not really judging how that process unfolded for me. But as soon as I began revisiting the simple practices I have learned, to be present with myself in the moment, to not making all the movements of ego real, things began to open up for me again. I reconnected with my inspiration and my soul work is beginning to emerge more and more. I think at some point any seeker becomes robust, and we are able to meet whatever monsters may be there with a knowing that it’s within our capacity to do so. That means we become more or less competent with navigating the darkness and not that there isn’t darkness! By that stage I think we’ve become pretty creative and so we meet situations that may well have been impossible for us to deal with in the past, with a creative spirit that is always there just below the surface, even in or maybe even especially, in the darkest moments.
“Meeting the Dark”
Just yesterday I read a memo with Eckhart Tolle’s words which were something like, when we meet the unacceptable with acceptance enormous amounts of Grace are released. And, I would like to explain that for readers who don’t know this teaching because it doesn’t mean we need to submit ourselves to abuse of some sort. When we deeply accept a situation, like say for example the dismal state of leadership in South Africa and the world in time we are imbued with light and that light moves us in ways that are healing for ourselves and for everyone. We have a natural ensouled response to the situation when we fully accept it and see it for what it is.
Prem: what are the most important qualities that need to be cultivated in the heart of the Sacred Activist – and what advice would you give to someone “out there” who wants to make a difference but feels overwhelmed by the global challenges we face?
Barbara: I think the overwhelm needs to be dealt with, it has a lot of energy that eventually can be released in a useful way but my own overwhelm tells me that I’m stuck in an egoic spin. Sometimes we can just sit with ourselves until it stills or it can be useful to get help from a mentor or a friend who has navigated the same or similar terrain. We can pray, we can ask for guidance and clarity. We can look into the eyes of a loving being. Anything goes but we need to work first on calming the spin. Leslie Temple-Thurston equated that spin to revving in neutral. It’s a great analogy because it indicates the possibility inherent in the spin while simultaneously pointing out how it’s not much use.
I’m sort of wandering what happens first, the activism or the cultivation of the heart. Jung spoke about the shadow of love being power and the shadow of power being love, and I think many of the great wisdom traditions speak of the integration of those two. So perhaps Sacred Activism is the actual practice rather than the result of some inner alignment. There is always feedback when we make moves in the world and the way we respond and realign builds power and hopefully brings us into love, because it’s love that actually works!
I am fond of relaying to people ‘YOU HAVE POWER’! I think we often spin in our imagined powerlessness. And we are not so powerless at all but we so often get a negative reaction when we confront something and that makes us feel like we have failed and which fills us with doubts. I have seen time and time again that what we say in a moment, especially if it is well said, with respect and dignity intact, even if the other is hurt by it, eventually filters down. Most people do not have a robust enough sense of self to receive negative feedback in the moment so if for example we confront someone’s racism we almost invariably get negative feedback. It’s a good time to walk away from the conversation and allow the other to think about it. It is also an opportunity for us to learn better ways of saying things. It needs to be acknowledged that a nerve has been hit and the person may very well have to process it. It’s and act of generosity to walk away. We need to let go of the desire to win! So maybe two things: “Don’t be scared to confront things and don’t try to push your point once someone is triggered! Well three things because you absolutely need to be grounded in love. It’s not loving at all to force your point onto someone and its not loving to yourself to not raise it. That’s an eternal balancing act.
I think we imagine that we are rational beings and that facts and education will change things and they sometimes do but we’re emotional beings, highly stressed one’s at that! I think it’s preferable to learn how to meet someone emotionally. I think women crave that on a very deep level and as we learn to meet it in ourselves or perhaps in the context of a very loving relationship then we develop the skill to meet it in the other.
As we develop intuition and drop our internal judgements of ourselves, we become much more tolerant of other people’s behavior. We become very aware of what’s blocking a situation. We actually become capable of loving while fully getting that the process of waking up is at least partly destructive.
Prem: Words have a way of conveying a multitude of meanings – your thoughts on FIERCE COMPASSION…
Barbara: I’ll relay some of my own awakening into that. As a woman I was taught that love was this sweet sacrificial thing, so unsurprisingly I had outbursts of uncontained anger, which in turn left me feeling humiliated. I often phrase that as “Nice girls don’t get angry”, its like “boys don’t cry”. Those kinds of societally held beliefs are very toxic. One day it dawned on me that the shame I felt was just egoic programming and I began dropping it in the specific way in which I have been taught. Shortly thereafter, I began to have some very intense spiritual experiences where I was shown very clearly how all my anger has been sourced in a primal kind of love. It was my initiation with Ma Kali, and she has taken me on a wonderful journey.
Its more nuanced now, and anyone working with this energy has to be very cognizant of the fact that fierceness as a protection of our own egoic structures has to go. We absolutely have to be willing to face those deaths inwardly before we have any business bringing Her into the world. So that’s being fierce with the self and the compassionate part is that even though I found myself acting from a place of protection in a close relationship just last week, neither myself nor the other person is going to hold it against me.
Perhaps we build a container that’s love and then once we’re in there we can get very honest.
Prem: Your thoughts on JUSTICE…
Barbara: Hmmn. I find justice is quite an outer state. I’m trying to place it inwardly and its tricky because at some point as a seeker you realise that this is the path you chose. “This is the darkness I chose to confront and my Divine unfoldment is being served by EVERYTHING.”
We become aware that if we chose to look in a certain way, its all Love…..
Its terribly problematic to tell that to someone who isn’t ready for that knowing and its very clear to me that many people need to take some kind of stand for justice in their lives. It may mean they need to learn to argue and win! That is the way the Divine wants to unfold for them in that moment! For many disempowered people who have been submissive that’s the very real spiritual unfoldment.
Its also maybe a degraded word and somewhat of a lie. I mean having someone sit in a jail for a crime is what our society calls justice but I don’t think there’s a feeling of justice coming to the victim in most instances of that.
Perhaps justice as an inner state comes abut when we begin resolving our own inner dynamics around being a victim and it’s usually unconscious opposite of being a tyrant. An outer example of that is the student movement in South Africa. We have people who feel victimized by the system and in fact they are! And yet next thing they are perpetrating violence. We have to give up being a victim and a tyrant at some point, or at points over and over again on our paths. Every time we do that we become holders of justice.
Prem: Your thoughts on PEACE….
Barbara: Once again I am wary of outer peace. Far to often I see a dynamic where a person keeps the peace by keeping quiet but the inner realms become very disturbed. and I see equally those who refuse to go deeply enough into the inner conflict and who try to control the outside. I watch that dynamic in myself, so its easy to see it playing out in the world.
Peace is actually an incredibly refined state. I think we experience it for a moment or a few days and then it fades as we are called to the next piece of work.
Prem: Your thoughts on SERVICE…
Barbara: Service. Once again I think service is a path, rather than a place where we land. I think it’s a good idea to work out what you are in service to. I was asked at some point what I would like to dedicate my awakening to and the answer was very immediately clear to me. It was the healing of the relationship between the masculine and feminine. It underpins everything I do and the dedication has brought me to deeper and deeper esoteric understanding of what that actually is and how it would look manifested. I see that the basic imbalance manifests in every duality we can look at.
Healing the Masculine and the Feminine as Service
Prem: Your thoughts on COLLABORATION…
Barbara: Collaboration is the great challenge of our times! I think ultimately for two or more beings to collaborate each of them has to be clear about their own sovereignty and also they need a proven track record of being able to face the egoic deaths I spoke about earlier. It’s all fun and fine while we agree and feel our own sovereignty but when opposition arises we get stuck.
There needs to be a clear way of proceeding through opposition. Questions to consider: So do we need to move together on this issue and both drop some of our egoic attachments? Or is this the kind of opposition where we can hold polarity and that works for both of us? In other words I see that “that” is a good thing for you to hold even though I hold something else? Or is one of us way off course here and something needs to die?……..
…..And where are we willing to tolerate the others weakness because their weakness emerges from a wounded place? And for how long?
It’s not that possible if there is still a lot of ego. It’s not possible without a lot of awareness and ability to make the unconscious conscious. I think it’s an advanced practice.
Collaboration – an Advanced Art form
Prem: Whose life story inspires you in the work that you do?
Barbara: I’m a bit baffled by this one! I’m drawn to women in mythology, perhaps women’s stories are too hidden and men’s stories don’t speak to the challenges women face. Lilith because she chose her own equality and sovereignty despite the enormous suffering it brought her. She’s held a thread through so much. And also Persephone, her myth continuously reveals new layers to me. I love what it reveals to me abut who we are and my own predelictions. The interplay between Zeus and Hades and Demeter and Persephone, I think it reveals an aspiration to heal so much. Actually I want to rewrite the myth, revealing its multifaceted wonders!
Prem: What are you most passionate about……?
Barbara: Gosh, so many things. I think working on the shift in consciousness required to get us through these times and the healing of the relationship between the masculine and feminine. I think your questions have evoked my passions beautifully! Thanks for that!
Prem: A quote you live by…?
Barbara: Well one of the worlds great lovers left us recently, so it’s on my mind. It’s a line that has touched me deeply in it’s revelation and has held me in dark places….”There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Leonard Cohen. He says it more beautifully than anyone else but I think many great mystics have said to us that we should not avoid the shadow (the crack) and that much of what lies in the shadow is transcendent.
Prem: A practice to remember……?
Barbara: After much contemplation of this question, I’m going to choose…….Be present with yourself without judgement…
I’m choosing it because I think it touches what is most essential on a path of awakening. The only way to awaken to who we really are is to stay present with the self. I think there are a lot of ways we can improve our ability to do that. I think it’s the central theme that ties many practices from many traditions together.
Prem: Your vision for a New Earth….?
Barbara: In my vision there is more connection to nature. There are obvious outer ways that would look, where we don’t harm our planet anymore but inwardly when we are connected to our nature, to our wild selves, we’re living in a very different way than how we are now.
Prem: Your prayer for the World…?
Barbara: “May it unfold Perfectly…”