I was talking to an old friend the other day, catching-up about life, when she asked me where I was with my plans to quit environmental activism in order to fully dedicate myself to my Yoga and healing work. It was an idea I floated around a while back. “I can’t give up activism,” I told her. “I have this rage within me that I need to channel into fighting against the impacts our broken system has on the planet and her inhabitants.” I could feel her relief. She was relieved to hear that I wasn’t giving up on a passion that had allowed us to work together for many years, but also that she was not alone in experiencing this rage and allowing it to fuel her activism. I told her how much I had drifted away from the mainstream spiritual “bubble” and all its injunctions to find peace, light and love, while, for the most part, vastly ignoring the fact that the roots of suffering lie within the system way more often than within ourselves.
Photo by Alex Motoc on Unsplash
In November 2021, coming back from COP-26, the annual international negotiations on climate, I was feeling this rage intensely. For once, I made a conscious decision to experience it fully. I did not try to “relax,” “surrender to the Whole,” “meditate” or use any other practice that would shovel my rage under a carpet of comfortable obliviousness. It was a turning point for me, in how I related to spirituality in the context of my activism, and the culmination of a long process. I had already felt so often out of place with some of my (nevertheless beloved) “sisters” during my spiritual apprenticeship, having a hard time relating to the hyper mystical world in which some of them seemed to be living. My fellow healers held the worldview that if people could not afford their services, it was because of the choices they’d made in their lives: they were choosing not to prioritize their own wellbeing. This is an idea that I have had a hard time swallowing, as it completely disregards the fact that most people experience poverty as a result of transgenerational systemic oppression, like racism, sexism or ableism. For a while, taking care of the collective by working to dismantle these systems of oppression in my professional life somehow balanced this feeling of self-centeredness that emanated from this mainstream spiritual world.
I remember, at COP-26, a group of white people meditating in front of the venue where the oil and gas lobbyists were hijacking crucial global negotiations to reach a political agreement to stay under 1.5°C of global warming, the bare minimum for this planet to be livable for humans and ecosystems. This struck me as so disconnected from where the real fight was taking place. And let’s face it. Who can decide that their primary way of reacting to a world that is burning is to sit down and meditate? Not those in the frontlines of fighting the fire. Not the first nations in the US who are exposed to the disastrous impacts of the petrochemicals industry expansion. Not the waste pickers in Kenya fighting to survive on dumpsites in horrible conditions. Not the activists in the Philippines whose every action is monitored by an oppressive regime waiting to have enough evidence to put them in jail. Not the indigenous people of Amazonia who are seeing their forest ravaged by the greed of the agrobusiness. None of them can choose doing nothing and connecting to the Earth as a primary response to what’s affecting them. They have to fight, for real, or die. Only the (mostly white) privileged people can choose to slow down, practice selfcare, send ‘good vibes’ to the planet, and “meditate for peace” as a primary response to the innumerable injustices suffered by the Nature we belong to.
Don’t get me wrong: meditation, selfcare and earth-centered spiritual practices are survival tools for activists, starting with myself. I’m witnessing with joy and relief the fact that they are increasingly implemented in our community, as a way to create sustainability for the Self in order to work for collective transformation. It’s obviously a non-exhaustive list, but see for inspiration Kallie Schut and Cassandra Johnson’s take on Yoga as a framework for social change, the nap advocate Sarah Jordão or the Resilience project of Katie Hodgetts.
So, rage was (and still is) here. It took me a minute to stop feeling like a “bad spiritual person” for not being able to let go of it. I also contemplated my own internalized patriarchy and its injunction for women to repress any “negative” emotions, starting with rage, to avoid being called “crazy” or “hysteric”. Sitting with it, I got to understand its nature and origin. I call what I felt, and still often feel, “sacred rage”. While “sacred” is a very loaded word, that means different things for different people, it’s the only word that makes sense to me in this context, because this rage is grounded in profound love for the Earth and all the lifeforms she carries, and fuels my desire for action at the service of something greater than my personal existence. When I shared that with my friend during our conversation, she didn’t relate at first to love as the source of rage, sharing that for her it was injustice. I challenged that, expressing that for me what was triggering rage in the face of injustice was the love I had for the subject of this injustice. Brushing away the shame, I admitted that I primarily feel this rage when I have a pre-existing connection to the ecosystem or the people affected. The Russian war on Ukraine activated this rage and led me to action because of the love I have for my friends and colleagues there. There was (and still is) at the very same time a devastating war in Yemen, that of course saddened me, but led me to no particular action. When my partner is suffering discrimination and challenges in Kenya because of his waste picker status, I can move mountains that I would not move for another waste picker I don’t know on the other side of the world. Working with leaders from the first nations in the US, whose genocide continues through the expansion of the petrochemicals industry, ignites a productive rage in a way that knowing about the disastrous impacts of the same industry on the Niger Delta in Nigeria, where I don’t know anybody, doesn’t.
“That’s the equation of sacred rage,” I told my friend. “Love + injustice = sacred rage.”
Agreeing to let this rage fuel me, rather than consume me, has been very freeing. It was the missing link in connecting my spiritual practices to my activism, reconciling parts of me that felt at times pulled apart between the need to fight for a better world, and the desire to find peace and happiness. I know now that I do not want my spiritual practices to “anesthetize” this rage; I need them to channel my rage into my activism, so that, rather than overwhelm me, it transforms into love in action. As Soraya Chemaly says, “anger has a bad rap, but it is actually one of the most hopeful and forward thinking of all our emotions. It begets transformation, manifesting our passion and keeping us invested in the world.” And while the mainstream spiritual “bubble” has predominantly been monetizing spiritual practices for the sake of personal development and well-being, I know that I would not feel aligned with myself if I were practicing solely for my own liberation from suffering. Because, as the Afro-American feminist writer, professor, and civil rights activist Audrey Lorde said: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
With loving rage,
Want to channel your sacred rage? Here are a series of causes you can donate to or take action for (please add more in comments):
Support my friends from the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe of Texas who are trying to protect their land against the predation of petrochemicals companies - donate here
Join the campaign efforts to stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP), Total’s climaticide project - take action here
Support the people affected by the massive floods in Pakistan last year, by the fundraising efforts of my colleague Meera Ghani - donate here
Support Rural Philippines Rising, an initiative to connect urban dwellers with farmers stuck with their harvest - join or donate here
Support Food4education, which provides subsidized nutritious meals to primary school children in Kenya, to improve nutrition education outcomes - donate here
Support the Ukrainian women and girls who are impacted by the Russian invasion - donate here and here
Support the Black Lives Matter movement globally - donate here
 I’m genuinely uncomfortable with the term “healer,” but I’m using it here as a short generic word since it’s the term that a lot of people in the mainstream spiritual bubble self-assign to what they do. As my teacher Naomi Love used to say, the role of those she trains is to facilitate the process of individuals tapping into their own self-healing power, away from any power dynamic of a healer healing you.
 Read on this Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger by Soraya Chemaly