In May 2017 I was told by my friend Liam about a self-education programme called Alt*Div – described as: A self-directed, year-long learning journey for soulful community builders & a platform to support the broader reimagining of theological education.
It spoke to the parts of me that know a more wholesome and peaceful world is possible, and that personal transformation and community building are key.
In writing the application I came to understand just how much all my disparate streams of interest and experience were converging into something clear and whole.
For those interested in where I’m coming from with this, here is an extract from my Alt*Div application:
What’s your name?
Alexander Felix Nunn
What is your calling?
I want to see us develop a way of being together on this planet that reflects compassion towards all living things and sustains the planet’s balance in support of life. My calling is to play a part in dreaming this possible future into being, to live accordingly and to inspire and support to do the same.
What was your moral and spiritual upbringing? What does your spiritual life look like today?
I grew up in a single-parent family on state support in South West London. Though we had no religion in our immediate community (rationalist atheism prevails there) my Mum instilled in me a great love of nature, story and the arts that played the primary spiritual role. In my teens I rebelled strongly against all ‘authorities’, especially religious, and found myself in line with nihilist and existential philosophers who challenged and questioned everything. However, this aggressive reasoning ultimately left me feeling empty and isolated in an often meaningless and apparently brutal world.
At 17 I was introduced to meditation as an emotional stabilising tool and quickly found it to offer much more, in opening up a sense of deep connectivity and peace in relation to the world. In the decade or more since then that flower has been watered often, and I am now deeply grateful to be a member and facilitator of a young person’s mindfulness community in London that follows in the footsteps of Vietnamese Zen Master, Poet and Peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.
My spiritual practice now is perhaps best summarised by the phrase ‘Mindful Living’ – in the sense that I try to be in touch with my body, feelings and intuition as often as possible throughout my day; rather than say glueing myself to a meditation cushion each morning. As a result, my spiritual life is rich, complex and insightful with many opportunities to ‘Wake Up’ and embrace the joys and suffering of life strewn throughout my days.
Dr Cornel West once said: “Justice is what love looks like in public”. What is the justice you care about – for the world, or a community you care about – and what does it look like in public?*
How are you currently committed to bringing that dream to life? How might you in future?
Firstly, I LOVE this quote and it’s inclusion in the questionnaire was a major boost to my excitement about filling this in! When I look deeply at my motivations to act, I find three core expressions of justice that I work to bring about:
1) Healing deprivation, poverty and inequality – we live under a socioeconomic paradigm that separates and disadvantages people; drowning some in addiction to glutinous excess while demanding others starve.
2) Bringing peace to situations of conflict – whether in the international form of war, or the interpersonal form of domestic abuse, violence is an expression of deep misunderstandings and unmet needs, both of which can be transformed with wise attentive efforts to understand and reconcile.
3 ) Preserving life and the conditions that support it – meeting the destruction of biodiversity, habitat and resource cycles with a transformative reverence for life.
One definition of love might be: “the deep, unspoken recognition of non-separation between self and other” – in this case, we might see justice as an approach to solving these issues that is radically inclusive, restorative and unifying.
I’m currently engaged in ‘consciousness shifting’ work with the charity Action for Happiness that provokes an alternative to hedonic consumer culture by inviting people to tune in to what really matters in their lives and commit to taking action for it (affecting values, thinking and behaviour).
In future I’d like to work even more directly with young activists and changemakers, perhaps by designing and running workshops and retreats that offer them the chance to explore what they care about most, how they play a part in it and what they can do to take action and inspire others.
What are your most alive learning edges right now? What are some of the learning goals, topics or questions you might be excited to explore more deeply this year?
The central column of interest for me for some time has been the interconnection between personal change and social change (draw a venn diagramme with spirituality and system change intersecting and I’m right in the middle). As such my reading, work, volunteering and conversations have graduated towards areas such as: compassion and altruism research, core Buddhist teachings, deep ecology, roots of western mythology, zen and Gandhian organising principles. Going forward, my interest focuses around 3 core themes (I include a few live questions of interest for illustration):
1) Looking deeply: What are the root causes of the suffering of the world (particularly: deprivation, violence and ecocide)?
—What are the unmet needs that individualist consumerism responds to?
—What stories and mythologies support the current paradigm?
—How has change / progress manifested in the past (eg. civil rights)?
Reading themes include: systems theory, moral philosophy and history of nonviolent resistance.
2) Transformation: How am I as an individual a participant in this system, and how can spiritual development help to transform this relationship?
—How are inequalities, violence and environmental damage present in me today?
—How can buddhism, psychotherapy and nature-connection heal and reconnect us?
—How does change in an individual impact as change in others and wider culture?
Reading themes include: Interdependence, eco-psychology and influence.
3) Inspiring Action: How can this transformation best be spread to others and built into communities?
—How do we communicate in ways that open other’s minds, rather than entrenching them?
—What tools are most suitable for spreading secular spiritual transformation?
—What does/can ‘community’ look like today and how does it form and grow?
Reading themes include: transition movements, restorative justice and community-living principles.
This blog is a space for reflecting and consolidating the learning as I walk this path – thanks for joining me on it.