“I had the great fortune in a weekend retreat to observe Lama John create an atmosphere of kindness and respect, and with gentleness he opened the heart of the skeptical activist and community organizer. He engaged them, through the mind, and every so lightly, holding their spirit with tenderness and care, made the abstract relevant, simple and practical to social action. Amazingly, several experienced major breakthroughs that were visibly transformative. Lama John is a social activist and organizer at heart and he models the living embodiment of loving and respectful engagement.”
— Rose Sackey-Milligan, Director of the Center for Contemplative Mind’s Social Justice Program

Current Workshops and Retreats | Associate Teachers to Contact | Meditation Groups | Further Information | Contact John Makransky


Contemplative Training for
Social Justice Activists

Accessing our Best Inner Resources for Social Change -- Meditations of Natural Awareness and Compassionate Connection

John Makransky, PhD
Guiding Meditation Teacher, Foundation for Active Compassion
Associate Professor Buddhism & Comparative Theology, Boston College

History: Over the past eight years, John Makransky has developed contemplative trainings in natural awareness and compassion that can help activists turn inward and reconnect with their best inner resources for social action. Based in Tibetan lineage practice, this contemplative training is borne out through the experience of many generations of accomplished practitioners, but has now been adapted and made newly accessible for people of all backgrounds and faiths. To date John Makransky has taught over 5,000 people meditations of natural awareness and compassion. John’s new organization, the Foundation for Active Compassion, provides the vehicle for John, with associate teachers Julie Forsythe, Leah Weiss Ekstrom and the practice leaders that he has trained, to nourish activists with contemplative methods that evoke greater positive motivation and energy, fuller presence to others, and joy in the midst of challenging work.

Description of Workshops and Retreats for Social Justice Activists

These workshops and retreats are both for people new to meditation and for experienced meditators who want to revitalize their spiritual lives in action. They provide theory, guided meditations, discussion, and guidance for integrating meditation into relationships and social action.

To be effective in their work for social change, social justice activists need to embody the deepest spirit and motivation of their work. But they do such challenging work that they can often get overwhelmed—losing touch with inner sources of inspiration and energy, experiencing more frustration and anger than joy—all of which tends to drive others away. Many suffer from burnout. The contemplative practices offered here can help social justice activists return to their deepest inspiration, energy and motivation for action so as to embody the spirit of service that inspires others.

In these workshops, participants are entered into powerful meditations of compassionate communion and presence adapted from the natural ease tradition of Tibet in newly accessible ways for people of all backgrounds and faiths. Guided meditations help the mind relax into its most natural state of tranquility, openness and simplicity—evoking compassion for self and others, energy, and joy. From this place of natural ease, innate wisdom and compassion, we can become more fully present to others —communing with them in the depth of their being instead of reacting to them from habitual judgments. When this unity of compassion and wisdom is embodied in social action, it becomes a powerful force to challenge injustice and to remake our world into a place of mutual reverence and care.

Reasons that Social Activists Train in Meditations of Natural Awareness and Compassion:

-- To prevent or heal from burnout, activists need to know how to access a place of deep inner rest and replenishment—a quality of awareness prior to the turmoil of their ego reactions. Meditations of compassionate communion and presence help our minds relax into their most natural state of tranquility, openness and simplicity. From this place of deep listening and communion we can become more fully present to others-- upholding them in their profound dignity and potential even when we must challenge dysfunctional behaviors or social structures. In this natural state of awareness we can tap our underlying capacities for greater positive motivation and energy, resourcefulness and joy.

-- Means and ends are one—As Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama have taught, to help people find safety and well-being in their lives, we need to come from a place of safety and well-being in ourselves. To establish peace, we need to come from peace. To support the dignity and potential of others, we need to come from the place in ourselves that is in touch with their dignity and potential. To bring more goodness into the world, we have to be in touch with our deepest goodness. Contemplative training in natural awareness and compassion helps us reconnect with these inner resources and draw from them in an increasingly stable way.

-- To be effective, we need to embody the spirit of our work. To do that, we must know how to return to that spirit whenever we get lost from it. This contemplative training can put us regularly in touch with our deepest motivation for social change. When we get recurrently caught in angry reactions and hatred for opponents, we tend to burn out and drive others away through our negativity. When we uphold everyone around us in their essential dignity and worth, and work for change from genuine compassion, we inspire others to our cause and replenish their energy for activism. This contemplative training helps us return to the spirit of our work when we feel lost from it, and to strengthen our ability to abide in that spirit more fully over time.

-- A powerful force to effect social change is to be for everyone as a basis for challenging the status quo—A great force for social change is to be for everyone in the fundamental will of compassion, and as the expression of that very attitude, to challenge the status quo in which everyone is involved. Gandhi's approach to social activism involves “holding to the deep truth” in everyone involved in the social situation, which he also called "truth force" and "love force" (satyagraha). Martin Luther King taught similarly, focusing on impartial, unconditional love as the inner power of activism for needed social change. The meditations of natural awareness and compassion put people in touch with the part of themselves that can know and uphold the deep dignity of everyone involved in an issue. Such meditations help bring out our inner capacity for unwavering compassion that is willing to challenge others while harboring ill-will to no one. These contemplative trainings provide a complement to the social activist understandings of figures like Gandhi and King.

Selected Readings: Awakening through Love by John Makransky, How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman, Keeping the Peace: Mindfulness and Public Service by Thich Nhat Hanh, The Essential Gandhi edited by Louis Fischer, Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr., Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Activists’ Ally: Contemplative Tools for Social Change produced by Contemplative Mind in Society.