“Your mind will tell you lies but your body can’t” – An interview with Zainab Amadahy

This interview with Zainab Amadahy was conducted by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery for Joyful Militancy in January of 2016. For this email interview we (Nick and carla) sent a ‘preamble’ outlining some of the ideas behind our book project, and then included a series of questions based on Amadahy’s other writings (especially Wielding the Force: the Science of Social Justice). As time went on in the process of researching, doing interviews, and writing the book, our ideas and articulations shifted, and for that, we are deeply indebted to all our interviewees who offered new insights and shed light on areas that needed reworking.

About Zainab Amadahy: “These days I identify as African American with Indigenous heritage. I do not have status or band membership and have never lived in a Cherokee or Seminole community. My knowledge of my African and Indigenous roots go as far back as the Reynolds tobacco plantation where both sets of ancestors were enslaved. My father was raised by his half-Cherokee grandmother. Both of his parents were mixed “Black Indians.” I am mixed race and the mix is far too vast to explain here—but, growing up, my primary ethnic identity was African American (though I always acknowledged and honoured my Cherokee ancestry). Since coming to Toronto, I have learned from and worked with the urban Native community around cultural revival and other struggles. I have been very kindly accepted into this community. So that is my social location, and it will certainly impact how I respond to these questions. Thank you.”

More of Zainab Amadahy’s work can be found on her website. The introduction to Joyful Militancy, some excerpts from the book, and other interviews can be found at joyfulmilitancy.com.


  1. Nick & carla (N&c): What opens up new capacities among movements, and what closes them off? Have you seen spaces, conversations, or practices shift from joyful militancy into rigidity, or vice-versa? We are thinking here of shifts from loving/trusting/open spaces to scarce/fearful/judgmental spaces, for example. What leads to these shifts?­­

Zainab Amadahy (ZA): Unfortunately, I think I’ve led some of these shifts myself. So let’s start there because the only story I really know is mine. There were times in my young activist life when my traumas were triggered and my fears activated and this led me to behave in competitive, judgmental, punitive, jealous, vengeful and angry ways. Though everyone experiences these feelings from time to time not everyone allows them to spill over into their activism and other work. I did.

In the current dynamic, we see folks losing their sh*t around the Paris attack,[1] blaming Syrian refugees, as well as randomly attacking Muslims or those they imagine to be Muslims. It’s doesn’t take much emotional intelligence to understand that fear is at the core. “Lefties” are not immune to the impact of fear, though. And clearly, I’m not either.

In my old(ish) age, I have come to feel that a lack of emphasis on personal healing and wellness and a lack of skills and knowledge on how to do that generally in our society is a problem for activists and many, many others in mainstream society. Judging by human history that’s probably always been the case. Although the most effective healing practices & processes, in my experience, also have a very long history.

So, in sum, I think at its core sad militancy[2] is informed by 1) contractive emotional states that are often reasonable reactions to events in our lives, 2) a lack of awareness of when one gets triggered into such states, 3) getting stuck in contractive states, 4) a lack of knowledge on the impact of contractive states to personal and collective wellness as well as political work, 5) a lack of resources and skills to consciously build the resilience necessary to minimize, avoid and manage these states in healthy ways and 6) a lack of expectation and accountability around conceptualizing wellness as ongoing at individual & group levels.

  1. N&c: You argue that we shouldn’t rely on anger to fuel our activism, and also that anger can’t simply be gotten rid of or ignored. Can you share your reflections on recent movements like Idle No More and Black Lives Matter? It seems that anger and collective outrage at injustice played a role in sparking these struggles and in their development, but they’re also motivated by love, compassion, and community-building. Can the expression of collective outrage and refusal create openings for joy, compassion, and transformative movement? Can outrage spark something that leads to joy?

ZA: That’s in line with the most common questions people have for me around my work. I’m happy for an opportunity to respond because I’m not sure I managed the question convincingly in the book. Plus I now know more.

Anger definitely has a role in our personal and collective lives. As I say in the book, it would be cause for concern if some events in your life did not illicit anger. There are many good reasons for getting angry about what goes on in the world. The issue is what happens when we allow ourselves to remain in a state of prolonged anger. What happens when anger motivates us rather than love? And the question about expression is a good one. Does expression of anger (collective or otherwise) promote healing? Does it facilitate transformative social change?

One reason it’s detrimental to be fueled by anger is because that feeling is only the top layer of other emotional currents that often go unacknowledged. When you start exploring anger, particularly in a body centred process, you find extremely uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness, grief, and so on. Basic to all of the healing traditions I’ve “studied”, experienced and practiced is the understanding that all emotions have a purpose and it’s when you DON’T allow yourself to feel them that you become mentally and physically ill (out of balance / not to be confused with mainstream medical labels). Or in some terminologies, when the energy gets “stuck”, or “misaligned” or whatever.

You could say anger is like the rug that gets thrown over the ugly quarter-sized hole in the floor. It keeps you and others from seeing that hole – maybe even thinking about it and acknowledging its existence. But the hole doesn’t go away of its own accord and covering it is not repairing it. Although, there might be very good reasons why you’re not going to repair to the hole, it still remains. You may not have the skills, time or resources. And that’s reasonable enough. But if you keep walking over that hole you risk further damage like making it bigger or dropping something into it and losing it. But the rug remains a temporarily satisfying way of managing the problem.

Having skills to identify, manage and express anger (in “healthy ways” – noting experts disagree on what is healthy) is definitely useful but there is more to be done. Expressing anger, collectively or otherwise, is only a small fraction of the healing process because you have not processed what lies beneath. Ultimately, whether one works collectively or not, processing anger out of the body is an individual responsibility. Each person, if they want to enjoy wellness, needs to do it. I think that life experiences can prevent you from doing it instinctively and so depending on how much trauma you carry you might have to learn how to intentionally heal your anger.

To note that anger is a symptom of something that’s wrong in the world or in your life is not saying much. Everyone can agree with that. But we don’t all agree on what that “something” is. We activists want to point fingers at injustice. And we’re not entirely wrong. The problem is that we don’t deeply interrogate how our spirit body interacts with injustice. Or for folks who don’t like spiritual framing, how our emotional body interacts. We don’t own our complicity with injustice. And we don’t want to look at what from our past has been triggered by the event that provoked anger. We’d rather stop at feeling righteous about it and look externally for avresolution to our anger. But healing anger is and always will be an inside job.

If you’re feeling anger, the self-empowering/healing response is to

  • Be aware of it (a skill you can develop)
  • Spend time to feel it
  • Explore what’s underneath & feel that
  • Accept the information your feelings offer and
  • Allow the feelings to move out of your body.

That’s what every single healing ceremony I have any knowledge or experience of is designed to do. Better if you can intentionally replace the anger with something more expansive like gratitude, compassion, self-compassion or whatever. Better still to take clear, meaningful effective action steps to address the trigger to which you reacted with anger. But the keys here are to 1) FEEL what the anger is protecting you from and 2) not talk, critique, judge or story those feelings. Stay out of your head and stop talking because talking is mental process and mental processes do not heal anger or any other emotion. So not all forms of expressing anger are healing. The practices I’ve learned for healing any emotion are body-centred because your mind will tell you lies but your body is incapable of that. Your spirit speaks to you in many ways but most clearly through your body.

For example, you can tell yourself you’re content with this job but your back pain, eyestrain and headaches might tell you differently. You can tell yourself you’re not angry but the churning in your gut, the neck spasms and high blood pressure betray the truth. If you’re paying attention, your body will tell you instantly what your mind won’t. As Diane Hill (Mohawk, Six Nations) once told me, “the body is built to process emotion. Thinking just gets in the way and STOPS that body processing.” (paraphrased)

In this framework, anger is a sealed envelope. Just because we’ve accepted the envelope doesn’t mean we’ve engaged in any way with its content.

I’m getting better at doing this with my own anger and it’s a skill anyone can learn. I’ve come to understand that my anger envelope contains fears and sadness about unfairness, injustice and survival issues. For me, my kids and others. I get angry every time I hear about a cop shooting another unarmed Black person. I am enraged every time I hear another Native woman has gone missing. But now I also allow myself to feel the grief and the sadness and the fear that the anger is trying to stop me from feeling. In that way I obtain as much clarity as I can before I take action.

One of the reasons I like the annual Feb. 14 Strawberry Ceremony for the families of missing and murdered women that is organized every year across the country is that it’s both a healing and an action. If you’ve ever gone to any of these ceremonies you’ve noticed there is a lot of anger but also a lot of crying, sadness & grief being expressed. While feeling afraid and deeply sad is harder than feeling angry, it’s a greater release when you can get in touch with it, accept the information it offers, release it and replace it with something hopeful or make some kind of meaning out of it.

The Strawberry ceremony is simultaneously a healing and political action. Not only because we are processing emotions out of our bodies but because we are, as a community, exercising our sovereignty to engage in ceremony, living our ceremony, on colonial city streets that were built atop Indigenous lands. In Toronto, we never ask permission, apply for permits or seek approval from colonial authorities. In doing ceremony we are refuting the colonial expectation that we assimilate, die, accept or acquiesce in any way to colonization. We are empowering ourselves to assert our sovereignty over our lands and practice our spiritual/cultural traditions.

Once one processes anger, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good because emotional wellness is about interacting with all life has to offer and allowing yourself to experience all emotional reactions. Surely you’ll be re-triggered into another anger response eventually. But it’s not about getting lost or stuck in it. Neither is it about expressing and moving on as though the job of processing is done and expression alone can restore you to emotional balance.

Besides what I’ve discussed above, I would argue there are scientific arguments for processing anger and intentionally exploring what is underneath it. I made these arguments in the book when I discussed how anger impacts immunity, tissue repair, problem solving, creativity and so on. I also address how we emotionally impact others because of our energetic interactions (e.g. electro-magnetism), sometimes occurring below the level of our awareness. Despite the literature, anger can’t be compartmentalized. Nor can it be felt simultaneously with love and compassion. It’s simply a physical impossibility.

In sum, the scientific argument is that if you want your activism to be fueled by creativity, love and compassion, you’d better process the anger. If anger fuels your activism you’re going to be challenged to think creatively and lovingly. It might also challenge your health and relationships.

Adding to this I think there are spiritual laws that tell us that Resistance is Futile (I’m a sci fi nerd, so pardon the Borg expression). I understood Bob Lovelace’s point about what resistance has done to his community. They are tired, broke, traumatized and their relationships have taken a hit. I wish I knew what I know now about resistance when I was titling my last fiction book. I would have called it something else.

If we took resistance out of its political/activist context and put it into another we would see the futility of it. Resisting my abusive partner, actively, aggressively or passively, does not make for right relationship. I cannot change him and I risk my life (or his) trying so I’m out of that relationship, building myself and my kids a better life (this is a hypothetical example – it never happened).

In one of my rabble.ca articles [“Protest culture: how’s working for us?”] I discuss this question. Sometimes resistance is called for but building alternatives is prevention, spiritual evolution and hastening systemic change. Resistance can be a place where folks get stuck, just as much as they can be stuck in anger.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself and you can decide. http://rabble.ca/news/2011/03/activist-response-abuse-personal-and-political

  1. N&c: One of the remarkable things about your book is that you point to the possibility of actively cultivating joy, compassion, and generosity. You advocate individual and collective experimentation with this, and you also differentiate this process from simply ‘being happy,’ ‘following your bliss,’ or chasing after positive experiences. This feels like a really important distinction, especially because capitalism is constantly bombarding us with new options for pleasure and consumption, which impede long-term, collective flourishing. Can you say more about the distinction between being joyful and feeling happy? Does joy sometimes require pain, loss, or the refusal of happiness?

ZA: Thanks, again, for allowing me the opportunity to explore these questions. That last question “Does joy sometimes require pain, loss, or the refusal of happiness?” really resonates strongly with me. Since I wrote the book I’ve encountered some published research exploring how postponing pleasure does two things: 1) promotes sustained satisfaction and 2) heightens pleasure when it is finally experienced.  For example, in one set of studies a group of people were offered sweets, which they were free to eat while completing some inconsequential questionnaire. Another group had sweets available but were told they were a reward for completing the questions. What they found was that the folks in the first group ate more sweets, faster and enjoyed them less. They were also less likely to interact with the other volunteers in the room with them. The second group ate less, ate slower, showed consideration for each other (in terms of “would you like that last red one” type of thing) and reportedly enjoyed the sweets more. (Enjoyment was self-reported on a scale.)

There are many more studies demonstrating that people who gift and share feel happier for longer than those who spend money on themselves. Some of that research is discussed in my book.

So it’s not exactly about “refusing” happiness. I think it’s more about understanding what makes us happy and realizing we’re not wired to flourish through selfishness, individualism and competition; we’re wired mentally, physically, emotionally & spiritually to flourish through kindness, forgiveness, compassion, cooperation and generosity.

Is it worth saying I don’t agree with some interpretations of Muslim and Christian ideas around seeking out suffering because the experience of it somehow purifies you; that life is about enduring suffering in order to earn some great reward in the afterlife? I think pain and joy are related. I think we already live in heaven but only recognize how joyful life is intermittently, accidentally and coincidentally – unless we develop an intentional practice that wires us to look for, expand and savor the joy that infuses our world. Since writing the book I’ve learned that the depths to which we can feel anything impacts the heights to which we can feel. So joy and pain are related and interdependent, like everything else, and numbness is a symptom of unprocessed emotions. Maybe numbness is the only real pain that exists.

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around Buddhist teachings that say detachment ends suffering. Maybe I should try to wrap my heart around the concept instead. I’m also having difficulty understanding clearly what is meant by detachment and how it’s different from numbness. So, I clearly have a lot to learn.

At the same time, Buddhist teachings seem really clear around the internal / external dynamic of emotional reactions to the ups and downs of life. That is, the notion around reacting joyfully or otherwise to external events versus cultivating a relationship with Oneness (The Great Spirit). I’ve never met him but the Dalai Lama is always smiling and chuckling; and the “happiest man in the world” (Matthieu Richard), is a Tibetan Buddhist monk, as explored in my book. Also, Buddhists I know are endlessly compassionate, which I much admire and respect, and in an MRI compassion looks like happiness. So I have a curiosity about Buddhism and its capacity to help us sustain joy. Clearly it’s an inside job. The more one depends on external events for happiness, the less resilience s/he/they will develop.

As for the rest of the questions, I think momentary pleasure and happiness can be found in stimulating the senses and engaging in pleasurable activities that can range from having sex to eating food. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that unless you become dependent on external events to invoke happiness. And it’s less about the ethics of “wrongness” than it is about the efficiency and effectiveness of achieving joy.

In my experience, sustained joy comes from connecting to my higher self/inner spirit; connecting meaningfully to friends and family, connecting to Our Relations, including those beings that are not from this realm. It also comes from contributing and being useful. There are many social and hard science studies that suggest this is universal and I think I covered some of that in the book.

  1. N&c: Some folks we’ve talked with have pointed out that there is a lot of gendered and racialized policing of emotional expression and behavior, and that folks who are most impacted by oppression are also the most regulated in terms of expectations imposed on their resistance. So there is a lot of suspicion about criticisms of anger, when there is so much racist, patriarchal, and colonial policing of oppressed peoples’ anger. In general, we are recognizing that a lot of these more subtle and nuanced discussions of anger and love can easily be misrepresented or misinterpreted as moral commandments that erase relations of power and end up regulating behaviour. You’ve written about the danger of fear and anger fuelling movements and actions, and about the need to root movements and action in compassion, love, care and relationships. This feels like a really important insight to us, and one that you write about with a lot of nuance. Can you speak to some of these pitfalls that come up in speaking and writing about fear, anger, love, and care, given the ways they’re so often used in oppressive ways?

ZA: I think I’ve addressed some of this above. The most contested aspects of my work from BIPOC, disabled, queer & trans folks are what I’ve written and said about anger. I sincerely believe what I write but I’m hardly the poster girl for having healed my heart. I’m a work in progress. So I don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer because I know how difficult it is to walk in this world and suffer multilateral micro and macroagressions several times a day, every day. And be afraid to raise the issue because of the possibility of losing your job, life, clients, marks or other stuff that matters to one’s survival and quality of life. As you know, I’ve had a few experiences of betrayal when people I trusted let me down. And I know what it’s like to be physically brutalized, or worse, watch those you love be brutalized and killed. That’s a lot to heal from. I feel wrong prescribing for others how to do that, whether I’ve mastered my process or not. I only offer information in the spirit that it might be useful for those who want to pick it up. At the same time, I marvel at how residential school survivors, victims of torture, folks who have lost their kids to war and others who have suffered incredible loss find love in their hearts at the most triggering of moments. Not all but many. And if they can do it I believe we all can.

Having said all that, knowing it’s true, sincerely believing it, I don’t want to hear any of that coming out of the mouth of someone who is privileged. I don’t think it’s useful or productive for people with privilege to participate in discussions about how to love, forgive, heal anger and all that with BIPOC and less privileged folks. First of all, I don’t think they know shit about our lives. And that means they are not credible sources of wisdom that is applicable to our lives. In the same way, I would never presume that what works for me would work for a Palestinian, for example, or that they’d even want to hear it. So that’s something I think privileged folks need to know before these discussions start.

Also, sometimes lefties and activists just talk too damned much. I certainly can. Healing doesn’t come from talking, as I discussed above. Talking doesn’t build trust. Building trust is a matter of action; it’s understanding that love, compassion, justice and all the rest are verbs not nouns.

Other than that I have nothing new to say: Check your privilege (and that applies to all of us). Learn how crying is a form of avoidance and obstructs accountability. Have more conversations that call people IN rather than out. Get skilled around resolving disagreements so they don’t turn into conflicts. Remember that deep listening is intrinsically calming for both parties. Be sincere. Be accountable. Accept you’ll make mistakes. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness. Etc. I think it’s been written many times.

In sum, the more we learn about our interconnectivity the more likely we’ll have a vested interest in being as caring and kind with each other. And the Earth will take care of the rest. The basis of privilege, certainly financial privilege, is eroding. We are coming to a time when we’ll need each other to survive. Maybe that will make us better people. At least for a while.

  1. N&c: You’ve also written about the importance of gratitude, arguing that it’s possible to cultivate an underlying sense of gratitude even in the face of oppression, violence, or material scarcity. Against suspicions that gratitude in an oppressive world is callous, insensitive, or complacent, you insist that gratitude can be enabling and grounding even under desperate conditions. Can you say more about this?

ZA: I have a gratitude practice and what often appears in my journal is “breath”. If you’re breathing, you’re alive. If you’re alive there’s reason for hope. You can be thankful and still want the world to be better; want your life to be better. At the same time, I don’t think it’s healthy to be grateful in every moment. Sometimes grief, sadness or fear is the appropriate and healthy response. But when the crisis has passed or it’s a chronic situation, focusing one’s attention on what there is to be grateful for literally eases the pain – physical, mental and emotional.

There is hard science that I review in the book so I won’t do it here. Suffice it to say gratitude has measurably positive impacts on wellness, relationships, goal achievement, performance and so much more.

To me it’s a spiritual law. If you do not express gratitude and criticize the gifts you receive, who is going to continue giving to you? Your mom, maybe. And that’s what the Earth does for us. She keeps giving even though we treat her like sh*t. But as we know she’s coming to the end of her capacity to keep giving because we as a species are ungrateful and have taken too much. That’s what happens on an energetic/spiritual level as well. The Great Sacred is conscious and lives within us and loves us. So why would She give to us if it makes us unhappy? Or, if that doesn’t fit your belief system, why would your Higher Self gift you if you don’t appreciate it?

In contrast, don’t you enjoy gifting people who appreciate what you offer? Gratitude brings more gifts. A physical and spiritual law.

  1. N&c: What are some of the ways you see people collectively cultivating gratitude? How do you see it being woven into communities and movements for change?

ZA: I addressed this question in my book Ways of Wielding: 13 Exercises in Group Care and Effectiveness. In the Indigenous communities I know about there’s a lot of formalized thanksgiving and occasions contrived as excuses to give and be grateful. From the Thanksgiving Address, to the Potlatch, to the Giveaway to the Blanket Dance – all culturally embedded processes centered around opportunities to give, share and be intentionally thankful.

Heterogeneous communities similarly find ways to cultivate gratitude with potlucks, paint parties, birthday celebrations, secret Santas, etc. But activist and community groups can formally recognize the benefits of gratitude and intentionally organize events around it. I offer some exercises in the book but anyone can dream up what fits their organizational culture.

  1. N&c: What tends to get in the way?

ZA: So many things. In addition to what’s already been discussed: A lack of acknowledging the importance of gratitude; not believing in its power. A sense that extending thanks is a weakness or an acknowledgement of neediness. A sense of superiority (ego). A sense of entitlement. An inability to acknowledge the common beinghood of those doing the gifting. Self absorption. A false sense of urgency and a belief in the scarcity of time. A sense that destination is more important than journey.

  1. N&c: One of the themes that emerged in a lot of our interviews is the importance of trust and relationships for creating and sustaining joyful militancy and transformative movement infused with love. Under conditions of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy, trust and friendship across these hierarchical divisions seems especially difficult, because settlers (especially white, rich, male settlers) and colonial governments have violated trust over and over, and broken trust is the status quo in many ways. What makes trust and friendship possible across these divides? Can it be rebuilt at the grassroots?

ZA: Regaining trust is a matter of intention and practice. It’s about being reliable, taking risks to be vulnerable and trusting yourself to handle whatever results. Also, being responsible/accountable, reliable, consistent, responsive, transparent and comforting.

In the end I’m not sure that privilege engenders trust so any privileges that one holds that can be divested should be. Owning land as a settler for example (even a racialized settler) — that’s a challenging one I’ve had Facebook conversations about. For some the land they’ve purchased or inherited is their sense of security in a world going to hell. In some cases, the best folks can manage is to share their land/property/home or make it available for community empowerment activities. But it’s a question we might think about tackling in the process of building alternatives. It points to the issue of trust as being an issue of trusting oneself fundamentally.

  1. N&c: You point to the importance of community-based alternatives such as the child breakfast programs organized by the Black Panthers. Are there other examples of autonomous alternatives, historically or today, that you find particularly inspiring?

ZA: There are so many examples in indigenous communities it’s hard to keep up. And some I can’t discuss.

  • The ceremonies and cultural practices are coming back.
  • People are hunting, trapping and fishing on their traditional territories, asserting their sovereignty. The women at Grassy Narrows are examples of this.
  • After the RCMP confiscated the national database from Sisters in Spirit, No More Silence Ontario has developed their own database of missing and murdered women, collecting information about police investigations, and lack thereof, as well as recording facts around the cases and family activities to obtain justice. I believe other provinces are doing similar work.
  • The curanderismo trainings I’ve gone to are about reclaiming knowledge, sharing knowledge, training and practicing the healing modalities so folks don’t have to rely on expensive allopathic healthcare. And so they know how to facilitate the body’s tremendous capacity for self-healing.
  • BIPOC folks recently collaborated on the construction of an eathship at Six Nations to learn how to do it for themselves.
  • The work I do helps people experience and learn about self healing while participating in workshops where folks get to share their stories, knowledges and practices with each other. This is in the interest of healing w/o allopathic intervention but also in the interest of building relationships across mostly BIPOC, queer and trans communities.
  • The 7 Directions Land Project: BIPOC, queer and straight folks learning to live sustainably in community on the land in partnership with an Indigenous Advisory Council and with the intention of building a Healing Centre for neighbouring communities.

Those are just a few examples local to me. There are hundreds if not thousands more.

  1. N&c: One of the major things you emphasize in your book is compassion, and its capacity to address trauma, fear, and anxiety. Can you speak to the importance of compassion in transformative movements?

ZA: Compassion measurably increases happiness. It activates the desire to take action to alleviate suffering, which is empowering for the actor and the beneficiaries of action. It is a prerequisite to creating a more equitable and just world. Compassion is an expansive state of mind that promotes physical wellness while enhancing problem solving and creative capacities. I think transformative movements can benefit from all that.

  1. N&c: One of the things we’re grappling with is that (as you point out in your book) the notions of love, happiness, and compassion have been commodified by capitalism and watered down by New Ageism so that they become individualistic and detached from conceptions of responsibility, accountability, and deep relationships. What does it look like to take these notions back from individualism and root them in community and transformative movement? Is this connected to your concept of “relationship framework”?

ZA: The relationship framework understands that all life is connected and there is no separation from one being to the next. It is a framework that sees The Great Sacred as conscious, alive, sentient and resident within all life. Any one being’s experience affects the rest of us, for better or worse. As Elders and wisdom teachers have been saying for millennia, there is no line anyone can point to that separates me from you or you from me. Or that separates humans from the Earth, the Sun and the Cosmos.

We are biologically wired for cooperation, compassion, generosity and other pro-social behaviours. This is measurable in the lab and we can see how these activities promote physical, mental and emotional wellness. We can measure how our emotions and intentions get shared as our biofields radiate them out into the world, impacting other life forms for better or worse.

Mother Earth and Father Sun role model for us every day how to give and share and treat each other well. They don’t demand money or prayer or anything in return. We already have all we need. There is no good reason to compete or hoard wealth and land. These behaviours are impediments to our wellness, happiness and social & physical evolution. In the end it’s an impediment to our spiritual evolution as well. To not evolve is to suffer the same pains over and over, unable to see how to avoid or heal them. Who wants to live like that? One may as well be dead. We might never get rid of pain entirely because each step in the evolutionary process brings new challenges that help us grow anew. It can be likened in the difference between being challenged with how to earn money so you can eat tomorrow verses deciding how to spend the paycheque you just earned at your dream job. Which challenge would you rather have? In climbing the evolutionary steps we are raising our game and in a better position to take in the new and more comprehensive view.

It doesn’t feel like there is any rational or heartwise alternative to cultivating pro-social behaviours. We can argue about what constitutes pro-social behavior, and that’s fair enough, but whether you invoke science or spirituality, the answers seem to be consistent on that point.

What will it look like when enough of us are living like we’re aware and mindful of interconnection? As a futurist author I think about that a lot and even write about it. Who can predict? I’m willing to trust the process and see what happens.


Zainab Amadahy is of mixed race background that includes African American, Cherokee, Seminole, Portuguese, Amish, Polynesian and other trace elements (if DNA testing is accurate). She is an author of screenplays, nonfiction and futurist fiction, the most notable being the adequately written yet somehow cult classic “Moons of Palmares”. Based in peri-apocalyptic Toronto, Zainab is the mother of 3 grown sons and a cat who allows her to sit on one section of the couch.

Joyful Militancy by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery, with foreword by Hari Alluri, is published by AK Press in collaboration with the IAS.

Interviewees include Silvia Federici, adrienne maree brown, Marina Sitrin, Gustavo Esteva, Tasnim Nathoo, Kelsey Cham Corbett, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Sebastian Touza, Walidah Imarisha, Margaret Killjoy, Glen Coulthard, Richard Day, Melanie Matining, Zainab Amadahy and Mik Turje.

Includes full interviews of Silvia Federici and Kelsey Cham C.

[1] On November 13th 2015, suicide bombers and gunmen led a coordinated attack on a stadium, a concert hall, and restaurants and bars, killing 130 people in Paris. As with other attacks, governments responded by intensifying policing and securitization, and Islamophobia intensified in France and elsewhere. See http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/11/14/Paris-Muslims-brace-for-Islamophobia.html

[2] Earlier in our process of researching and writing the book, we were using the concept of ‘sad militancy’ in place of what we now call ‘rigid radicalism.’ We made this change to avoid confusion with the emotion of sadness, hoping to specifically work through the ways that certain forms of radicalism can be come toxic and depleting. Rather than connoting despair or unhappiness, in her answer to this question Amadahy associates sad militancy with ‘contraction’ and this is in line with what we were trying to get at: a reduction in the capacity to feel, think, create, or relate.