Howard Thurman and the Art of Everyday Activism

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

Well, I have returned from my road-warrior adventures, and am settling back into my Bay Area routine. Part of that is that I have committed to blogging more regularly. So as I sit here in front of my laptop, I contemplate all the things I could blog about. The Pro Bloggers say I should offer you all something useful; you know, some helpful tips from my own life that will surely enhance your own.  Or I should say something witty and inspiring.  “27 things I’ve learned from doing (insert ‘thing you wish you were doing’ here)”.  But that all feels rather contrived just now.  Now – and most times really – I would rather just speak from my heart, and maybe that will connect to you in some way that is meaningful for both of us. For really, we’re all in this together, right?  We all have hopes and dreams, we all share uncertainty about our future and the future of our world. We all strive to be good people and create a better world, and we all struggle with feelings of failure on that front.

So here’s where I’m at today. I have slipped into the typical post-tour depression I knew would come.  It always happens – I get home, and realize that I have transformed overnight from “Musician” to “Unemployed”. I don’t have another tour lined up nor have I solved the problem of what work I do when not on the road. The work I’ve been doing when not touring has become spotty at best. And this time out we didn’t make enough to float us for the few months it usually takes to generate more gigs. I know, I should have been booking while on the road, but due to computer problems, this became more difficult than it already is when most of your time is spent driving, performing, or visiting folks you haven’t seen in awhile.

Also – the world sucks. Not that that’s news. But it just keeps sucking and I wish it would stop. I won’t go into the ways in which the world is sucking, you all know. The point I’m musing on today isn’t so much all the suckitude, but rather, our own – my own – reaction to it. Part of the sadness comes from wondering if who I truly feel I am at the core of my being is relevant to where the world is. This is a strange feeling, and one I have struggled with for years. So it’s not the “Unemployed” element that bugs me so much as wondering if the world really needs a fantasy-folk-rock singer to come around and spin tales of pirates and phoenixes when they aren’t even sure if they’ll be able to buy groceries next month. Living my idyllic life and telling you all about it on my blog seems trite at times like these. Shouldn’t I have a more “serious” life? A more serious mission?

Now before you all chime in and tell me I’m swell, let me say that I am not revealing my vulnerabilities so that you’ll bolster my confidence by saying “Sharon you rock”.  I don’t really need that.  Because, I eventually end up remembering that quote by Howard Thurman that I included at the beginning of this post.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

And I remember that I want to live in a world that is shaped by magick, imagination, and creativity. I want to live in a world where people are passionate about what they are doing with their lives. I want to live in a world where beauty is a priority. And the best way I can live in that world is to live it myself, every day.

So I strive to create beauty with song. I strive to create beauty with the clothing that I make for myself and for others, I strive to create beauty when I cook and in the way I arrange my home. In every movement, in every action I take, I strive to convey a sense of beauty. And kindness. I can choose to be one of the people that doesn’t cut you off on the freeway, that smiles at you in the grocery store, and that feeds your parking meter.

I don’t need to be somebody other than who I am to do these things.  I can find ways to incorporate actions into my life that shape the world in the direction I want. It is one of the finest awareness practices we can undertake, and one that is deeply rewarding if we can cultivate it as an ongoing discipline. This is a commitment I have made to myself. And as I remember this, I feel better.

At times when I feel the world bleeding and wonder if I am relevant, if I shouldn’t instead be an activist, or a farmer, or a revolutionary, it helps me to remember that we can engage in everyday activism by being present to who we want to be in every moment. That, in being genuine, we give the world the greatest gift we have to offer.

With that, I leave you with another quote from Howard Thurman –

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.”

8 thoughts on “Howard Thurman and the Art of Everyday Activism

  1. If you want my opinion (and even if you don’t), you are and always have been a true Strowler. By default this makes you both activist and revolutionary. As to whether the world needs a fantasy-folk-rock storyteller spinning yarns of pirates, phoenixes (or is that phoenixi?), the world needs that now more than ever! It’s in times of hardship that folks like yourself are called to arms for the morale of us all. Bard’s not only entertained, they told the news (if rather embellished), they connected people of the land together by inspiring hope and passion. So don’t ever think you shouldn’t be doing this because it seems frivolous, it’s vital.

    Your bigger issue is much harder to address, bards were homeless as often as not. Perhaps it may be good to try to go where your strengths lie. You have a gift for words and an ear for good music, perhaps writing for a local entertainment mag or website could generate some supplemental income. Or perhaps writing a book of cost-saving tips for cross-country traveling (I’m sure you had to develop some of those).

  2. Oh, I adore that Howard Thurman quote, and I’d forgotten it until I got around to browsing your blog. Thank you!

    I really resonate with that feeling that I ought to be doing serious work (cue frowny forehead). In fact, I am/have been attempting to do ‘serious’ work, by working on my PhD and towards a career (wow, I’m finally going to have one of those in my 40s?!) as an academic.

    But at the moment, it feels… well, it feels fake. It feels like something I’m doing because I should, because it will mean that I’m respectable in the world, not because I have a real passion for research.

    It’s also been a hidden ambition for a long time, so the fake feeling could also be fear, but when I write, when I sing, when I teach, when I conduct rituals, when I listen to clients, that doesn’t feel fake; in fact, I’m so present, I’m not aware of what I’m feeling at all – I’m just there, and that is such a joyful feeling.

  3. Hi Sharon,
    A lot of what you wrote resonated with me too. Thank you.
    Bards and artists ARE (always have been) ‘activists’ – it is through our work/play/selves that we illuminate the magic in the world for others. :)
    Blessings from Oz,
    Suzana

  4. Speaking as an activist and revolutionary who is about to become a farmer, let me just remind you that I would have neither the inspiration nor strength to do what I do without the artists whose work rejuvenates, restores and motivates me.

    Dr. Thurman was spot on, doubt not :) xx

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