Initiative and Initiation: Beginning a MISSION in the Philippines.

Originally posted on Published in LILIPOH, Winter 2011, Vol. 16 Issue 62, p44-45, a PDF of which is downloadable here. (Or here: LILIPOH_Initiative_and_Initiation)

“Freedom is the capacity to begin–and to begin again.”

These are words spoken by Orland Bishop barely an hour ago, words which I find myself meditating upon as I sit on a window ledge in Stuttgart, Germany–more than ten thousand kilometers from the Philippines, the land of my heart and birth. They say that distance lends one a deeper level of understanding, and each experience of beauty on this continent leads to thoughts of the work back home, where initiatives are sprouting in rapid succession, mostly in response to the intensity of need. Each whiff of cold, crisp air brings to mind Manila’s ecological and societal pollution; each conversation (oft-accompanied by biodynamic bread) with Europe’s initiative-takers reminds me of friends in the budding social threefolding movement in the Philippines, of other young people who are equally hungry for a better world.

Not to encourage some romanticized dichotomy between the developed world and the global south, but it seems that on the physical plane, third-world activists have a distinct advantage. As opposed to a society where everything “works” and the spiritual crisis is comparatively invisible, for the most part, having in-your-face corruption and degradation makes for a tangible sense of task. A task to begin anew; to start the process of building a better world. After all, when you’re at the absolute rock bottom—as the Philippines seems to be—there’s nowhere to go but up.

Hence, our involvement in MISSION.

MISSION is a handy acronym for “Movement of Imaginals for a sustainable society through Implementation, Organiza- tion and Networking.” A rather big mouthful, true, but its task is relatively straightforward: to work towards a better Philippines and a healthier, more sustainable world. As a conglomeration of individuals rallying under the banner of integral sustainable development, the passions of the people who compose MIssION are wide and varied, ranging from poverty eradication to cultural work, socially-responsible and green business, film, design, organic farming, environmental regeneration, community organizing, youth empowerment, peace building, anti-corruption, national and global advocacy work, new spirituality, healing, micro-finance, new governance, visionary education, leadership training, media and so on.

One way or another, these individuals were brought together by the May 2010 elections, where many were volunteers and supporters for New Politics[1] via the presidential campaign of Nicanor Perlas.[2] It has been said that in a spiritual battle, there are no defeats, only different forms of manifesting a spiritual ideal. MISSION was a means of understanding this experientially: from being a loose network of individuals carrying out their initiatives in relative isolation, the Perlas campaign had the effect of bringing the need for collective action into full consciousness. There then arose a very strong desire and intention to continue the task of transforming the country, albeit in a more societal context, where the political realm is but one of seven dimensions, including the realms of business, culture, ecology, spirituality and the individuals that permeate all these.

At the core of MISSION, however, is that all acts of initiative must be grounded on inner change and self-transformation. Any kind of societal renewal is necessarily a spiritual renewal. going beyond an oppositional form of activism that rails against injustice (although that is important too), MISSION’s goal is to create initiatives in business, politics and culture that can give us a glimpse of an alternate world. What is the future that wants to be born through and with us? By asking this question, we are able to look at the prevailing challenges with hope and compassion, and so, begin again.

And now the gong rings, signaling the start of a session in this youth training I am currently attending, and my mind goes back home, where a key meeting for MISSION is being held as I type. I find it intriguing that the words “initiative” and “initiation” both come from the Latin initiare, “to begin.” The faces of my coworkers flash before me, and it strikes me how initiative-taking also becomes a process of initiation, whereold mindsets and patterns of working and living must die so that something new can emerge.

This kind of willing is often described in terms of volunteerism, where people freely offer to take part in a task, mostly (if not completely) without any form of remuneration. To use the word “volunteer” is not exactly precise, in my mind, as its traditional usage connotes giving time to something that is external from oneself, the way that we can volunteer at orphanages and housing projects on weekends off from work. This element of sharing in freedom is key, but the work that is asked for now cannot be removed from our everyday existence. From friends who worked full-time in the Perlas campaign for a year without recompense, to doctors who provide health services to the poorest of the poor in Mindanao—these are acts that we must do because

they speak to what is highest in us. such acts, freely chosen, are not external to us. In some ways, they are done because life itself calls us to do them. In this form of commitment, both destiny and freedom come into play. We are called to sacrifice our “puny, unfree will,” as the Austrian philosopher Buber puts it, to our “grand will,” and in doing so, we must pay attention to what is emerging from ourselves, “not in order to be supported by it, but to bring it to reality as it desires.” Only then can we be lent the capacities to change the given, to create new realities in cooperation with others.

These ideals are embodied in the term “imaginal,” which in biological science refers to the cells that develop after a caterpillar builds a cocoon and dissolves itself into liquid form. As the imagination of a future reality, it is these imaginal cells which appear amidst the old cells and gradually knit themselves together into the tissues, organ systems and the entire organism we call the butterfly. This phenomenon is a powerful metaphor for social transformation, and MISSION is built around this vision. As imaginal individuals within society, MISSION’s initiative-takers strive to embody the future in all their present deeds and initiatives. The future form of a sustainable society starts becoming a reality in the present when these “imaginals” act on and implement an image of the future and then organize and form networks with other imaginal individuals to turn this positive image of the future into reality and transform the ecological, cultural, economic, and political life of the country.

The steady sibilance of Deutsch snaps me out of my reverie, bringing me back to this space where the kinder cadence of Tagalog is present only with the “Maligayang Pagdating” written on the blackboard, which the training organizers wrote as a gesture of comfort. As opposed to its counterparts “Welcome” and “Willkommen,” pagdating translates directly to “arrival,” a happy be-coming. An apt greeting, given that my presence here is, in many ways, a beginning for two organizations, PAGASA Youth (Peoples Assembly for genuine Alternatives to Social Apathy) and MISSION, as we begin to link up with the world. We started PAGASA youth three years ago as a means of cultivating the active and sustained involvement of young Filipinos in social transformation, but it was only this last April that we organized EMERGE!2010, a conference/training on cultural power with friends from Think OutWord, and the Youthsection. This global collaboration led to an escalation of the work, creating ripples that continue to grow and multiply with every gesture and intention.

Coming here was a beginning, as will be my return to the Philippines, as is every single day of living and striving for something better. From PAGASA Youth to YAKAP to PANGMASA to Musikeraw to the many biodynamic farming and green tech and environmental and Waldorf education initiatives in the islands of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—all these images and hopes carry much self-sacrifice and work, but a lot of joy as well.

And so we begin, and begin again.

[1] New Politics: societal threefolding/ integral sustainable development as applied in governance and policy.

[2] Nicanor Perlas is only one of two Filipinos who has been given the Right Livelihood Award for “outstanding vision and work on behalf of the planet and its people.” He is a visionary civil society leader in the Philippines and internationally, and has served by being part of or consultant to influential institutions of government, international bodies, global agencies and civil society organizations, including various UN bodies, APEC, as well as the Centre for Alternative Development initiatives (CADi). A vocal advocate for sustainable agriculture practices (including biodynamics), and for a tri-sector approach to policy-making (societal threefolding), his work has affected a wide spectrum of initiatives and impulses. For more on his ideas, read Shaping Globalization: Civil Society, Cultural Power and Threefolding or visit

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