The Privilege of Doing Inner Work

As these summer months come to an end and the Inner Activist gears up for our upcoming offerings, our staff Jorge Salazar and Tahia Ahmed reflect on the lessons they have learned about doing their work from the inside out.

Dear Inner Activist Community,

We hope this has been a good summer season for you all. Summer months are coming to an end and while we have been doing most of our work inward, with new people joining us on our Steering Committee and faculty, we are now gearing up for our offerings of courses, tasters and partnerships.

One of these partnerships occurred this summer with the organizers of Social Change Institute 2018 (SCI) at Hollyhock hosted on Klahoose, Tla’amin, and Homalco territory. We offered a plenary session called “The Privilege of Doing Inner Work: An Intersectional Approach” and a follow-up workshop entitled, “The Only Way Out is Through: Scenarios in Inner Work”. We are sharing this experience as a window into where Inner Activist is headed in its work; beginning with asking leaders in our community: what is inner work?

“Inner Work is a process that supports me to work on building a world in which all beings - which means Earth in all of its ecological, cultural and spiritual diversity - are liberated from oppression and exploitation. This work is influenced by the patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving that have emerged from my relationships with my family, community, and personal and social identities. These relationships have caused both trauma and empowerment, marginalization and privilege. Inner Work helps me discover and acknowledge my internal, relational and systemic patterns, drives, and blind spots, as well as skills to stay grounded in my values; to work and live in alignment with the change I want to see; to develop and maintain respectful, creative relationships; to nurture my energy so I can sustain my work over time;  and to effectively and respectfully use the powers and privileges I have.” ~ Christine Fletcher, Co-chair at The Inner Activist

“It has taken my lifetime thus far to incorporate a holistic practice that allows space to compassionately explore my inner self, to name and heal trauma and to integrate my lived experience so that I can meaningfully share with others. Inner work includes an understanding that my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental wellness are connected to systemic oppressions, and has fuelled my desire to create change. Some of my most vulnerable moments that have motivated my inner learnings, originated from outer conflicts and oppressions. As a woman of colour, my lens is intersectional and informs all that I do as an activist. When inner work leads to the realization that we are interconnected, that we do not exist separately, it allows for infinite possibility for how we chose to be in this world.” ~ Natasha Tony, Co-chair at The Inner Activist

“I think of inner work as work in humility - the work needed to undo our own internalized sense of hierarchy and power. It is fostering the commitment to collective liberation and complex social relations over individual gain or ego. I think inner work can become self-absorbed and isolationist in ways that reinforce privilege, and must therefore be within the context of our responsibilities to each other and the land. Healing justice addresses systemic trauma and honours both our individual care needs as well as our ethical obligations to each other and the earth by recognizing that we are interdependent and that social relations are informed by power.” ~ Harsha Walia, migrant justice activist & author of Undoing Border Imperialism

"When I think about how I do my inner work with regards to community building and activism, I immediately think that I cannot do it well unless I think of the inner and the outer as intrinsically tied together. This is where connection happens, and without connections (to ourselves and others) life is brutal. I see it as a feedback loop, always working in unison to ensure that I have the capacity to work in accordance to my values and to do all that from a deep place of compassion and love, not only to myself, but in my organizing and relationships as well." ~ Carla Bergman, co-founder of EMMA Talks & author of Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times

Building on this conversation, we offer our exploration of inner work with an intersectional lens with 4 reflections from our exposure to inner work and the social justice sector. Intersectionality was first introduced to the feminist movement by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a black feminist critique asserting that the experience of oppression in one social location such as being black cannot be separated from the oppression experienced in the social location of being a woman. An intersectional analysis asserts that multiple layers of marginalization are experienced simultaneously and that we cannot separate these experiences in our attempts to dismantle oppressive systems.

Rage too comes from the heart.We have a tendency to shame and wrong feelings of anger and rage, especially when they are felt and expressed by racialized people, and particularly women. With an intersectional approach, we can situate these emotions within the context of systemic oppression and violence. When spaces stigmatize rage and anger, they inadvertently erase the experience of oppression and as a result make these spaces inaccessible and/or irrelevant for marginalized communities.

Living through spiritual estrangement. The colonial process around the globe has deliberately disconnected people – particularly racialized people - from their spiritual and cultural practices and traditions. In many mainstream and white dominant inner work spaces, we see both the appropriation of these practices for the purpose of personal transformation, as well as barriers to access created for marginalized folks through commodification and whitewashing. An intersectional lens takes into account who gets to offer these teachings and who has access. It would also recognize that for many people their spiritual traditions including religious practice are at the core of their inner work process instead of prioritizing secular inner work spaces.

Trauma is not isolated from systems. Reducing trauma to isolated or circumstantial one-off events experienced by an individual, fails to situate traumatic experiences within systems of oppression. Inner work in a community context needs to acknowledge how trauma is intimately related to the impacts of patriarchy, racism, capitalism, and colonialism.

Challenging individualism. For many communities, inner work does not happen in isolation and without witness. Effective inner work always connects individuals back to community for the purpose of social transformation. In fact, sometimes the conditions for inner work require the outer work of social mobilization and systemic change which requires community connection.

The impact of sharing these reflections with the participants at SCI challenged us but did not take us by surprise. It was clear during our sessions that intersectionality and an analysis of power and privilege in social change work can be demanding in ways that feels vulnerable including for folks who experience dominant privilege. In navigating these conversations, we can end up outside of our learning zone and in the panic zone where our fears and feelings of guilt can produce more harm to marginalized folks. As social change leaders and progressives, we need to begin by taking a closer look at how these issues show up within our change-making communities and organizations. And this challenge requires inner work in order to give ourselves and others the opportunity to learn and grow. And don’t worry, we at The Inner Activist continue to learn with you.

Here are a few upcoming opportunities to join us.

Try our taster workshop for this course on September 28th, 5:30pm-8:30pm at Creekside Community Centre with Camille Dumond.

Full course, Conscious Use of Power ~ October 23-28, 2018

This course aims to help you understand your relationship to power in order to be a more effective collaborator and ally.


  • Camille Dumond
  • Natasha Aruliah
  • Jackie Larkin
  • Kris Archie (from our new partner organization The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada


In solidarity,

Tahia and Jorge