Darnell Lamont Walker leading Rituals Writing Workshop
Agents of Change Believe That One Is That: Q&A with Susan and John Marks

If you are seeing the world with new eyes these days, you’re not alone. Faced with the pandemic — accompanied by grief, loss, fear, anxiety, and more — we may be focusing on what we can do to survive and then, navigate toward the future.

In these revelations, there is opportunity. In fact, there’s a calling, according to two leaders of change from Search for Common Ground (Search), the largest peacebuilding non-profit in the world. 

“The world is at a crossroads,” said Susan Collin Marks, Search’s Peace Ambassador. “We are in the midst of nothing less than radical transformation.  Our challenge is to respond with wisdom, love and openness in the face of fear, anger and contraction.” 

Nominated for a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize and the result of meetings at Esalen in the early 1980s, founder John Marks believes his life’s work is more critical than ever. 

If people are paralyzed by the now, then nothing will change,” said John Marks, who went on to add that “the great majority of people do not recognize the nature of the challenges and do not take action to assure that their leaders and their governments take necessary corrective steps.” 

As most of us may wonder at times, what action might we take that will make a difference? The tipping point may be this: first meet, then listen, to your inner wisdom, which could lead you to the tools needed to enact change for the common good. 

John Marks and Susan Collin Marks will lead a workshop November 12 - 14, 2021: Wisdom Teachings for Agents of Change. They took a moment to help us understand our own capacities and capabilities for becoming agents, ourselves. 

Christine Chen: Many describe “now” as overwhelming. What do you say about “now”?

Susan Collin Marks: When we consciously live in the now, we are centered and stable. Our steady presence helps others keep their footing in a world turned upside down.  Now is also this time. There is no “before and after COVID”, there is ”before COVID and now.” The choices we make right now will define our individual and collective futures, and the future of the planet. The pandemic has generated demands for transforming old ways of thinking as well as massive resistance to anything new. Our best option is to work with it and engage everyone on all sides in an heroic quest for the common good.

CC: What does it mean to be an agent of change? 

John Marks: Given the huge challenges that we face as global citizens, it is completely understandable for people to withdraw. However, if too many do, things will never change. To be an agent of change is to believe that one is that. It also requires a commitment to helping create a better world. We all live on this planet together, and we share our common humanity. Things will never change if no one shows up to make it happen. 

CC: Why is it everyone’s responsibility to show up? 

SCM: We are all needed. Together we make the whole. Yet, we each have our unique part to play, and when any one of us is missing, there is a hole in the fabric of life. We are each responsible for how collectively we navigate these times.   

JM: The way to do better is to do better.

CC: What is the difference between being “woken up” and being “woke” — and why does this matter? 

JM: To me, being awake means acting from the premise that one makes a difference. Being woke tends to mean acting from a prescribed set of beliefs. There certainly can be overlap between the two.

CC: What is the one thing we can do today to make a difference in our immediate community? 

SCM: Our job is to redeem the world, nothing less. We start by remembering we are not alone. It’s a moment of revelation for all of us. Our task is to make decisions about the kind of world we want, starting with our own lives and living each day through our bravest, kindest, most constructive selves. We take our lives in our hands and vow never ever to let go.

“Remembering to be as self compassionate as I can and praying to the divine that we're all a part of.” 

“Prayer, reading, meditation, walking.”
“Erratically — which is an ongoing stream of practice to find peace.”
“Try on a daily basis to be kind to myself and to realize that making mistakes is a part of the human condition. Learning from our mistakes is a journey. But it starts with compassion and caring. First for oneself.”

“Physically: aerobic exercise, volleyball, ice hockey, cycling, sailing. Emotionally: unfortunately I have to work to ‘not care’ about people or situations which may end painfully. Along the lines of ‘attachment is the source of suffering’, so best to avoid it or limit its scope. Sad though because it could also be the source of great joy. Is it worth the risk?“

“It's time for my heart to be nurtured on one level yet contained on another. To go easy on me and to allow my feelings to be validated, not judged harshly. On the other hand, to let the heart rule with equanimity and not lead the mind and body around like a master.”

“I spend time thinking of everything I am grateful for, and I try to develop my ability to express compassion for myself and others without reservation. I take time to do the things I need to do to keep myself healthy and happy. This includes taking experiential workshops, fostering relationships, and participating within groups which have a similar interest to become a more compassionate and fulfilled being.“

“Self-forgiveness for my own judgments. And oh yeah, coming to Esalen.”
–David B.

“Hmm, this is a tough one! I guess I take care of my heart through fostering relationships with people I feel connected to. Spending quality time with them (whether we're on the phone, through messages/letters, on Zoom, or in-person). Being there for them, listening to them, sharing what's going on with me, my struggles and my successes... like we do in the Esalen weekly Friends of Esalen Zoom sessions!”

“I remind myself in many ways of the fact that " Love is all there is!" LOVE is the prize and this one precious life is the stage we get to learn our lessons. I get out into nature, hike, camp, river kayak, fly fish, garden, I create, I dance (not enough!), and I remain grateful for each day, each breath, each moment. Being in the moment, awake, and remembering the gift of life and my feeling of gratitude for all of creation.”
“My physical heart by limiting stress and eating a heart-healthy diet. My emotional heart by staying in love with the world and by knowing that all disappointment and loss will pass.“
–David Z.

Today, September 29, is World Heart Day. Strike up a conversation with your own heart and as you feel comfortable, encourage others to do the same. As part of our own transformations and self-care, we sometimes ask for others to illuminate and enliven our hearts or speak our love language.

What if we could do this for ourselves too, even if just for today… or to start a heart practice, forever?

Susan Collin Marks’ and John Marks’ upcoming workshop, Wisdom Teachings for Agents of Change, is sold out, but you can get on the waitlist to be notified of a spot or a second workshop added to the schedule in the coming months.

And if you’re a Friend of Esalen and donated $500+ this year, remember to enter your special code to get on the Priority Waitlist.

Join the waitlist


Christine Chen

Christine Chen is the host of Esalen Live! and Chief Editor of The Journal. She is a two-time Emmy winning journalist, best-selling author, California native, and senior teacher of yoga and Ayurveda on Esalen Faculty.