Shannon Wills

Creator of Wake Up, Human

Shannon M. Wills is a writer and artist based in Denver, Colorado, working at the intersection of psychology, spirituality, and social justice. A dedicated student of the world’s mystical traditions, her passion lies in delving into life’s mysteries, mining them for wisdom to apply to our modern lives. She previously served as director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, and co-founded Nonviolence Lab, a training organization for nonviolent philosophy and practice. Her current explorations center on nature connection, spiritual ecology, and indigenous European forms of healing. She recently launched Wake Up, Human, a project dedicated to “reawakening the native powers of the human being,” and the potential of those powers to build a more conscious, compassionate, and connected world.


Wake Up, Human: from separation to wholeness

Wake Up, Human is rooted in the pain I feel at witnessing suffering, in myself and others, and my lifelong search to understand and heal my part of the great wounds of our planet. I believe that so much of the pain we create in our inner and outer worlds is due to our being separated from our native wisdom, through social and cultural conditioning. I also believe that by coming back into reconnection with our true nature, we can heal the divides in our society, our relationships, and our psyche. As an offering toward healing, in this project I explore the nature of our separation from our native wisdom, the sources of our separation, and the ways we can come back into wholeness, for the good of all life. 

A bit about my journey…and still waking up.

I’ve been a student of various spiritual traditions for some 25 years, and the beginning point for my long student-ship was my own desire to understand and transcend my own suffering. My journey in a sense has been nothing more than my attempt to heal my own trauma, both personal trauma and the trauma of living in a society that does not offer us a means to experience our fullness as full human beings.

I started my exploration toward wholeness upon discovering the American Transcendentalists as a teenager, especially the work of naturalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Over the years I continued my exploration of the social mind and the psyche, as devoted student of ancient and modern philosophy, history of religion, Buddhist teachings and meditation, yoga and Ayurveda, shamanism, Taoism, and ancient Christian mysticism. I’ve also studied both the mystical and modern branches of psychology, earning my university degree in the latter. In short, my journey has been a meandering exploration, both inward and outward, into the elusive core of the perennial philosophy.

In addition to my journey of spiritual study, I have been an activist for most of my life, most consistently as a passionate voice for animal rights. Professionally I worked in the field of animal welfare for years, earning my first degree in veterinary medicine. But heartbroken, I turned to psychology when I came to understand that the disgraceful treatment of animals in our society is rooted in the disgraceful state of the human psyche. In order to heal our world, I knew, we’d need to heal our selves.

The gift: discovering nonviolence.

I reached a culminating point in my search toward healing when I discovered the teachings of nonviolence, which combines activism, psychology, and spirituality in a unified, practical teaching. Nonviolence taught me to channel my fierce passions into work for good, to “express anger under discipline for maximum effect,” as MLK, Jr. would say, while refusing to contribute more pain or harm to the world.

It was my great good fortune to be invited by Gandhian scholar, professor Michael Nagler, to serve as the director of the Metta Center for Nonviolence in Berkeley, California. That position allowed me to grow as both activist and spiritual seeker, as well as a leader. Upon leaving Metta, I co-founded Nonviolence Lab, a training organization for the philosophy and practice of nonviolence. Since that time my life’s work has been an effort to integrate spirituality and activism in practical tools for living, to ease suffering of mind, body, spirit, and planet.

I subscribe to the adage that “if spiritual people become active and activists become spiritual” we can find a healing and peace that is desperately needed in our world. I see this project, Wake Up, Human, as a culmination of my explorations thus far, and as a form of personal activism that I can offer toward healing the broken spirit of our world. 

My wish for us all.

If I could change just one thing about the world, I would open our collective human eyes, as they used to be open, to the sacredness of life. That we could once again live in interconnection to all life, and would no longer be able to destroy each other and our planet for our short-term benefit. I would open our eyes to the value of living beyond our self interest, to the interest of our natural world and all its beings. I especially would wish this for our leaders, because when they can’t open their own eyes, hearts and souls, to live compassionately, it becomes much harder for the rest of us to do it. My sincere prayer is for us—all of us—to wake up.

I am far from perfect, and I have a ton to learn. I’m a work in progress, and I know we all are. I’m not an expert in any of this; I’m a passionate student. But I work hard at this study. I dedicate myself to compassion and spirit because I believe it is what the world needs, and what I need. I am far from the lost and angry atheist of my youth, but I am still rooted in her fire, and willing to fight for what is sacred.


I bow in deep gratitude

To the following teachers who have blessed me with their wisdom on this journey:

  • Deepest gratitude to Prof. Michael Nagler, and his beloved teacher Sri Eknath Easwaran, of Metta Center for Nonviolence and Blue Mountain Center for Meditation.
  • Deepest gratitude to my teacher B.K. Bose of Niroga Institute, Oakland, CA, where I completed my training in yoga and youth-focused mindfulness training.
  • Deepest gratitude to Dr. Alex Feng, Zhi Dao Guan, Oakland California, with whom I have had the gift of studying Taoist meditation and medical qigong.
  • Gratitude to Cate Stillman of Yoga Healer, from whom I have learned the healing tradition of Ayurveda, and the rebalancing of mind, body, and spirit through modern diet and body practices.
  • Gratitude to Tonja Reichley and her Serpent and the Veil Mystery School, for initiating me into the native ways of knowing of my indigenous European roots.

To the following institutions that have contributed to my healing, such that I may serve:

  • Gratitude to Alternatives to Violence Project, California, where I became a certified AVP facilitator and was given the gift of offering both community and prison-based nonviolence workshops.
  • Gratitude to S.N. Goenka and the tradition of Vipassana meditation, especially the Dhamma Kuñja meditation center in Onalaska, WA, for your generous teachings in waking up from suffering.
  • Gratitude to Gajananam and the Vishnu-devananda Yoga Vedanta Center, Fremont, CA, for your teachings in Vedanta, Sanskrit and yoga in the Sivananda tradition.
  • Gratitude to the ancient Gnostics and the lineage holders of the modern day Gnostic tradition, for reconnecting me with the mystical branches of my baptized Christian religion.
  • Gratitude to the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, in whose hands I am still a beginner, for showing me the way to spirit’s voice within the deafness of our modern culture.
  • Gratitude to The Conflict Center, Denver, CO, for the guidance I needed to shepherd others toward peace, while also discovering my own need for healing within.

And finally, to my first beloved mentor Henry David Thoreau, thank you for showing me light in the darkness of youth, and setting me out on the right foot. You said, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” I vowed to never be that gal. I am marching to a different drummer because of you.