Politics is messy. We all agree on this, right?
What about this question, though: is it more or less spiritual to stay out of politics? What’s your opinion there?
I just saw a social media post by a popular spiritual author who is followed by thousands of spiritual movers and shakers, who basically said he was chucking politics because it was too polarizing and he wanted to focus on the spiritual. He is a white, well-off, male.
I also saw another social media comment by a spiritual author who is a white male, too, and self-described as reasonably well-off. Here’s his comment:
“I’m aware that my life is not much different than it was two years ago. In fact, I’m probably a bit better off financially. It would be easy to settle into that privilege and allow the world to go by. For me, indeed, this time shall pass. But I have deep concerns about those for whom this time is devastating and life-threatening. I’m aware the people in rural parts of the country have very limited access to healthcare. Rural hospitals continue to close. Restrictions on immigration will impact their ability to attract physicians and nurses. I’m deeply troubled by the immigrant children separated from their parents. That trauma is the stuff that can be the foundation for the kinds of multigenerational transmission of trauma seen today among Native American people and other groups. Of course, there are the Black men killed, those killed in gun violence in schools and other public places, and the poor treatment of our seniors. The list is long.
I participate in demonstrations, write letters, use my voice to raise awareness, contribute to progressive causes and campaigns. But the tide of hatred, bigotry, and self-centeredness is overwhelming.
In the midst of the massive injustice of these times, my hope is that we can just be a bit kinder to each other. My partner, Kin, helped me to gain insight into my need to be more aware of my responses to others as a white man while on a road trip to Louisville. I’ve tried to be more aware that my actions don’t add to the burden others carry. (If only I could do better with that when driving!)
I think it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. We need each other more than ever to make the world a better place.”
~by Lou Kavar. Used with permission FaceBook comment, 6/12/2018.
I love Lou’s response. He sees his privilege. Even though he is overwhelmed, he is doing everything he can to be a voice of love and light. He isn’t “chucking politics for the spiritual” but instead, is seeing them as integral to each other.
If you are someone who tends to shy away from politics because you think it’s not spiritual, or because you think it’s too polarizing, I understand. I used to think similarly as I am a big conflict-adverse personality type. After learning this one the hard way, though, I would like to offer another viewpoint. Perhaps one of the big reasons people stay away from politics (besides anxiety, stress, overwhelm—as Lou himself points out—and fight-or-flight paralysis!) is because they are not impacted directly by the politics at hand. That is, they have privilege, the option, to stay away, as Lou recognizes.
For if someone’s children were shot by police (illegally)... If their spouse was deported (illegally)… If their grandchildren were forcefully separated from their parents (illegally) when seeking asylum in another country... If their neighbor’s civil rights were taken away (illegally)... If they were the ones who’d been raped/sexually assaulted/harassed at work, and their company didn’t hold the accused accountable, and knowing there were others who’ve experienced the same...
Do you think that person would simply walk away, saying, it’s too polarizing. It’s too divisive? It’s too ____?
Or would they get involved?
In the parable of the Good (Compassionate) Samaritan, I imagine the priest walks by the injured man because it’s unclean (messy/polarizing?). I imagine the Levite walks by the injured man because it’s dangerous (divisive?). The Samaritan (the least spiritual person of the three according to the perception of the listeners) gets involved and acts. The least spiritual person is praised by Jesus as being the most merciful, the most loving, the most in alignment with the Divine. If someone avoids taking care of their neighbors, whether those neighbors live next door or somewhere else in their common country, are they being more compassionate or less?
So if people aren’t getting involved now, with the ongoing upheaval in our country, is it due to their personally not being impacted? And are they not being impacted due to their privilege that allows them to not be impacted (white? male? sufficient income and back-up to not be impacted day in and day out?)
As I stated, I learned the hard way that being neutral, being silent, and not acting when oppression is occurring—especially when you’re not the one being oppressed—only empowers the oppressor. Trying to avoid polarity by not acting and being neutral is actually adding to the polarity in an oppressive situation. In order to rebalance an unbalanced power situation in the political sphere, siding with those with less power is required. Think about a seesaw: the weighty keep one side down, while the less weighty remain up in the air, unable to rebalance the seesaw by themselves. It’s the weighty side that has the power to control the seesaw. If you stand in the middle of the seesaw and play it neutral by not taking sides, nothing changes. Only by adding more weight to the less weighty side, can a seesaw be rebalanced. If balance is what we want in society, siding with the less powerful—taking a side is required.
Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian born in Germany before the rise of Hitler, also learned the hard way. In his well-known poem:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Niemöller summarizes his political privilege and non-involvement until he himself was arrested and put in concentration camps.
How and where each person is called to be involved is unique to each. We can’t all be in all the current political injustices. But getting involved means emulating the great mystics who were/are also great social reformers: Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hahn, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, Hildegard de Bingen, Starhawk.
An author and healer I’ve learned quite a lot from wrote in one of her books about the need to always “stay neutral” in social injustice issues. However, she too learned the hard way this doesn’t work. She eventually ended up with a serious health issue caused by Western Medicine. It was so devastating that it required that she stand up for herself and take a public stand against Western Medicine with regard to this particular issue. Playing neutral was perhaps an old principle she had to learn, or she held to it too rigidly, not seeing that neutrality is good for the soul but terrible for society. And so, the Universe taught her how neutrality works in some ways but doesn’t in others.
For myself, I have found that I create true neutrality when I take a stand, vocally, publically with those with less power in the polarity AND when I hold compassionate understanding and unconditional love for those with more power in the polarity. I also use the criticisms I have of those with more power as a mirror for my own inner work. I become a catalyst for transforming the whole around the axis of my inner work. This balances the polarity within even as I am balancing the polarity without. So, to gain true neutrality, inside I’m holding those with more power in compassionate understanding and without judgment. Outside, I’m standing with those with less power. This rebalances the poles inside and outside and creates neutrality.
Now, for spiritual activists, then it becomes, can we be engaged politically without getting caught in the polarity? By being caught in a polarity, I mean getting stuck in the drama. Getting stuck in the emotions. Getting stuck in the us/them mentality. Getting stuck means we begin to sound and act like the ones perpetuating the injustices. This is the trick. How to be engaged and detached at the same time. How to hold Oneness, Love, Joy, and Peace as our total reality no matter what storms outside are threatening. This requires spiritual practice: meditation to create space, breathwork to release anything held, immersing in Nature to restore spirit, EFT to heal our nervous systems from stress and anxiety, energy work to keep shifting, transforming our own beliefs and paradigms.
Does anyone do this perfectly? No. Politics is messy. As is, spiritual transformation.
Can anyone do spiritual activism all the time? No. Even those of us who are actively being oppressed—especially those of us who are actively being oppressed—need to take time out for restoration, space, healing, in their pursuit of wholeness. As allies, we also must make time for keeping ourselves in balance, so we can be effective as allies over the long haul.
Some questions for reflection:
In this highly charged, highly catalytic time, how are you staying balanced within and taking care of yourself?
Where are you called most passionately?
Where are you on the privilege spectrum in our society? How has this impacted your involvement?
What’s the hardest part of what’s going on politically for you personally?
What’s the best part of what’s going on politically?
Where do you find hope?
Where do you find sustenance?
How can you increase kindness in your sphere of influence?
Here are two national organizations doing spirituality and politics together:
The Love Army
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Monica McDowell is a dynamic speaker, author, and practitioner in alternative wellness and spirituality. Find her on Thought Catalog here.She is the author of The Girl with a Gift, Confessions of a Mystic Soccer Mom, You are Light (internationally published by 6th Books in over 14 countries) and My Karma Ran Over My Dogma,and has the distinction of being the first ordained minister in America granted civil rights by a federal ruling. She lives in Seattle, Washington, USA, and can be reached at email@example.com.