For all but the blessed amongst us who seemingly are born to wisdom and enlightenment, the rest of us need to address spiritual maturity through intentional effort. Living as we do in the political world, in which our relationships with each other invariably revolve around hierarchical power arrangements, our heart values, though inherent, are typically subsumed by an inveterate ego that all too often governs our behavioral choices by enticing us with the illusion of domination and control. This is further compounded by a political culture that reinforces this outsized need of civilized folks to exercise power over life. As a consequence, to be the person we are and born to be, most of us, ironically, have to work at this. Becoming a spiritual grown-up seldom arises by itself.
While this process can be challenging, it is particularly so for activists who discover we only serve as an agency of transformative growth by increasingly approximating through our moment to moment conduct behaviors that are commensurate to our ideals. What this entails is forsaking our characteristic adversarial, militant approach to change for one that accepts (loves) life for what it is. In the relational universe, this means accepting (loving) life’s countless manifestations as best we can in our everyday lives. Though a radical departure from our longstanding practice of confrontation and combativeness, seeking transformative change through acceptance is nevertheless the essence of a spiritually-informed activism in a world of interdependent relationships.
I came to see that I could only live such an awareness through a disciplined, committed practice of what is called the inner and the outer. Once I crossed this Rubicon, I recognized that in order to be that person, at least as best I could within my limitations and imperfections as a human being, I needed to cultivate an increasingly heartfelt expression of my inherent values.
The inner work of this effort has been grounded in daily meditation. Before all else, meditation is a training ground in mindfulness, the act of seeing reality clearly, without interpretation or commentary, or otherwise through a mental construct that we impose upon the passing show. We are present in the present, a fully alive presence in each moment.
In so being, meditation shined light upon my inherent values, increasingly bringing them to consciousness, translating them from my head’s intellect to a heart presence. Prompted by sincere intentions, meditation brought focus and attention to values that I had previously paid relatively little attention to. By doing so, it helped dissolve much of the unwholesome, unskillful habits I had acquired over a lifetime of mindlessness, and awakened me to new ways of increasingly spontaneous, unconditional, virtuous behavior. Though uneven, two steps forward, one step backwards, many steps to the side, I have become a work in (spiritual) progress: more the person I am.
But it is not sufficient to just meditate on our cushion and work on ourselves, while not engaging the world. Spirituality thus cloistered tends to molder and spoil, losing its liberating potential. We must take our practice out into the streets, instead, bringing our values into direct contact with the everyday power relationships of gender, race, class, and age.
This begins with our partners, children, families, and friends, for if we can’t accept them for the individual moments of life they are, then who are we saving our compassion and kindness, moral courage and generosity, equability and forgiveness for? Besides, as we all know, personal relationships are fraught with potential pain and suffering, enmeshed as we often are with each other. Albeit challenging, these same relationships, if they are to survive and prosper, nevertheless represent great opportunities for ego-smashing, as well as for increasingly becoming a spiritually-mature adult.
While what we do on the cushion can awaken values long anesthetized by our political culture, it is when we expose these values to the muck and mire of our ego-centered political existence, thus risking their potential compromise and betrayal, that we approach our transformative potential. This is where the rubber meets the road; our outer practice brings us full circle. We understand that, as it is with ego, the political world is us. There is no escaping this fact. That is why we must be in the world as it is with our values.
Rather than engaging in either power struggles with adversaries, or pursuing a fool’s errand of proselytizing others to change their ways, we work on ourselves, instead, to be the liberated being we have been trying to convince the world to become. We prefigure the revolution through our everyday behavior by living, right now, the life-affirmative values of this revolution in our everyday interactions and relationships. Ultimately, it is by being our values that we make our ideals of peace and social justice come to life, transforming ourselves and our practice to one of being of genuine service to others.