Politics and spirituality. These are two words that might seem incompatible, even desirably exclusive, like the separation of church and state. But the words, and the intention behind the words, do have the potential to be compatible. I say that with caution. As human beings we have the potential of digging in with the bias of a polarizing view and corrupting the purity of universal compassion.
That’s because there appears to be a great deal of frustration with our political system these days, and not a lot of clear solutions (certainly none that will appease the great diversity of views coexisting in our country). The division of viewpoints and resulting polarity seems, if anything, to be increasing. This is not unique to our country or our time. It is, perhaps unfortunately, one of the outcomes of the human condition. Maintaining stability of a culture is generally a struggle with maintaining a balance of equality in the face of that segment of culture that cultivates greed and the egoistic desire for power and control.
So, now may be a good time for a personal confession. Perhaps by nature as much as philosophy, I practice non-attachment toward politics (I am not always successful). My path is personally guided by Mystery and my fate is tied to Spirit. It’s a matter of priority that I will not compromise. I still have opinions and intend to be a good citizen. I have voted in every election and keep myself informed with selective clarity on the operations of business and government (though it is by no means a hobby). I have lived, and continue to live, a life of social consciousness. And when the topic of politics comes up with my close friends, I engage with them with what I know without flinching. Some topics make me angry. I had been known to occasionally rant. Ranting amongst friends is not agitating. Sometimes I speak catharsis, for both my friends and myself. At the end of my saucy diatribe, I revert to a monk-like personality. Confession over.
As I said, politics and spirituality are not necessarily incompatible. Everyone has a different predilection, different medicine/skills, and different circumstances at different times in their life that will determine their sphere of influence and degree of participation, and where they are best served to place their energy and attention. Some folks are given active social agendas and others less public paths. In either case, I think there are some basic suggestions that might serve to help prevent one from becoming swallowed by the shadows in our system – becoming disgusted, withdrawn, polarized, or even hateful.
Seven Suggestions to help maintain spiritual/political equanimity:
1. We should try to understand our fallback/regressive stance when we become stressed or threatened. Is it anger, withdrawal (or losing heart), worry, fear, blaming ourselves or others? Or perhaps we fill ourselves with sensual distraction (or more than one of the above). We all have a regressive fallback stance – the initial moment of a basic human response. Even the Dalai Lama says: “Yes, I too feel anger.” No one thinks of the Dalai Lama as an angry person. Mindfulness always follows. Becoming mindful will allow us to move past our initial response into a more centered observation or ability to act.
2. Shine a light into your corner of the universe. It is important for people of spirit to be people of spirit. To quote the poet William Stafford (A Ritual to Read to Each Other): For it is important that awake people be awake,/ or a breaking line may encourage them back to sleep. Stafford is referring to a thread of essential consciousness that awake people keep vibrant and alive.
3. Do not compromise your spiritual practice. If you can integrate that back into the world, so much the better. But do not delude yourself righteously or give yourself permission to act with pious certainty (just because one is a generally a spiritual person doesn’t make one automatically right). It’s easier to become self-righteous than you might think. If you become angry enough your view may become more narrow or rigid.
4. See yourself as stability within the stream. Ask yourself this question: do I add to the general clarity or contribute to polarity? If you’re fighting the good fight, do so without deception or malice. Did someone say, “Love your enemies.” Better not to have enemies at all.
5. Unless you have renounced the world, becoming a spiritual recluse, participate at the level of your ability. It is a spiritual act to vote, whether or not your vote changes the world. Yes, the system is flawed and perhaps even broken. Vote for the candidate that most approximates your view, and then do not expect them to be perfect. Understand that even our preferred candidate working within our system – without a clear mandate of the people – is going to be forced into compromise that many of us will find distasteful.
6. Avoid polarity. The first step is to release judgement and condemnation of “the other side.” Attend to the golden rule, the ethic of reciprocity: do not treat others in ways that you would not want to be treated. As extension: do not judge or condemn others in ways that you would not want to be judged or condemned. This means you must listen carefully to opposing views and try to understand their perspective. Every issue is more complex than it is portrayed. Sometimes you will discover a legitimate perspective of which you were not previously aware. You may still disagree, but will come away with more understanding. Or you may discover a thread of fear, manipulation, or ignorance that clouds a view. In any case, unless we do listen closely we cannot begin the work of integrating viewpoints. This is not called compromise. It is called alchemy, the blending of opposites through transmutation. Alchemy is hard work.
7. And no matter what happens, no matter what the outcome, no one person knows the whole story. We are players in a grand Design that dwarfs our attention and understanding. Coming to terms with our limitations can be humbling. In the Bible, God says to Job: “Can you set the stars into motion and cause the sun to rise (paraphrase).” God is saying that we are small, and can’t possibly know or understand the BIG picture. Personally, I think that’s a weak argument for the injustices of the world. But the fact is there’s a lot we don’t understand. Reach out with generous intent. Wish yourself strength and then compassion. Walk your medicine. It is what you were given.