“The old will disappear. Human level consciousness by itself can no longer resolve the complexities it has created.”
“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter, because we are so deeply interconnected with one another.”
― Ram Dass
“Subtle activism is a bridge between the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of activism (as normally conceived) that emphasizes the potential of spiritual practice to exert a subtle but crucial form of social influence.
“We have been weaving a multi-strand planetary Web of Light as energetic support and protection for humanity and the Earth as we pass through this global crisis of initiation.”
How does the intention to wake up spiritually intersect with the intention to serve and make the world a better place?
I write this from 50 plus years of observations and personal experience with both spiritual communities and activist movements. I was initiated into the civil rights and anti-war movements as an angry young man in the Sixties. I withdrew into a disciplined spiritual group for the decade of the Seventies to find inner peace. Over the last forty years I’ve evolved through different approaches to integrating the two paths.*
For several decades now, spiritual teachers and communities have been shifting their emphasis from the individual journey of awakening or enlightenment to focusing on awareness of the inter-relatedness of life and the intention to reduce suffering and make the world a better place. This is, of course, not a new idea. It has been part of the wisdom teachings that come from almost all ancient, traditional religious or spiritual sources. We have been told, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “You are here to heal and repair the earth.)”
But many of us in the last half century who became disenchanted with the religions of our families adopted a very individualistic notion of spirituality. We thought that if we sat and meditated or chanted or prayed long enough, we would become enlightened and that was the goal of life. Over time, those of us who were sincere and paying attention found that this pursuit of individual enlightenment was naive, unfulfilling, and ultimately not bringing about the beauty, goodness and truth we were seeking. It was not in alignment with the calling of their souls. Perhaps more importantly, it was not in keeping with Reality, wherein we are not essentially separate beings.
More and more spiritual teachers, even those whose primary focus is on “non-duality,” have been pointing attention to the need for those on a spiritual path to address the problems of the world. It is clear that the primary causes of human suffering (racial and economic injustice, poverty and hunger, the threat of nuclear war, the poisoning of the Earth, climate change and a host of related issues) stem from a terribly imbalanced collective human consciousness. Rather than simply sitting and meditating, a spiritual life means recognizing ones relationship and responsibility to these issues and the people and other life forms who are suffering.
The question then becomes how does one integrate or harmonize these seemingly opposite directions of attention. On the one hand there is the inward focus on acceptance, stillness, presence and being. On the other is the outward focus on resistance and confrontation with injustice and action to right what is wrong.
What I find most spiritual teachers suggesting is a process of alternating between the two. That is, take time to meditate or go inward to experience and merge with the refreshing flow of life energy from Source or Higher Consciousness, then participate in traditional actions of advocacy or protest, then come back to your meditation practice to recenter yourself. This provides a solution to the “burnout” often experienced in the frustrating work of political and social activism. It also helps avoid the tendency to react with anger and competition-based consciousness which are poisons that infect many activist movements. We develop the ability to take action with compassion, a loving heart, and a spirit of collaboration.
Additionallly, there is a very interesting alternative: subtle activism. This is the work advocated by David Nicol, (among others) applying the methods of spiritual practices to directly influence the currents of change in the world. I invite you to watch my recent conversation with David in which we explore his personal journey to understanding, practicing and teaching this approach. (Or if you prefer, you can listen to the podcast.) As he’s written, “Subtle activism is a bridge between the inner world of spirituality and the outer world of activism (as normally conceived) that emphasizes the potential of spiritual practice to exert a subtle but crucial form of social influence.” David elaborates the theory and practice of his ideas in his book, Subtle Activism – The Inner Dimensions of Social and planetary Transformation. He has founded several projects bringing together tens of thousands of people from all over the world for worldwide meditations dedicated to social change.
It does seem to me that the old ways of bringing about social change are very limited in our current environment of mass misinformation and polarization. The subtle activism approach, which draws from ancient understandings from indigenous spirituality and uses modern technology, may be a vital ingredient in the mix of what will bring about the necessary change in our collective human consciousness.
For more information on David’s work and ways to learn more about and participate in subtle activist projects, see: The Gaiafield Project – https://gaiafield.net/
Youtube link for interview with David Nicol: https://youtu.be/EEF0cws-pk4
Podcast link: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1827447/10630045
- For those interested, a more detailed account of my life transitions is a chapter of my book, Crossing the Boundary – Stories of Jewish Leaders of Other Spiritual Paths, available on this site.