Is there a contradiction between being socially or politically engaged and personal growth and spirituality? Many traditions point to the evil of humankind’s ways and how we need to turn to “the truth”. Many encourage people to step aside from everyday life in order to do this. Can we have “engaged awareness”?
Yesterday my wife and I were on our terrace enjoying the view over the Lot valley in the evening sun, sipping an apéritif, absorbed in a discussion about the state of the world, and suddenly we became aware that we had hardly given the beauty of the view a real look. Our minds were elsewhere. A deep breath was needed!
Mindfulness teaches that such points of awareness are important, to pause, notice, breathe and be present with what is, to notice what our mind is doing, but not be “caught up” in the drama so that we lose our awareness of the bigger picture.
How might such awareness help the engaged?
Awareness and our demons
I would suggest that the distinction commonly made between “everyday life” and spirituality is a false one. Life is what happens every moment of every day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.
We often refer to the “spiritual bypass”, how people get into some form of personal and spiritual development, adopt some belief system, or go to the mountain top, and can seem very deep and earnest in what they are doing or being. Yet, down inside, there’s a whole lot else going on. They might, for example, be angry people doing a great pretending they aren’t and are being very peaceful and at one. Until something pushes their deeper buttons and out comes some torrent of rage. The deeper unresolved stuff is still there, but denied. I think we’re seeing this right now in the world, big time!
Personal growth can often be the “journey” to identify and resolve these inner tensions, so that they no longer mess up one’s life. Awareness can be to know these different parts of ourselves and accept them. The more we know and learn to let go of them and return to a steady state, the more we acquire some degree of mastery. Being who we are is being who we are, warts and all.
Beware of the false heaven
There are those who make much of the serene heights of “enlightenment” as something only some people “attain” and others have to work at and have lots of these demons to deal with. Somehow only some are deemed worthy enough, have accumulated sufficient merit. It can be a version of the “elect”, those that somehow have it – but oh, no, you! You’ve got work to do! Humans like to make distinctions, to compare, and to put each other down, consciously or unconsciously, and there’s always some people who are deemed better than others.
Except they aren’t really: it’s another ego game, when we’re really all one anyway. Bit silly really!
So some will teach of a rarified heaven, but you’ve got to build up lots of credit to get there, and only certain people have the key. I’d like to say we all have the key. It’s whether we use it.
The world is what we make of it
Thus the world we live in can be presented in a bad way, and if you’re working in it, big trouble. “There’s so much evil!” This is very current at the moment, where there’s a lot of conflict and division. Countries are increasingly at odds with one another. Within countries, there’s an increasing sense, or so it seems, of conflict between different groups. In the West we have the rise of populism and “identity politics”. “Where you are from” seems a big issue. People are hateful towards people of a different ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or religion, or whatever. In Britain there’s a big urge to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from our European neighbours. It’s about “us versus them”. So much anger and hate.
How does the aware person live with this? Even more, from my personal perspective, be engaged in seeking to combat this loss of respect for one another, this separateness, disunity, hate and division.
Again my response is that to make a dichotomy between the way the world is and our personal and spiritual goals, however we define the latter, is to make a false dichotomy.
Dealing with the enraged Brexiter is as much spiritual as it is being at one with the view of the River Lot in beautiful South-West France. “See God in each other”. The world is what we make of it. We are responsible. We have choice. And we can choose to hold to our deeper awareness and be engaged in the world
In fact, I would suggest that we can make a better contribution to others, to humankind and the world we live in, in crisis though it is at the moment, by being being present and aware and engaged.
It’s like to reach down inside to the love that’s really you, and then get out there and make a difference!