Is It Possible to Be Both Political and Spiritual?
That depends on you.
The rudimentary human mind often strives for absolutes.
In order to feel safe—in order to feel as if it has a grip on the reality of any given situation—the human mind is wont to categorizing situations in an all-or-nothing, black-or-white fashion (examples include sweeping generalizations or blanket moral judgments).
Nuance is often considered a luxury of the mind that is not trapped in fight-or-flight mode, struggling for survival. It’s the safe, comfortable philosopher, largely devoid of imminent danger (and therefore free of fear) who is able to contemplate the “gray” of a situation. For the rest of us—most of whom battle stressful situations every day—reducing a situation, group, or person to base judgments like “good” or “bad” is how we move through complications and explain the inexplicable.
So, when a question like “can a spiritual person be political” is asked, the answer is often immediate and completely without nuance (like so many of our answers in this modern age). Some people believe that to be alive is to be inherently political—and therefore, they suggest, it is impossible to exist without somehow contributing to or supporting some political ideology.
Others believe that it’s completely possible to extricate oneself from the political “hamster-wheel,” and that politics really has no power in dictating their daily experience.
If we apply a lens of nuance to this situation, we see that both are actually true.
Life is political, whether you participate or not.
Let’s say one day you pack your bags, punch your timecard for the last time, sell all of your belongings and move yourself out to the boonies. With no address or cell-phone, no mailbox, and nothing but the rucksack on your back, you are determined to disappear into nature—and disappear you do.
You stop paying taxes (what for?), feed off of the natural landscape, and sustain and protect yourself using all of the hacks you gleaned from Primitive Technology. For all intents and purposes, you don’t exist. Your carbon footprint is negligent, you no longer interact with society, and you have no use for other human life.
And yet, you’re still political.
Unless you’ve disappeared into another dimension where there are no lands and no laws, you are still existing under the umbrella of some government or another’s rule—meaning that all laws enabling your lifestyle, and all actions required to create those laws, are being validated by your mode of existence.
At some point, whatever population of individuals who would have otherwise thwarted your solitary, nomadic lifestyle were exterminated (likely by your government). Choosing to live on this land affirms your approval of this policy. You are also affirming whatever laws enable you to hunt and forage for food. Opting out of paying taxes (which, depending on your situation, may not even be legal) is another political choice affirming some piece of legislation or another.
In short—if legislation enables your lifestyle in any way (which it inevitably does), you are approving of and reinforcing those laws and all of the consequences that come with them—which makes your existence inherently political. If you are a property owner, a tax-payer, an employee, a renter, a vehicle-owner, or a consumer, this only further entangles you in the political web.
Do not be deceived—you vote politically with your existence through every purchase or sale you make, every hour that you work, where you choose to live, and everything in-between. To live in a country is to support it by default—which includes all of its past, present, and future endeavors and their ripples throughout the world and humankind.
Your political influence is not determined by your political visibility.
So you went to a protest (or a few). You may feel that makes you more “political” than your non-protest-attending fellow citizens.
Let’s look at the bigger picture.
We now know that we vote every day with our currency, time, and citizenship. Being intentional about our personal ripple (which is the essence of spirituality) often equals or exceeds the effect of public political involvement.
Some people never attend a riot or protest, nor do they picket outside of their least-favorite government/private institutions—they simply reroute their financial vote (money) to institutions and companies that they support, while voting in a values-aligned manner on the legislation pertaining to their state, province, country, etc. With a clear-cut set of values and a vision for what one wants to see in the world, voting through intentional spending, voting on legislation and in elections, and contacting elected officials are powerful means of effecting change which only tend to snowball and become more impactful over time.
The political impact of a life founded on intentional, directed action versus a life centered on being visibly politically active comes down to one thing: intention.
Countless people advertise their public political involvement openly while continuing to pour money and resources into companies and legislation that don’t actually align with their values. In this instance, intention is the defining factor—do they want to appear “woke,” or do they want to actually see change in their environment?
There is no harm in joining a public political movement—there may even be benefit in doing so—but if participants aren’t aligning the rest of their lives with their values, the power of the movement is actually undermined.
This is where spirituality enters the conversation.
Spirituality = intentionality.
We’ve established that it is impossible to live in any country without being inherently political.
We’ve established that there are powerful ways to be political that don’t require public demonstrations.
We’ve established that public involvement in political movements is commendable only if an individual is actively working toward aligning their life with their values.
Where does spirituality fit into this picture?
Spirituality means intentionality. Spirituality is the glue that fuses one’s outward actions with their inner intentions.
To be “spiritual” doesn’t necessarily imply religion, ritualistic practices, or any sort of belief system—it means that a person is living intentionally based on a bigger picture vision, one that is typically founded on a set of personally meaningful values.
Based on that definition, there is no match more perfect to spirituality than politics, which is by definition a means of changing and improving society through legislative mechanisms. To use a metaphor: spirituality is the mind, politics is the body.
Don’t shame the political renunciates.
Thousands of people over the course of time have renounced modern life, escaping to monasteries, temples, and ashrams to get out from under the burden of society. Without fail, these individuals eventually return to minister to and heal the world they left behind—once their own cup is full.
It’s exhausting to be any kind of activist or feel compelled to exemplify some particular lifestyle or another. It’s easy to choose the renunciate’s path, especially when life feels particularly draining. There’s nothing wrong in this. Those who choose the renunciate’s path are tired. Some leave their country completely, others simply withdraw from any kind of overt political involvement, like voting or protesting.
In my experience, no good work is given from an empty cup. Someone who is drained of life-force—usually from chronic stress—cannot give meaningfully.
If becoming involved in politics feels like a chore, don’t. If you are someone who is working to rebuild your own life-force using self-care and other “spiritual” means, don’t make politics your hobby unless it energizes and re-charges you. Powerful action comes from giving from one’s overflow, not draining oneself further—which is ultimately just an act of violence against the self.
This is why self-care is one of the most powerful forms of activism. The sooner you are able to “fill your cup” (meet your physical and emotional needs), the sooner you are able to advocate intentionally and powerfully for your values on the political scene. One intentional act given from your overflow is exponentially more powerful than hundreds of empty acts scraped from the bottom of your reserves.
You’ll know when it’s time to give from your overflow, because you won’t be able to stop yourself.
“Being the change” means getting your hands dirty.
Spiritual precepts advocate being the change you wish to see in the world. Eventually, this means getting your hands dirty by getting into the world.
When you’re ready, this will come naturally, and it may arise in a form that is not necessarily publicly recognized (meaning others don’t see it or “get” it). That’s okay. Like spirituality, political involvement does not actually become more powerful based on how visible it is (don’t confuse powerful for popular or controversial). In fact, just like spirituality, the most powerful activism is often the quietest, built over years of silent involvement in whatever form of action is most aligned with the individual themselves.
On being guilted into political activism:
If someone ever tries to guilt you into political activism, first ask this question—are they trying to make me feel guilty, or am I making myself feel guilty?
If it is the former, know that this person is probably highly stressed and is operating from an empty cup. Validation is what feeds them, and their ability to be celebrated for their activism (and coerce others into activism) is currently fueling their sense of purpose. That’s okay. When you’re ready to become involved in political activism, you’ll know—it will naturally flow out of you. Until then, continue to build a life aligned with your values. This in and of itself is a form of political activism.
If it is the latter, your guilt isn’t actually about your lack of political involvement—it is because parts of your life aren’t currently aligned with your values. Before political activism unfolds organically, there must be alignment and intentionality. These two factors are what create both a strong spiritual and political foundation—they are the keystones of integrity. True political activism can only be built on integrity, so work on that first before diving into some cause or another.
Guilt is never a good reason to do anything.
Spirituality and politics are practically interchangeable.
Both spirituality and politics are built around the idea of creating personal and social change. In both instances, they are most effective when the practitioner/activist lives a life representative of their values with integrity.
Right now, political activism is en vogue—so is spirituality. To become involved because it’s the “in” thing to do will create no meaningful change. Taking a laissez-faire attitude of “non-involvement” will also create no meaningful change.
Somewhere in the middle—in the gray, in the nuance—is the individual who actively refines their values and endeavors to apply them to every area of their personal life. An influential spiritual and political life is the natural by-product of this type of person. Someone who seeks to be aligned with their values is the “accidental activist.” They are the ones whose time, energy, and money organically begin to align with their highest ideals. They are not motivated by attention, guilt, or pressure from others. They simply live honestly, questioning their intentions constantly, and up-leveling the risk they are willing to take to become the best version of themselves.
It’s an imperfect process to generate meaningful political and spiritual ripples, but it is a process. Wherever you are in it is the perfect place to begin or continue your work. Constantly reassessing your motivations, making silent moves to put your “money where your mouth is,” aligning with your values even when your actions are not visible to others, and frequently revisiting your idea of your life’s purpose are all valuable steps to up-leveling your political and spiritual power.
To claim all of the power and honor of spiritual and political involvement, you only need work toward becoming more loving in each area of your life than you are today. It is alignment with that intention which will eventually make the entire world a more loving place.
And isn’t that what this whole thing is about?