Any Spirituality that Ignores Politics is a Defense Mechanism.



I don't see the difference between spirituality and politics.

We do not live in a totalitarian state. As members of a democratic society, we have a civic duty. Our government is held in check by "we the people." In a democratic system of government, politics is just another aspect of daily living.

Spirituality is not an other worldly affair. It is a principled worldview coupled with a system of practice that orients our whole being to the world in which we live.

Politics is not a distraction from spirituality, but one aspect of daily life with which spirituality is deeply concerned.

Saying that politics is a distraction from spirituality is like saying relationships or work are obstacles to spiritual practice. They aren't obstacles, they are opportunities for our spirituality to be born into the world. Segregating politics and spirituality is an attempt to closet your spirituality—to shield it from things that push your buttons, rather than turning into your struggles and learning to move beyond stress, fear, and anger.

We are not called to hide behind a vapid smile or to look the other way. Any spirituality that hides behind a distraction is not a spirituality but a defense mechanism. It is spiritual bypassing not spiritual practice. This is true regardless of whether our practice is rooted in Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, or lacks religious affiliation.

Gandhi once wrote, "Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is...Indeed, religion should pervade every one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe. It is not less real because it is unseen. This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality."

A living spirituality is politically conscious and engaged but not obsessed. And this is the catch.

It is hard to be mindful and politically engaged at the same time. It is difficult to watch the news or read the papers without getting wrapped up in it, especially this day-and-age with a 24 hr news cycle and a controversial President that dominates every minute of that cycle.

Mindfulness and activism often feel mutually exclusive. But uniting the two is our path. We have to root our politics in mindfulness and silence. If we fail to do this, we will either neglect our civic responsibility or our politics will be tainted with fear and aggression.

You can be present and centered while protesting or voicing concern—Dorthy Day, Gandhi, King, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama are perfect examples.

While the basic outline of spirituality remains unchanged, the terrain that path must traverse changes with each generation. And it is no accident that these great icons of mindful activism have come before us, showing us the way. They have outlined the path before us. Their activism is rooted in prayer and meditation.

Venturing into the realm of politics without tethering the mind to reality is the way of madness.

Meditation anchors the mind in the present moment. But it is not enough to sit every morning. Mindful activism is meditation in action. We have to bring the principles of meditation—letting go and returning to the simplicity of the present moment—into our daily life. In the presence of injustice, we often feel fear, anger, and aggression. But we must disown the fear, anger, and aggression, not the awareness of injustice, which is grounded in reality.

Politics devoid of compassion is just another way to vent resentment. And our body politic is already saturated with resentment. Prayer connects the mind and the heart, melting away resentment. William James wrote in Varieties of Religious Experience, "Religion is nothing if it be not the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which it draws its life. This act is prayer." And the heart is the principle from which the mind draws life. But once again it is not enough to pray only in the morning. We have to see aggression as a reminder to pray throughout the day. When are afraid or angry, we have to pray for those that arouse our bitterness. We have pray for those in need. Prayer gets us out of our head, out of our self-centered mind. It awakens the spirit of selflessness and sanity.

Spirituality reminds us that it is our responsibility to be a voice of sanity, a light unto the world. I say that not with a condescending tone, but with an awareness that I too must work harder to bring mindfulness, compassion, and sanity into my politics. Politics is a sticky subject. It is easy to get caught up in politics. But the spiritual path always cuts through our obstacles. It never goes around them. This is the path we in the era of Trump must trudge and we have to do it together.

Part of doing it together is holding each other accountable. When we see someone with good intentions lash-out or become disrespectful, it is important to point that out to them. We have to remind them that how they say it is every bit as important as what they say. Yes, we are obligated to speak the truth, but we are also obligated to do that in a skillful manner. If we oppose hate, then we have to oppose it even when it is attached to message that we can otherwise agree with because hate--in any form--only adds to the problems that we face as a nation. Hate is not the counter-measure for injustice. As Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."


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There is No Room for Admirers.


"Of all the children born to women, there has never been anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he." - Matthew 11:11


Conversion or the rebirth experience (metanoia) marks the resurrection of our True Self, which is of the Kingdom and not born of woman, so to speak. Metanoia is a renewal of one's mind and motivations. It is an experience that reorients our entire being because it relocates the point or center from which we live our life, moving it from the head down into the heart.

In the Gospels, the Christ image is made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth. Through Jesus's life and actions the indwelling presence of God is born into the world. But the life of Christ does not end with the conclusion of the Gospel narrative. It is the Self that in Galatians Paul says has replaced his false-self.

Paul further elaborates on this point in Ephesians where he writes, "Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, putting on the new self, created after the likeness of God." This false-self/ True Self, former life/ New Life dichotomy is common in spiritual literature. In Alcoholics Anonymous members celebrate "sobriety birthdays." The sobriety birthday is often more significant than their biological birthday because it marks the point at which they adopted a new manner of living. The sobriety birthday is in fact a re-birth day. It is a celebration of the True Self, which obviously was not born of a woman or brought about by reproductive means, but by a spiritual death and resurrection.

In the opening quotation, Jesus also says "the least in the Kingdom" which denotes a spectrum of realization (least to greatest). This spectrum recognizes both maturity and depth of insight into the Kingdom, ranging from the admission of powerlessness found in Alcoholics Anonymous to the realization of Oneness with God proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel of John.

But either way, he who is of the Kingdom is greater than he who is of the world because Kingdom dwellers, so to speak, strive to live in accordance with their True Nature and not the law or the prescribed guidelines of religious and social institutions. In fact, the prescribed guidelines of churches and governments are legitimized only in so far as they relate back to the inclinations of human nature and aid individuals in their quest to realize or embody that nature for themselves.

Often, institutions fail to do this because they are more concerned with perpetuating their power, which is why people like Jesus, Gandhi, and King are seen as subversive by those institutions. They embody the principle freedom of the Kingdom, not the ways of the world.

Many Americans believe America to be a Christian nation. The majority of Americans may self-describe as Christian, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the spiritual principles outlined in the Gospels--the principles Jesus embodied and Christians are called to follow--are repugnant to many American "Christians," especially those that frequently say America is a Christian nation. It is obvious from the Gospel account that Jesus offered a counterculture and because of this he was seen as a troublemaker. And he was. But he also still is. He causes trouble for anyone that claims to follow him because the path he outlines is not an easy path to walk.

Richard Rohr wrote in Jesus' Plan for a New World, "We keep worshiping the messenger, keeping Jesus up on statues and images, so we can avoid what he said. It's the best smokescreen in the world! We just keep saying, 'We love Jesus.' The more we talk about Jesus, the less we'll do what he said. That's the way the ego fools itself. And in this case, it's the way culture, nations and even churches have fooled themselves."

We worship the messenger but ignore the message. In the process, Jesus obtains admirers but not followers. We have confused our ego with the Christ image depicted in the Gospels and more importantly with the image of God that lives within us. This is spiritual materialism.

The Christ image is subversive. It undermines our ego and all of its attendant fears, prejudices, resentments, and defense mechanisms. This is a challenge. It requires that we empty ourselves. Letting go of the false-self and it's strategies takes the burden off of the True Self. It shifts the burden over to the false-self. This burden is the cross upon which the ego is crucified. And the resurrection of our True Life is proportionate to the death of our false-self. "He and I cannot dwell together in the same space." Without death there can be no rebirth. "We cannot welcome the presence," writes Rohr, "the Parousia, the full coming of Christ until we've let go of the old."

Beyond the noise, the chaos, the stress, fear, and anger we can feel our heart beating, calling out to us, pleading with us to let go of our false-self and to return to the life of the body. This is the call of Christ, which lives within us as the image of God, our True Self. Jesus shows the way. And only those that follow can be called Christian in any meaningful sense, regardless of what beliefs they affirm. On the path Jesus outlined there is no room for admirers.

Order Finding God in the Body: A Spiritual Path for the Modern West by Benjamin Riggs today. Available in Paperback and Kindle on Amazon. 

Politics and Spiritual Bypassing


A great many people see politics as a distraction from spirituality and believe avoiding politics to be the high road. 

Is it really 'spiritual' to hide behind a silly smile and avoid political conversations? Or does an authentic spirituality demand that we enter those conversations? In this short episode of my podcast I talk about the relationship between politics and spirituality.

Also available on iTunes: http://apple.co/2lK4hb4

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