Spirituality vs. Activism

I have been affected by writer’s block of late, not the first time, yet frustrating. Perhaps I can rationalize it away by acknowledging that I have penned a lengthy memoir and written numerous blog musings for the past two and a half years.

However, another dynamic is at play: the daily pathos of the political scene, dominated by a president that eschews all the qualities of servant leadership and replaces them with a narcissistic, grifter’s mentality. Over the years, I have mostly been able to remain aloof to the vagaries of politics, disallowing them to pollute my mind. Lately, considering the challenging times we live in, I have been less successful in this endeavor.

Trying to make sense and gain clarity, I look to sages and role models. Lord Krishna instructed his doubting, warrior disciple, Arjuna, to “remember me and fight” as they were at the metaphorical precipice of an emerging battle. In other words, fulfill your service and be non-attached to outcomes. (For as Krishna illuminated, I already know the outcome.)

More contemporary role models who integrate action with spirituality are Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi resided in spiritual consciousness – a consciousness that remained whether he walked barefoot on his famous march to the sea, which galvanized hundreds of thousands of people to partake in a nonviolent revolution to free India, or was languishing in jail, inspiring many with his insightful writing.

I recently saw the James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro. Baldwin, a prolific author, also had his own heroes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers; all assassinated before the age of 40. Baldwin chose not to participate in the swirling protest movements of the times and became an expatriate residing in Paris. He authored many novels, essays, plays, and poems, and became a vital social critic with blazing polemics. Exposing the intricacies of racial discrimination and injustice, writing was his form of merging spirituality and activism.

I respected Baldwin’s approach, as there are many ways to fulfill your service and practice one’s chosen spiritual path. Similarly, I admire the nonviolent protesters today who hopefully practice, like Gandhi, resistance with inner strength that will not succumb to hate, demeaning name calling, and intolerance. True nonviolent leaders and followers practice the art of non-attachment. It is the most potent form of resistance and the intersection where the means and the ends are worthy of each other. Any aberration from that becomes self-destructive to a noble cause.

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