|Featured Columnist – Meditations
Can spiritual insight and political strategy go together? That¹s not an academic question to me, but a pressing, even personal one.
There was a time, indeed the vast bulk of human history, when these two dimensions of human life were not divided. Indeed, indigenous peoples that are still intact do not make such a separation.
Of course, there is an inherent tension between delving into the depths of the inner life, and actively seeking to contribute to the betterment of society and the world. (That¹s presuming that activists and political people are not just pursuing a personal agenda for self-aggrandizement.)
Most thinking people realize at some level that the outer world of man is the expression of the inner world of the individual, living and dead. In one sense, the problem is the momentum of the past, which few individuals care to attend to and halt within.
But there is still the dilemma of living vertically vs. living horizontally.
Can the two be combined in some way? Contemplatives throughout the West have struggled with this question for hundreds of years. Most have said no, especially if the inner life was a strong calling.
The Romans expressed and codified this quandary as Œvita contemplativa¹ and Œvita activa¹‹the contemplative life and the active life.
I never accepted that duality, but I grapple with it, and haven¹t resolved it satisfactorily.
The sheer volume of information, and frenzied pace of Œchange¹ (i.e. outer
activity) doesn¹t make the dilemma any easier. I think there are a lot more contrarians like myself in there (not out there) that have Œunplugged,¹ as someone put it to me recently. But since even monks can¹t separate themselves from the world anymore, the question and dilemma remain.
Is it a matter of the proverbial balance? At one level, each individual, maintaining the right equilibrium between vita contemplativa and vita activa is the ongoing work of human life. But at a deeper level, it¹s not a matter of balance.
Saying that the inner life and the active life have to be balanced is way of saying that they are equally important. They¹re not. It¹s a matter of putting what¹s first first.
The chaos of society and world flows from the inner confusion of millions of individuals. Therefore the inner life has to be given the highest priority.
That is precisely the opposite of the situation in America and much of the West at present. Indeed, the outer is so overemphasized that many people don¹t even have an inner life. And they wonder why they feel so empty!
When attention (which cannot be gathered through effort of any kind), is sufficiently intense and deep, a state the Greeks called ³aesthetic stasis² comes over one. If it¹s strong enough, one finds oneself literally unable to move, overwhelmed by the beauty of the earth and life.
It happens to one alone and even in small groups in nature, and more rarely, in a city. Obviously it¹s not something you want to overtake you while driving! But that couldn¹t happen, because there is some kind of governor on it, which doesn¹t permit it to happen in situations where thought and action are required. (There is action without thought, but that is another
The ŒI¹ has no control over such states and nothing to do them, which is no doubt why they¹re so rare. If one faced a choice between experiencing Œaesthetic stasis¹ every day, or being able to do political strategy at the highest levels with the best and brightest, there would be no choice. One would take the inner life of insight, even if it meant no longer participating in the world.
However I¹m still working to find out if the two can go together, and indeed, whether the political dimension can be an avenue for psychological revolution, rather than the bloody revolutions of the past.
Given that an inner life for the individual is clear, we can then talk about a revolution in collective consciousness. For only a revolution in consciousness can change the disastrous course of humankind. And the foundation and fountainhead for such a psychological revolution is radical change in the individual.
Since the consciousness of man is enfolded within every individual, when one person deeply transforms (by questioning within and allowing insight to flow into his or her consciousness), it affects human consciousness as a whole to some degree.
Obviously even an enlightened individual isn¹t sufficient to change the course of humankind, or the revolution in consciousness would have happened long before now. Pick any enlightened person of the past; not one of them, however illumined, has changed the basic course of humankind.
The true potential of the human being is spiritual. But we have to live in this world. Indeed, we urgently need to create a more harmonious global society, so that man doesn¹t completely destroy the earth and human spiritual potential, which is what is happening.
Without an inner life, we add to the polluted streams and rivers, and increasingly polluted oceans metaphorically and literally. Inevitably, each of our lives determines, to some degree, what kind of world it is.