“Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change; without collective change, no change matters.”
— Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Whether we are aware of it or not, our oppressive systems are a prison for us all. We are tied to the same shackles. When anyone’s love is persecuted, all of our love becomes vulnerable. When anyone’s freedom is oppressed, all of our freedom is jeopardized. When our Earth is dying, we are all dying. It is harmful ideation to see our suffering as separate.
When our systems reserve power for one class, gender, or race, we all suffer. Even if we sit in one or more of these privileged groups, we lose our shared humanity to see and experience another in kinship and kind. We are implicitly forced to choose between truly loving our human brothers and sisters and participating in the systems and societal ideals that uphold a selective few.
To remain ignorant to the systemic oppression of our most powerful institutions and systems is to uphold the lines of division. That separatism creates boundaries around our own freedom to love and be fully expressed in that love.
No matter how we choose to identify or where we sit on the spectrum of privilege in our communities, it is the work of those of us who see the injustice to do something. To say something. To create the sustainable and lasting change we desire so greatly.
Now, I realize not everyone sees it this way. There is a level of perception that is required to see the interdependence of our lives, of others, of our shared home, of planet Earth. This is the perspective gleamed from contemplative practice that often sits center of spiritual traditions — and to use that reality-busting perception to enact change is inspired by the work of a reformer.
This is the mission of a spiritual activist.
A Desire for Change
At first glance, spirituality and activism can seem dichotomous. While one group, seekers, are committed to personal transformation, the other, reformers, are focused on societal transformation. Just the contrast of the images these two words conjure is enough to sense their dichotomy. Maybe you’re imagining a seeker in simple clothing on the floor, eyes closed in meditation while a reformer is seen out in the streets, picket sign and microphone in hand. The practice of a seeker is focused inward. There is a tendency towards healing oneself so they may show up with an energy of love in the world. The work of a reformer is that of action. Showing up boldly and speaking up loudly.
But there is such fertile common ground between these two communities. With such powerful motivation for transformation in a world that can oftentimes seem bleak, we must bridge the gap to ignite real progress. What good is being revered as a hardcore, dedicated activist if we still replicate oppressive patterns in our most intimate relationships, be it with our partners or ourselves? And what good is spending our days seeking in spiritual communities if the scope of our practice stops at the self, insulating us from prosocial engagement in our communities and application of the teachings that benefit the larger collective?
The simple truth is… none of us are free until all of us are free.
The activist must learn to enter these challenging and charged spheres from an energy of love, not anger. Fighting venom with venom is unsustainable and ultimately destructive. To not see clearly is to demand that the external world change before you. Rather than attack your attacker, can you remind your attacker of the goodness within them by modeling the goodness yourself? What is more disarming and provocative than the weapon of love?
The seeker must learn to move personal responsibility into worldly responsibility. There is something about the way spiritual communities are practicing and seeking that works to insulate them — to keep them stuck in their sphere of practice rather than engaging with the world. Are we using our commitment to liberation to check-out from the difficult challenges of our society?
While healing and personal transformation is a noble place to start, real rippling change cannot happen in isolation. We need to understand that inner transformation requires social transformation. What good is all that knowledge if there is no application of it? After all, application of knowledge is where wisdom emerges. Armed with the teachings of love, compassion, and interconnectedness, can you commit to voice the truth in the face of even the most voracious slanderer?
The Spiritual Activist
Sustainable and lasting change cannot happen without the integration of spiritual pursuit and activism. This is not religion, or any form of dogma, but rather activism that comes from the heart. Activism that is fierce and compassionate. Activism that is positive and transformative. Being a spiritual activist means taking responsibility for our part in creating change from the energy of love. You can adamantly disagree while acknowledging the humanity that sits in opposition to you.
The spiritual activist sits at the center of these two groundbreaking communities. Through activism, we confront the malignancy in the world, and through contemplation, we confront the malignancy within the self.
Ultimately, spiritual activism is love in action. Nothing could be more inspiring or rewarding than being the change we want to see in the world — both within and without.
The most beautiful part of integrating these two worlds — being both the seeker and the reformer — is that it provides a way forward that is whole in its nature. All of a sudden we don’t have to choose to be dedicated to either the present moment and the liberation of self or to social and ecological justice and future generations. It’s all part of the same deal. It’s all part of being fully alive and awake, drenched in love for all of life on this Earth.
A reiki master, meditation guide, yoga teacher, writer, photographer, and world traveler, Marcia Paige Hamelin delivers honestly from her own journey of self-discovery and hopes to empower others to find home in who they are. Her *always* obsessions are silence until black coffee is had, being small at the edge of the ocean, and feeling her feelings. Connect with her at marciapaigehamelin.com or on Instagram at @marciapaigehamelin.