On the surface it may seem that spirituality and politics cannot coexist. And I believe that keeping them separate is one reason the political discourse in the U.S. is where it’s at today. Spiritual practice is really about healing all those beliefs that get in the way of recognizing the truth of who we are as spiritual beings.
During this silly season of US Presidential election politics, I can’t think of any better indicator that there are things I need to heal within me than my reaction to the goings-on of the political process. And this time I’m choosing to flip the script. Rather than observing and participating in the contempt and vitriol that is so often the focal point of the American political process, I’ve decided to incorporate politics into my spiritual practice. I realize that may sound like an oxymoron, and stay with me for a moment.
Spirituality and politics can peacefully coexist if we make a conscious effort to enable that in our own lives. So how, exactly, does one incorporate politics into their spiritual practice? It starts with noticing.
Where are you directing your energy? Do you find your blood pressure rising as you think about or listen to individual candidates? If so, that’s an opportunity to go deeper. Who and what we are for, and especially who and what we’re against, says more about us than it does about the candidates. How is your identity tied into the things you are for and the things you are against? Are you more focused on what you perceive to be controversial comments that were made by a candidate? Or are you able to stay focused on your personal vision related to individual issues, and the types of things you’d like to see more of and why those things are important to you?
So during this political cycle, if you start to feel anger, annoyance or offense creeping in – stop and breathe! In fact, take three deep breaths. Spend a few moments thinking about what, exactly, is annoying you or making you angry or feel offended. Then peel back the layers of the onion, and go even deeper.
- What, exactly, is offensive to you?
- Why is it making you angry?
- What beliefs lie at the root of those emotions?
- What is causing you to give away your power and allow someone you don’t know to create this kind of reaction in you.
Just be with these questions. If you find it’s uncomfortable to be with these questions, really try to stay with them so that you can get to the bottom of your reaction and response.
What is it that you’d prefer to experience instead? If someone makes a policy proposal that you disagree with, dig into the specifics about what you disagree with – is it the ultimate end goal of the proposed policy? Is it the path to the end goal? Is it the way that it was presented?
What’s Your Vision?
If you find you disagree with a proposed policy, for example, what type of policy would you like to see instead? Why? Go as deep as you possibly can in your thought process of what you’d like to create instead and why you’d like to create it. Focus on what you’re for rather than what you’re against.
- If it’s the path to the end goal that you’re having issues with, can you at least acknowledge that there’s some commonality in the direction you’d like to proceed?
- If not, why not? What elements of the proposed path are causing you agita?
- What would you like to see instead?
- And more importantly, why?
If you can incorporate the positives about what you’d like to see and experience, and identify any areas of common ground instead of focusing on why “Republicans are better than Democrats,” or “Democrats are better than Republicans,” or “all politicians are crooks,” or “candidate X is a moron because …”, you’ll have taken a big step towards shifting your own energy.
And if you can take it to the next level, maintain a spiritual practice where you focus on what you’d like to see and experience throughout the political season and after – what you personally experience, and the types of conditions you’d like for the country as a whole, rather than on what you don’t want to experience, you’ll amplify the energy behind your vision.
Can You Stop Making Others Wrong?
Our self-identities are often caught up in being right. That necessitates making someone else wrong. So as part of your spiritual practice, see if you can be for something without making someone else wrong. It’s so easy to get caught up in the vitriol surrounding who said what, who believes what, what someone did or didn’t do, who is a better person, etc., that we end up being the very type of judgmental or self-righteous people that many of us say we don’t like to be around.
If you find you’re unable to be for something without making those who believe something different wrong, spend some time digging deeper. What’s at the root of that? Why is it important for you to be right? What does it say about you if you’re wrong? As you peel back the layers of your belief systems and start to understand what’s behind them, it becomes easier to act instead of react. You can let your vision for the country guide your focus rather than reacting to those things that trigger you.
One of the things I’m committing to doing differently this time is I’m trying to find something I can appreciate about each of the candidates. Yes, all of them! That doesn’t mean that I need to agree with their personal behavior, the comments that they make, or their policy stance on various issues. It definitely doesn’t mean I need to advocate for each (or any) of them.
The key question for me as part of this practice is this – can I adopt the belief that each one of them holds their beliefs and bases them on some conviction and/or life experience that got them to that point? Can I:
- respect them even if I disagree (especially if I disagree vehemently) with their ideas and ideology?
- be the change I wish to see in terms of bringing civility back to political discourse?
- elevate the conversation rather than joining people in the muck?
For example, Facebook is often full of posts where people are sharing negative stories about this politician or that. Don’t join in on those conversations! That means don’t comment and don’t share. Let that string of negativity stop with you.
When a candidate says something that triggers me, the mere fact that I am triggered is something that I need to look at. What beliefs am I holding about whatever that person said or did? Can I dig deeper to get further at the root of that belief?
We choose what we’re offended by just as much as we choose what to appreciate. The offenses, small and large, are framed by our own experiences, our own acknowledged and unacknowledged wounds. The latter, in particular, can continue to drive our actions and reactions, often subconsciously, until they’re brought to light and healed.
So instead of using the political silly season as an excuse to pick at old wounds and allow them to fester, make a conscious decision to use the inevitable controversial statements as an opportunity for healing – both for ourselves and the country. See if you can discern where fear is driving the process – for you, the candidates, and the country – and where love is guiding it. A Course in Miracles says that everything is either love or a call for love. Regardless of what type of situation is before us, love is the perfect response.
This is an exercise in introspection and self-awareness that calls for an examination of our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It’s serious spiritual practice. Are you in?
Make the “What” More Important Than the “How”
One thing I’ve been thinking about more and more lately is that the vast majority of humanity wants the same thing – most of us want to be happy and healthy, to have the freedom to choose how we live our lives without having others impose their beliefs upon us. We want the next generation to have better opportunities than we had.
While we may have very different ideas about the “how” – how those goals are realized, the “what” is generally fairly consistent. So what if we focused more on the what than the how? What if the energy we generate around the “what” were so powerful, that the most awesome “how” could roll into place because collectively we’ve created space for that to happen? What if?
Politics is premised on “the other.” The rhetoric of the political parties would have you believe that the other party is evil and they provide horror stories about what will happen if the members of that other party are elected to office.
What if we flip the script on that, too? What if we choose to believe that most people, including most politicians, want the same very basic things at their root — a prosperous country that supports the aspirations of its people?
The way each individual believes that can be accomplished varies widely. And that is what politics focuses on – “the how.” What if we maintain a single-minded focus on “the what” instead? What, exactly, are you for? Can you hold that steadfastly as your vision, and then use that vision to guide you to the candidates that can best support it.
If you find that the “how” is really important to you and you just can’t let it go, stop and ask yourself why. What do you believe will happen if you surrender the “how?” Is the “how” tied in with your identity in some way? If so, how is that serving you?
Spirituality and Politics in Action: MLK’s Dream
Separate from Dr. King’s commanding oratory skills, what made his “I Have a Dream” speech so powerful was his single-minded focus on the world he wanted to see created. He didn’t focus on what he was against. With that speech, he painted with exquisite clarity a picture of his vision – the what – with no mention of the how. This particular focus, and the powerful intention behind it, makes it the best politics as spiritual practice example I can think of.
What is your dream for the U.S.? And how are you going to incorporate that dream into your spiritual practice for this political season?
Let’s stop giving attention to the behavior we dislike or the policy positions we disagree with and keep a single-minded focus on the type of political system we want to have, the qualities we’d like to see in our political leaders, the type of experiences we’d like to have ourselves as well as the type of experience we wish for our fellow countrymen and women (hopefully they’re the same!), and stop giving energy and power to the things we don’t like.
Let’s face it, many candidates say controversial things because they know it will keep them in the headlines for a few extra news cycles. We add fuel to the fire and keep that negativity going as we continue to focus on those controversial statements. Stop adding your energy to that cauldron of negativity. That is a surefire way to create change.
The Donald and I
An unexpected example of this in my practice has been Donald Trump. Yup, The Donald has encroached into my spiritual practice! And I must admit, all in all, it’s been a very positive thing. Yes, it feels a bit strange as I type these words.
I’ve come to appreciate that if something he says triggers a strong, visceral reaction within me, that it’s simply an indication that I have work to do within myself.
As he makes what seem to be particularly divisive statements, I’ve started to appreciate two things in particular about him. One, he doesn’t apologize for how the things he says make anyone feel. How we feel about anything, yes anything, is our choice. That reaction or response is entirely up to us. It’s our choice to be offended and choose to take a stand against him. Or we can decide to be for the things we’d rather see in the world. And two, I’ve started think of him as a healing angel for me as an individual, and for the country – again, not something I ever would have expected.
By holding up a mirror to the things that trigger me, he’s giving me ample opportunity to think about my vision for the country. I have an opportunity to anchor myself more deeply in that vision rather than directing my energy to being annoyed or even angry at the things he’s saying. In the process, I can heal the thoughts and belief systems that caused the triggered reaction in the first place. So rather than asking people to apologize for their beliefs, or making them wrong, how can you anchor yourself more deeply in your vision and stay focused on the experience you’d like for the people of the United States?
Can you give the candidates the benefit of the doubt? Rather than thinking the worst of individual candidates, can you choose to find at least one thing to appreciate about them (even if the only thing you can find to appreciate about them is that they’re giving you an opportunity to heal your stuff)?
When you find yourself triggered by something a politician said or didn’t say, rather than giving your power away to that person by allowing their action/inaction to impact how you feel, use it as an opportunity for reflection. What is that politician inspiring within you? How can you be the change you’re wanting to see in the world? What might be the gift that their words or actions are bringing to the table – for you, for the country, for the world?
Figure Out What You Want
As I’ve been writing this piece, I’ve been thinking about what I want in our political leaders. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. I want leaders who:
- recognize that there are smart, compassionate, committed people on every side of every debate, and are willing to engage with them to define and implement meaningful solutions, including solutions that may be outside of a government framework.
- are grounded in who they are, who stand in integrity, who speak to their individual strengths, not out of arrogance, but humbly.
- unite us, who are able to stay steeped in the truth of our common humanity. I want leaders who are willing to be the change.
- inspire us to reach for our best, both individually and collectively.
Net net, I want Love to win. And for Love to win, I’ve got to clear out everything within me that’s blocking it. That is my work.
What is it that you would like to see, and why? And what do you need to release within YOU to clear the way for it?