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Reconciling the Spiritual and Socio-Political

I have spiritual goals and I have socio-political goals.

My spiritual goals, which I won’t go into too much detail about, are probably similar to many other people's: increase my compassion, love, and wisdom so that I can decrease my own suffering and better help others.

My socio-political goals center around expanding the notion of ‘democracy’ by creating structures that allow more and more people to directly engage in the collective actions and decisions of their communities. The best way I can see to do this is to advocate for groups of people to start using Score Voting to make collective decisions.

I have not fully rejected the concept of representative democracy because I strongly believe that not everyone wishes to be involved in every decision. I don’t care what kind of toilet paper the company I work for buys, for example, as long as it’s organic, fair trade, recycled, unbleached, and local (okay, perhaps I care a little). The key for me is not so much that I have input into every decision that affects me but that there are systems in place that give me much greater input -- if I wish to exert it -- into the decisions of my communities than voting for one of two candidates every four years or so.

The core belief that unites my spiritual and socio-political efforts is that all human beings -- and perhaps even all animals -- are equally important. That is, I do not believe that my life or happiness is objectively any more valuable than anyone else’s. Of course, I do not often fully demonstrate this understanding in my own actions, but this belief forms the foundation of both my spiritual and socio-political goals.

However, I sometimes fear that by engaging too intensely in socio-political matters that I am distracting myself from the real -- personal, spiritual -- purpose of my life. I had a long conversation with a 60-something, renowned violinist some months ago; she told me she respected my political beliefs and efforts but was concerned that I would wake up one day many years from now and realize that I’d wasted my life. She emphasized that politics and power dynamics change slowly, if at all, from generation to generation, and that while it’s important to do what we can whenever possible to influence our society for the better, we shouldn’t get too bogged down in its day-to-day affairs. She encouraged me to focus on my art, and by extension my spiritual life, as a means to unlocking the truly meaningful experiences that I sought.

This conversation affected me deeply, but it left me wondering: Is engaging in political actions somehow non-spiritual? Is it possible to reconcile the personal and the political so that my socio-political actions complement and enhance my spiritual efforts (and vice versa)?

I am not about to move to a cave in the mountains. In fact, I am not likely to be moving to the country any time soon. I live in New York City, blocks from Union Square, and every day I feel hopeful and hopeless about the world. But this is the only world I’ve got, and this is the world I will have to work with in order to make any of my goals -- spiritual or socio-political -- a reality.

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Image credit: Wisdom Quarterly

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