Spirituality versus Activism

This blog has taken a turn in recent weeks as I write about social issues. When I began A Cookbook of Consciousness, it was in order to share my thoughts about higher states of consciousness. I was working on Sea of Joy at the time and was tired of keeping my thoughts to myself.

After Obama was elected, I assumed that America would back off its imperialistic ambitions and focus on fixing the U.S. economy. Like so many others, I was wrong. This, and the writing of The Curse of the Internet, led me to take an interest in politics and economics. The more I learned, the more upset I became. Although I’m just another voice crying in the cyberspace wilderness, I felt like I had to express my views on the important issues facing us today. In essence, I became an activist. I was a reluctant one, though, because in the past, I believed that spirituality and social activism didn’t mix. I’ve changed my mind.

Ram Dass and Friends

Ram Dass and Friends

A minor miracle helped make my mind up. When I opened my email last week, an old newsletter from the Ram Dass Love, Serve, Remember Foundation miraculously opened. I say miraculously because it simply opened by itself. It contained this quote by Ram Dass:

You use the things that are on your plate, that are presented to you. So that relationships, economics, psychodynamics—all of these become grist for the mill of awakening. They all are part of your curriculum.

At that moment in time, I was having second thoughts about my decision to take on the responsibilities I’ve taken on in the past five years. I used to live a quiet, almost hermetic life and lived in an almost constant meditative state. Since moving to Cambodia, I have had to confront life head-on as I face the challenges of life here. Had I abandoned the spiritual life? That miraculous email, which I had only cursorily read the first time I saw it, convinced me that I had not.

I’ve been taking a lot of time off of my regular writing assignments to read and write about the social issues that face us today. You’d have to be blind not to notice that we’re on the edge of an economic and, more importantly, political precipice. I’m well aware that I don’t have a following, but also strongly feel the need to express my views. Is my foray into activism just a waste of time?

Although it isn’t as spectacularly miraculous as having an old email spontaneously open, this morning a new Ram Dass “Words of Wisdom” quote came to my inbox. This is what it said, in part:

does working on yourself have anything to do with whether you protest, march, drop out, drop in? No, it has nothing whatsoever to do with that, because at any moment you are consciousness involved in a nature package

Let me make it clear: Ram Dass is not my guru. I met him when I was in India. We both were drawn to the same guru – Neem Karoli Baba, the “guru who is not my guru.” However, in these two instances, at least, I believe that Maharaj-ji was speaking to me through Ram Dass. I am at peace with myself again. Acuun Trann (thank you), Ram Dass. I don’t have words to express my gratitude to Neem Karoli Baba. That’s okay. He knows what’s inside my heart.


The Tarot, Activism and Existential Angst

The tarot card shown here is a perfect symbolic image of how many of us feel today. In the 4 of cups, a young man sits cross-legged under a tree contemplating his available options. Each cup represents an option.

As with all tarot cards, there are many ways this card can be interpreted. The young man does not look particularly disturbed, so perhaps he is quietly considering his options before making a choice. On the other hand, since he does not know what’s inside the cups, he may be unable to make a decision. One cup is being offered him by a mysterious floating hand. Why doesn’t he accept it? Perhaps he is suffering from a form of existential angst known as aporia.

An article titled 10 Psychological States You’ve Never Heard Of introduced me to the concept of aporia.  This is an excerpt from the article’s definition:

The term comes from ancient Greek, but is also beloved of post-structuralist theorists like Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. The reason modern theorists love the idea of aporia is that it helps to describe the feeling people have in a world of information overload, where you are often bombarded with contradictory messages that seem equally true.

Do you ever feel that way? I certainly do. For some years, the only news I believed was the news the alternative media offered me. I still have more faith in that than I do in the mainstream media, but it is abundantly clear to me that many alternative news sources have their own agendas – especially now that they are becoming mainstream and newer sites compete with older, established sites for traffic. I’ve seen some real truth stretching interpretations of current events recently. For example, in the lead-up to the recent Thailand elections, somebody suggested putting Thaksin’s sister on the opposition ticket was the work of the CIA on behalf of the Illuminati. They pointed out Thaksin’s Illuminati contacts, but failed to mention that the then ruling Prime Minister, who was educated in the United States, probably had just as many or more cosy relationships with members of the Illuminati. For my part, I was glad the elections went the way they did, because now Thailand is leaving Preah Vihear to Cambodia and no longer engaging in border hostilities.

I’ve recently become intrigued by Ron Paul, but some of the more extreme global conspiracy sites tell me he is just another Illuminati puppet. What am I to do? I like what Ron Paul has to say about the reasons why the U.S. decided to engage in a War on Terror (paranoia and imperialism, basically) and I like the way he replies to those who sneeringly call him a “conspiracy theorist.” I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I may vote for a President if he gets on the ticket – for the first time in my life.

You see, I’m like the guy in the tarot card. I have never voted because I have never seen a viable candidate. They all said the same things in different words. Way back in 1971, when I reached voting age, I could clearly see America’s future. It wasn’t because I was psychic – it was just so obvious. I don’t regret not voting in the past, because a vote for one party or the other wasn’t going to change anything. Nor was revolution the answer – it would just cost lives and provide no solutions. There is a need for governance, but governments need to be governed as well. I never saw a truly populist candidate and America as a whole was still so full of enthusiasm for itself, it never even considered the needs or rights of the greater global community.

That may be the case again, but I’m rethinking my position. If there is an opportunity for change without entirely destroying the system, perhaps Ron Paul represents that opportunity. Is he the cup that is being held before us? I don’t have the answer, but for the first time in my life, I’m seriously thinking about voting.

I want to close with a quote from a great article I recently read called The Tenfold Path to Guts, Solidarity and the Defeat of the Corporate Elite. It’s on Bruce Levine’s website and he wrote it:

While we need critical thinking to effectively question and challenge illegitimate authority – and to wisely select the best strategies and tactics to defeat the elite – critical thinking can reveal some ugly truths about reality, which can result in defeatism. Thus, critical thinkers must also think critically about their defeatism, and realize that it can cripple the will and destroy motivation, thus perpetuating the status quo.

He goes on to mention William James, who often became depressed because of his inability to do anything about American imperialism in his generation (it’s nothing new):

William James (1842–1910), the psychologist, philosopher, and occasional political activist (member of the Anti-Imperialist League who, during the Spanish-American War, said, “God damn the US for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles!”) had a history of pessimism and severe depression, which helped fuel some of his greatest wisdom on how to overcome immobilization. James, a critical thinker, had little stomach for what we now call “positive thinking,” but he also came to understand how losing belief in a possible outcome can guarantee its defeat.

This hasn’t really been a spiel in favour of voting for a candidate. It’s about not sitting on the sidelines apathetically because there’s nothing that can be done. It’s a personal declaration of my intention to stop sitting under a tree contemplating my options. I’ll taste what’s in the cups that are before me and while I may continue sitting under a tree, I’ll take out my laptop, write about the things that matter and hope for the best.