Spiritual teachers and practitioners should not only be participating in activism, they should be on the front lines of activist movements—where they can guide societal change from a place of compassion and kindness.
I believe that those of us who feel called to spiritual work are simultaneously called to awaken our own power, and from there, empower others.
That we are called to speak and live in truth.
And that we are called to find justice in our lives and sovereignty in our bodies, as well as justice and sovereignty in the body of humanity.
I previously wrote about why I believe this in this article.
Not all human beings are called to such profound and radical inner and outer work. But for those of us who are, this time we’re living in is ripe for exponential growth.
It is painful to watch, feel, and experience the suffering that is now ripping across our world.
The tremendous upheaval in our definitions of “normal” thanks to COVID-19, the looming catastrophe of climate change, the repeated occurrence of human rights violations, and the creeping authoritarianism of the Trump administration—it’s enough to make me want to crawl into a ball.
But, there has never been a more important time for us not to crawl away, and instead to run toward. To stand up for the virtues spiritual practitioners espouse most: oneness, compassion, empathy, self-reflection, and love for all beings in and of the earth. All designed to trigger an awakening that counters the tidal wave of injustice with a tsunami of justice.
To create an awakening of this magnitude requires attention, passion, and most of all, hard work.
However, we live in a culture that seeks to avoid hard work and discomfort, and offers all kinds of distractions and workarounds. Spiritual practitioners do not live in a bubble and are not immune to the desire to occasionally seek the easy or quiet way out. In fact, some of the most popular spiritual tenets, rather than bringing us into a deeper and fuller life, give us the perfect excuse to opt out of creating a larger life for ourselves.
There’s nothing wrong with the tenets themselves. When interpreted with the right context and nuance, they have furthered human spiritual growth for thousands of years.
Nor is it the fault of practitioners or teachers; we can’t help but interpret spiritual tenets through the veil of our cultural conditioning and upbringing—things that take a lifetime or longer to break free of.
But once we’ve accepted them as truths, these misinterpreted tenets get internalized into beliefs that keep us quietly praying for peace, but not doing anything to bring it about, healing our hearts but not letting anyone new in, or cultivating wisdom but not sharing it with anyone.
We must realize that when our spiritual beliefs give us cover to reject our inner power, mistrust our own voice, or deny our personal authority, then they have proven just as dangerous as the beliefs that might’ve caused us to seek out spirituality in the first place.
Here are six of these commonly misinterpreted tenets:
One time, a fellow yoga teacher and I developed a customized, advanced teacher training program. Combined, we had decades of experience. Our plan was to offer this program to teachers who wanted to continue with their studies while teaching regular classes.
But, just as we were on the verge of taking it public, my friend bowed out. She said to me,
“I believe in the virtue of humility. This doesn’t feel humble to me. I am not worthy of teaching teachers.”
Stung by her comment (since the takeaway seemed to be that I was not being humble) I tucked the plan away. But as the years have passed, I can see the fear of her own power masquerading as humility. There is nothing humble about stepping away from our power and gifts, it’s merely an abandonment of them. I still occasionally mourn what we could’ve built had “humility” not gotten in the way.
We need to trust that we are here to be vocal and active. There is not a single one of us who came to this earth to passively watch a world get swallowed by pain. How we use our voice and talents varies from person to person, but if we use “humility” to back away from visibility, then I suggest we’ve misunderstood the teaching.
Trust that your voice needs to be heard—by one or one million people, what does it matter?
You never know how, when, or to what degree your words and actions might benefit someone else.
It’s not for us to know. Therein lies the true practice of humility.
I’ve been thinking about an expression I learned as a child: “Good things come to those who wait.”
There is no doubt in my mind that we impulsive and often adolescent human beings could do with a bit more patience. We’ve seen this demonstrated clearly enough during the pandemic.
But there is a difference between a wise patience that knows what it’s doing, and a patience that is really an abdication of our power.
Patience can be a virtue in some situations, such as waiting for bread to rise or for onions to caramelize. But if we want massive cultural change, we need to focus on creation, not patience. Rather than waiting for others to do the work, or for the moral arc of the universe to bend toward justice all on its own, we must create change from the ground up.
This creation can be anything from creating conversations with family members and friends, creating online discussion groups, or creating protests or marches.
Get creative, but whatever you do, make sure that patience is your ally in activism, not an accomplice in complacency.
During the prime of my spiritual search, I got hooked on the teaching of abundance. I watched “The Secret” and “What the Bleep We Know.” I studied Abraham Hicks, The Law of Attraction, and any other manifestation doctrine I could find. It was exciting to create vision boards, chant to Lakshmi, and imagine the abundance of the universe raining down on me.
Today, though, I’ve woken up from this dream of abundance, and am simply content with enough—enough love, enough food, enough opportunity, enough time. As Brené Brown said:
“We believe (incorrectly) that the opposite of scarcity is abundance. This is the very trap we set for ourselves. By believing that ‘more’ will solve our feelings of inadequacy, we continue to enslave ourselves working ever harder against an unrealistic ideal so that we will achieve ‘more’—further deepening our ‘never enough’ mental construct.”
4. Letting Go
To truly understand the meaning behind the teaching of letting go, I refer to The Bhagavad Gita. The book is centered around the story of a young warrior named Arjuna. Frightened, unsure, and fearful of failure, he appeals to Krishna about the fight before him.
If we condensed the advice from Krishna down into just three sentences, it would read like this:
1. Show up and do the work you were meant to do in the world.
2. Let go of your attachment to the results.
3. Return to number one.
Letting go is not a teaching about turning away, ignoring bad behavior, or withdrawing into safety when things get hard or ugly. Instead, the teaching is designed to help us handle the inevitable disappointment when, after acting in the world, we don’t see the desired fruit.
Letting go can too often be used as an excuse to leave a relationship that simply needs better communication, or a job that just got more challenging. Sometimes, we need to hang on a little longer. But we won’t know what to do until we put discernment into practice alongside letting go.
I would argue that the concept of enlightenment as a goal of spiritual practice has done more harm than good.
Most of us are not intended to, nor will, achieve enlightenment in this lifetime. What we are here to do is walk a path far more challenging than enlightenment, one that gets us grounded in our bodies and deepens our connection to one another and this earth. That is the path of embodiment.
We need more feet on the ground than angel wings in the air. We need more open hearts than celestial visions. We need truthful human beings who can hold their own against the lies. We need walking wounded human beings who can connect and move from empathy. We need human beings in their naked authenticity to show up and speak truth to power.
While I’m sure there are human beings on this earth who are called to meditate in the forest to attain enlightenment, I promise, if you’re reading this, you’re not one of them. You’re called to be a changemaker. Trust yourself, my friend, open your heart, and lead on.
The larger point of healing isn’t to be healed—it is to become whole.
A healed person might navigate their own lives with greater ease and peace, but a whole person can feel, yield, explore, and adventure into new places, with new people. A healed person might know how to avoid situations where they might get hurt again, but a whole person knows that anything that might break can be made stronger yet again.
We cannot create a fairer world by silencing our voice.
We cannot cultivate peace through passive actions (meditation, prayer, chanting) alone.
Our wisdom means nothing if it is not shared.
Our love activates nothing if we do not activate our love.
Our personal ability to transcend the stuff of this world will mean nothing if there is no world.
When our spiritual aspirations give us reasons to pull into safety and comfort, then they are working against our growth.
But, when they challenge us to show up and use our voice and experience in the world, that’s when we know we’re doing what we came here to do.
Our spiritual practice should be preparing us to step into the giant shoes of our own potential.
If it’s doing anything less than that, it’s just another shiny ball.