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Where Do Spirituality and Activism Meet?

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Somewhere the underlying curiosity and the investigative spirit -- shared by the journalist, the scientist and the seeker -- meet.

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious," Albert Einstein wrote to a friend, I learned from Arnold Mindell, Ph.D., a Jungian analyst. As a journalist, I can say exactly the same thing. So in this contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science & Spirituality, I'll share the questions I am curious about, and invite your answers -- and your questions.

The reason I do this is because I've noticed an irony, which is that when the scientist or the journalist finds answers, the answers must remain open, serving as doorways to further questions that naturally arise in their wake. Without this openness to further questions, these answers, whether scientific findings, reports on slices of reality, or certitudes about how things work, may over time crystallize, become opaque, and begin to function as obstacles, blocking further inquiry into the essence of ever-evolving change in the now.

And what about the curiosity of the seeker? Can long-sought wisdom, once found, also limit? Do our questions about ultimate realities lead us into mystery only to colonize it with our names or our beliefs? Perhaps religion has inspired so much distrust, conflict and war because ultimately, every coat covering infinitude must be shed.

Somehow the hope was that an inward-turning spirituality was innately incapable of hardening into the iron-clad, established belief system of a religion. After 30 years or more of the current Western "spiritual" movement, we can now take a look and see if that is so. Many spiritual/scientific core beliefs are now well articulated and recognized -- if not by a majority, at the very least by a very sizable number of people. Even as we seek to extend that wisdom to others, let's open ourselves to ask whether some of our firmly held tenets, called forth in a past moment, without our noticing, may have grown opaque. Are our favorite tenets of inner spirituality still transparent, or might they have developed into barriers to the changes called forth by this current of time?

For example, does the core of spirituality reside within us in our own inner state? It may be all that most of us can know or experience, but is it all that is?

Is the outer world a mere projection of the sum total of all our states? Or is it a reflection, a barometer, or a feedback loop, in which we can see the world we are manifesting, and make adjustments in attitude and action? I sometimes sense that the unexplored underbelly of inward-turning spirituality is a hidden belief that the world is on its own trajectory from which we must retreat in order to maintain a joyful state. Are we using spiritual understanding as a coping mechanism, as an indispensable safe harbor for remaining sane in a challenging world in disarray?

Even as we take comfort in spiritual understanding, could that very comfort, that very certitude, so shelter us that we evade acting in the moment for its present need, be it restoring the environment, assuring democratic institutions, or safeguarding food, health, and water?

Similar to the instructions given by flight personnel, perhaps it's essential to first don our own "spiritual air mask" before we take action to help others. But at what point does that self-care rigidify into something akin to narcissism with a spiritual cast? Is the calling to hear and respond to the cry of the world urgent and reflective of a compassion with or without a perfected inner state? Or is it fruitless, ineffective, and driven by the negative emotions of anger and fear until and unless we address those inner tendencies first?

These questions call us to consider: Where is the nexus of transformation? For some it seems obvious that the focus is on changing outer reality, other people, or social forces that are having a negative effect on people or on the earth. Whether the focus is on bombing the hell out of a perceived enemy in a distant country or on preserving food, water, and the environment from certain policies or companies, the focus is the same -- on an outer world that's a fixer-upper.

Yet many regard these outer concerns as buying into illusion. The outer world is less real than we perceive it to be. As such, the nexus of change resides within. All we can perceive is filtered through our inner state, anyway, so it's pointless to seek to act elsewhere.

Within this wide cosmos, it sometimes seems that people are disposed to seek in different dimensions of this manifestation, inner and outer. Everyone is fascinated by the territory they've mapped out to explore -- or been confined to explore.

My question is, where do the inner and outer meet and co-create in true integrity and balance? Can we safely omit either inner intention or outer action? And my next question is: Can one genuinely evolve, and is it truly spiritual, to take refuge in the inner domain of the transpersonal, without first doing all that is possible to resolve pressing concerns in the outer domain of the personal, the interpersonal, and the collective?

An invited contribution to the Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science and Spirituality.

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The Ervin Laszlo Forum on Science & Spirituality