POLITICAL SPIRITUALITY: A TRIALOGUE IN THREE PARTS, PART 1
ANA (a budding spiritual teacher)
MARTIN (a spirited attendee of a public talk by Ana)
JARED (a personal development coach, also attending Ana’s talk)
ANA’s public talk and guided meditation has just completed. Roughly 50 attendees were present.
A vibrant middle-aged man, or perhaps a mature young man with prematurely grey hair, approaches her after the initial wave of seekers and admirers has dissolved.
MARTIN Could I have a few minutes of your time?
ANA Of course.
MARTIN My name’s Martin. This was my first time attending an event of yours. I very much enjoyed the meditation.
ANA Why thank you!
MARTIN But I did have a few questions about some of your talking points.
ANA I’d be happy to discuss.
MARTIN The first was about the idea that all of existence is fundamentally perfect.
MARTIN I think I can see the reason you’re sharing a doctrine like that, given how many massively privileged people complain constantly about their incredible lives—but it seems extremely irresponsible to me.
ANA Do tell.
MARTIN If everyone here leaves having bought the idea that everything is perfect exactly as it is, no one will have any reason to participate in the kind of political change that’s so clearly needed at a time like this.
ANA I see.
MARTIN The systemic inequalities of our society are perpetuated by widespread comfort with the status quo. What you’re teaching people is literally how to become more comfortable with the status quo. That seems like exactly the opposite of what the world needs right now.
MARTIN Is there something I’m missing?
ANA No, I wouldn’t say that.
MARTIN So you’re intentionally trying to slow down progress?
ANA I wouldn’t say that either.
MARTIN Then could you explain exactly what you mean?
ANA It seems to me that people will be unhappy regardless of the social or political climate, if they lack the capacity to accept the moment exactly as it is.
MARTIN That seems to completely ignore the reality of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. No one has the time or safety to meditate if they’re below the poverty level, or living with the constant risk of sexual abuse or incarceration.
ANA You might be right—though I can think of several spiritual teachers who lived in poverty for their entire lives, and others who were abused and incarcerated and murdered. Those conditions seem not to have detracted from their spiritual experiences or impact.
MARTIN So you’re saying that we should just let the political systems and systemic hierarchies to continue with their oppression so that people have more opportunities to suffer themselves into enlightenment and become martyrs for their teachings.
ANA I’m saying that even were we to create a fair and prosperous society worldwide, human beings would still be systemically oppressed by the cravings and illusions of their own minds.
MARTIN So you don’t see any purpose in compassionate action?
ANA I absolutely do. I think it’s a necessary practice.
MARTIN What does a “necessary practice” mean if everything is already perfect?
A young bespectacled fellow has been waiting semi-patiently at the perimeter of the conversational bubble for the last thirty seconds, and wedges himself somewhat suddenly in with a bold but polite forward push of his left foot.
JARED You know, that’s not quite how I interpreted what she was saying.
ANA and MARTIN pause to take in the new conversationalist. ANA’s eyebrows are raised warmly; MARTIN’s are raised with the semi-ironic righteousness of either a political activist or a closet aristocrat. JARED takes the quartet of elevated eyebrows as an invitation to continue.
JARED She wasn’t saying that things are perfect. Because clearly then there would be no reason to meditate. She was saying that things could be perfect if we just woke up to our infinite potential as creative beings.
MARTIN What do you mean, infinite potential?
JARED Well if everyone goes around thinking that life is happening to them, that they’re victims of their circumstances, then of course things won’t be perfect—because they’ll be treating all the terrible things in their life as inevitable, instead of changing them! We aren’t victims—we’re creators. We can create a heaven on earth if we just realize that.
MARTIN That might be the most blindly privileged thing I’ve ever heard. Would you seriously tell a starving child in a war zone that she isn’t a victim of her circumstances? Would you tell a victim of unjust incarceration that he just needs to “create” himself out of prison? Would you—
JARED You’re missing the point. Ana, would you help me explain this?
ANA I think that compassion for all beings is a crucial part of the spiritual path.
MARTIN Why would compassion be needed if everything is already perfect?
JARED She never said it was.
MARTIN She did, but even if she said what you’re claiming instead… which is what exactly, that “no one is a victim and everyone has the personal power to create the life they want?”
JARED That’s right.
MARTIN That idea and the perfection idea fly in the face of every rational political cause happening today. If everything is perfect, we don’t need to change anything; and if everyone has the power to create exactly the lives they want regardless of circumstance, then we don’t need to alter any patriarchal political system.
JARED Right! We shouldn’t be focused on changing political systems. We should be focused on changing our own lives!
MARTIN Do you have any idea what’s happening at our southern border right now?
ANA I’m sorry, do you mind if I interject?
JARED Not at all!
MARTIN Please do.
ANA I think there may be a misunderstanding.