I recently returned home from a family trip to Amsterdam, where we visited the Anne Frank House. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this historic site, where Anne and her family hid for a year before being found and deported, I highly recommend it.
These days, with the rise of neo-Nazis and white supremacists on American soil, revisiting the Holocaust hit me stronger emotionally than it might have otherwise. Listening to Anne’s story within the context of the larger story of Germany and Hitler, it’s easy to argue that dangerous movements don’t happen all at once, but rather build a little at a time. And while they are served by those who believe similarly, they are equally served by those of us who choose not to get involved. Those of us who remain bystanders.
This point about the unintentional aid of bystanders was driven home by our tour guide. She asked us if we were curious about who had betrayed Anne and her family by disclosing their location.
Of course, we were.
To this day, she explained, there are numerous theories. But no one single person has been named.
She went on to say that Anne’s father, Otto Frank, was asked this same question numerous times. His answer was this: while it would be convenient to lay the betrayal at the feet of one person, in truth, it did not belong to one person alone. It belonged to the whole of humanity. In other words, the betrayal belonged to us, not them.
We are the ones responsible for teaching, sharing, guiding and doing the work that must now be done if we hope to see a healthy, safe, clean and free future for ourselves and our children. Not they.
We are the ones who must be committed to justice, fairness, and equality. Not they.
We are responsible for speaking out for those who can’t. Not they.
We are the activists.
I probably don’t have to convince anyone in this readership that Donald Trump’s presidency came with built-in danger signs. In seven months time, he has demonstrated that his leadership instincts are authoritarian and his allegiance is tied only to himself and those who can pay for it.
White nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis have received, if not an endorsement, at least a pass from our 45th president in the wake of the events at Charlottesville.
Human rights are slipping away tweet by tweet.
Global warming data and the scientists who offer it are quietly being set aside.
I can’t help but add that today is the first day in my life I’ve had to look up whether to capitalize white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis.
Many spiritual leaders have sought and found a silver lining to his presidency: a rippling awakening that continues to this day. It’s true that millions of people who have never gotten involved in politics before are protesting, calling, writing and contributing, and in their own way finding a cause and committing to it.
But where are the people from the spiritual community? I feel like if they were out en masse, we’d know it. I feel like it would be front page news, something like, “Millions of Yogis, chanting Namasté and breaking for Sun Salutations, take to the streets to fight back against neo-Nazis.”
There are, after all, a lot of us.
Consider these staggering statistics: As per a recent joint study between Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance [www.yogajournal.com/page/yogainamericastudy], 36 million people now practice yoga in this country. That’s roughly 10 percent of our population. Ten percent is halfway to the tipping point, as written about in the book by that name, by Malcolm Gladwell. The tipping point is the point at which our collective consciousness shifts/expands/rises to accommodate the new, higher vibration the minority has been working for.
This is when the entire culture takes a giant step forward. This is how things go global, or viral, or become common knowledge across continents. This is how we tip paradigms. This is how we stop dangerous movements in their tracks.
We cannot create a healthier world by stepping back from the light of the truth.
We cannot create a fairer world by silencing our voice.
We cannot cultivate peace through passive actions.
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.
In this column, I intend to give voice to the many reasons why the tools we carve and shape in our spiritual practices — compassion, patience, grounding, truth-speaking, open-heartedness — are exactly what the world needs most right now.
Here, in summary fashion, are several reasons why we should not only be involved in the world’s politics, but we, the members of the spiritual community, should be on the front lines:
- Spiritual practitioners understand the potent power of words (mantra) and can wield them skillfully in a time when words have begun to lose meaning and truth has become play dough.
- We know how to find comfort in discomfort (asana), and therefore we are not afraid to get uncomfortable.
- We have the ability to sit in stillness and have cultivated the ability to respond, not react (meditation) to an event. This has built within us both patience and stamina for the long road.
- We have tapped into the power of our own breath (pranayama) and have seen how it not only alters our mind but the minds of those around us.
- We’ve studied the importance of tipping points and many of us have at least dabbled in quantum physics (The Secret).
- We understand what happens — and we know what to do — when the energy that lives within each of us (chakras) gets blocked or opened.
- We believe the love is stronger than hate. We believe in a peaceful world. We believe in human beings.
Andrew Harvey states in his book, Radical Passion: Sacred love and Wisdom in Action, that “…mysticism [spirituality] alone isn’t going to do it, and activism alone isn’t going to do it, but there is a deep truth in both that can be united and can create in each of us the deep, rich, mature individual that can then act from that wealth of inner awakening to help and serve and transform the world.”
In the words of Andrew Harvey then, let’s use our spiritual power and prowess to “transform this whole planet and all its institutions, all of its arts, all of its sciences, into burning mirrors of love and justice.”
It’s not enough for us to see and applaud an awakening. Those of us who have had the privilege to cultivate skillets that revolve around mindfulness and oneness have an obligation to get active.
Because if our spiritual practices weren’t preparing us to be stronger, wiser, kinder, and more capable people as we operate in the world, what were they for? OM Shanti.