Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Spiritual Politics and Political Spirituality

This morning was, I think, the first time I have been personally accused of being less than "spiritual" for offering political commentary. So I will take this as an opportunity to clarify a few points, if I may.
First, since most of you know that I offer seminars, retreats, and trips to India as "Rajanaka Yoga" allow me to make plain that I am wholly responsible for my opinions. But I mean to speak here for a moment as Rajanaka Yoga. Rajanaka Yoga will not remain neutral or withhold our opinions with regard to the current political climate in the United States.
To put this explicitly, Rajanaka Yoga stands against the Trump Administration’s actions on immigration and many, many other issues. 
Furthermore, we oppose the Trump administration's explicit intentions and efforts to pit people against each other, and to demand compliance with their policies, without regard or respect for diverse political opinions. Rajanaka stands for open and civil discourse, and endorses genuinely diverse opinion. We will not remain silent on issues that threaten the human values we hold dear and the moral implications of policies and opinions. Those values include tolerance, diversity, inclusion, and the continued fight for social justice and equality for all. We will not refrain from expressing our moral values or refrain from "judgments". Abdication of judgment is merely another form of judgment. If you stand for something, walk tall.
I'd also like to comment on an even more personal note. Partly this is a response to criticism I take seriously. 
I have over the past year of contentious politics been vigilant to reject even the slightest suggestion of violence as a viable course of action. I have tried with every fiber of my being to offer ideas and actions that are not only entirely within the boundaries of the law but also hold us all to standards of personality morality that bring credit to our character. Of course, I am willing to fight vociferously for values I hold dear and opinions I take seriously. If I have erred or insulted, I am happy to apologize. However, there has never been any violence suggested or implied in words or ideas or initiatives. If that is another's interpretation then I want to be presented with examples and evidence, rather than accusation. I don't mince words and feel no need to defend my language. By virtue of professional life, I am privileged to speak out with little threat to my livelihood. I use that privilege to speak plainly, conspicuously, and shamelessly. I recognize that privilege as a responsibility, which leads me to another point about being "spiritual" and being political. 
What does it mean _to me_ to be a "yogi" or a "spiritual person"? 
Yoga means connection and engagement, however you see fit. None of what I regard as my own "spirituality" I mean to foist upon anyone else. We are each responsible for creating our own character and, in stressful times, it seems appropriate to have clear understandings. 
(1) I can endorse _no_ claim that _any_ individual's opinion warrants special privilege or reverence on some putative "spiritual" grounds. Honestly, little is more offensive to me than religious claims that "enlightened" or religious authorities of any ilk are somehow exempt from the same standards to which we are all accountable. No guru, no lama, no pope, _no one_ has an opinion exempt from the same standards of argument that apply to all. We are all _only_ human beings, and everyone's ideas and behaviors are wholly accountable to exactly the _same_ critical scrutiny. So my first point about "spirituality" is that no one gets a pass because they claim or are offered privilege to their views. We defer to learning and respect experience, we respond with civility to the models of argument that put us all under the same rules of discourse, but I reject religious prerogative as any source of authority. My "spiritual" views here simply endorse humanist values of civil conversation.
(2) But more to the point: I would maintain that being "spiritual" _requires_ human beings to participate in all important human endeavors, especially social justice, politics, and work towards civil conversation and community-based learning. Further, I would maintain that it is _incumbent_ upon the so-called "spiritual" person not only to foster conversations, including political conversations, but to have the temerity to take a stand, to advance a clearly articulated opinion, and to be held accountable for those views. Politics is not somehow off limits from spirituality. Religion may be sequestered by the First Amendment from political power (thank goodness) but responsibility for our opinions is not diminished by our right to express or abstain from expressing our deepest beliefs. I feel, in fact, quite the opposite: every serious human endeavor, every process of committed learning, and every person who holds the slightest shard of power or authority in community has a moral responsibility to engage in some form of political life.
You may be less public or "outspoken," you may in fact prefer a far more private expression of your life choices, but to be human is to be social and no social world exists without the complications of politics. If you are not wiling to be involved in a world greater than your personal interests, to take a moral responsibility for your thoughts and feelings, then for my part your "yoga", your "spiritual life" is of little interest to me. If you choose not to share your politics, that doesn't mean I think you less caring or involved. We each have our ways, my point is that spiritual people are caring people and that _is_ political. 
I mean to stay in the conversations that take responsibility for bringing the real world, the everyday world, the political world closer to my own spiritual aspirations. Those spiritual aspirations involve advocating justice and actions that recognize the power of a privileged life (which I acknowledge has been a blessing to me) and so work towards helping those suffering from far less advantage or worse. How you express yourself is deeply interesting to me. Let us stay in the conversation. Your call.