Activism Without Inner Work Is Impotent
Have you ever known someone who’s intensely interested in helping people, but is so neurotic and unskillful that they mostly just make things worse?
“Stop!” you’ll find yourself wanting to yell at such people. “Stop helping! Go help yourself!”
That’s how I see most political activism today. So many well-intentioned people who want to help, and are so crazed by mass media psyops and cultural mind viruses that their energy seemingly goes everywhere but where it needs to. I’d like to say a bit about that here, if you’ll indulge me.
It’s really weird how many people in the political circles I move in are still running pretty much the exact same programs they were running in 2016. There are still former Berners acting like Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America despite her being more or less irrelevant in 2018. There are still leftists and anarchists acting as though small neo-Nazi groups present a greater existential threat than the mainstream neoliberal neoconservative Orwellian power establishment. There are still liberals running the same “OMG TRUMP NAZI LITERALLY HITLER WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” script despite overwhelming evidence showing that the most evil things this administration has done are all extensions of Bush and Obama administration policies. There are still anti-interventionist Trump voters doing everything they can to compartmentalize away from the undeniable fact that this president is continuing and expanding the interventionist policies of his predecessors.
Even if you had a crystal clear understanding of what was happening in US politics in 2016, continuing to perceive through the lens of that same understanding today is blindness. And the more the world continues to change (and change it always will), the more blind you will be if you continue to apply your 2016 worldview to it.
Unless you’ve got a very clear sense for what’s true and what matters and when you’re being manipulated, your conceptual framework for understanding the world is almost a matter of luck of the draw. You were born into a particular family with a particular worldview, you have a set of life experiences which shapes your ideology, and that ideology forms a perceptual filter through which you consume information. That filter dictates what your media consumption habits will look like, what you’ll take in as true, what you’ll reject as false, and what you’ll overlook or omit. You might get very lucky and coincidentally stumble into a worldview which happens to accurately reflect what’s going on in the actual world, but before long that world will change, and your habitual relationship with information will necessarily lead you and reality along diverging paths.
The only variable in this process, as near as I can tell, is consciousness. Individuals who have done a lot of work bringing consciousness to their mental habits and inner workings are not randomly floating about at the whims of chance in a tornado of information, but are grounded in a clear sense of which way is up. This doesn’t mean that everyone who has done a lot of inner work will necessarily share the same ideology (I often feel like I have more in common with someone on the other end of the political spectrum who has engaged extensively in self-discovery than I have with a fellow socialist who has not). What it does mean is that they have a much better chance of correctly figuring out when they are being told the truth, when they are being manipulated, and whether something is ultimately good or detrimental for the path they’d like to see society walk along. In a culture that is saturated with media propaganda, this is an indispensable asset for understanding the world.
People often ask me where my perspective comes from. What media outlets do I use? What books have I read? Who do I look to to get my finger on the pulse of the world? I usually just list off a few alternative publications I honestly don’t use all that much and a few journalists I mainly enjoy because they sometimes say cool things on Twitter, but I only do this because I don’t expect my real answer would be particularly interesting to the people asking the question.
In all honesty, I actually get my ideas about what’s going on in the world by meandering around between conversations with my husband, conversations and debates I get into with people on social media, random articles and video clips that readers draw my attention to, bits of information I happen to stumble across, and all the while checking in with my guts about the whole mess as I go along. It’s an ongoing and ever-changing process of taking in useful information and discarding unhelpful or harmful information, and it’s guided primarily by the intuition and insight I’ve cultivated through many years of dedicated inner work.
I’ve got a picture of a guy meditating as the feature image for this article (credit to Toshimasa Ishibashi) because that image is a commonly recognized symbol of the pursuit of inner work, but that isn’t to suggest that meditation is the only form that that work can take, or even that it’s necessary. Any method which brings consciousness to one’s inner processes and mental habits is beneficial, including self-inquiry, mindfulness practices, yoga, energy work, and psychotherapy. If you remember that the goal is to no longer be at the whim of preconditioned mental habits in perceiving the world, it’s easy to figure out what practices are useful toward that end by how acutely aware they make you of how little conscious control you have over your own inner processes. Anyone who’s ever tried to still their mind in sitting meditation for the first time knows what I’m talking about.
This matters politically because activism without inner work is impotent. If you’re beholden to the whims of your unexamined mental habits, any political activism you engage in will be determined by the groupthink of the people you’re surrounded by (who are generally equally unconscious) and leaders who may or may not be guided by truth and compassion.
The difference between the activism of someone who has done a lot of inner work and someone who hasn’t is the difference between a highly trained sniper and someone randomly firing shots in the dark. If you don’t have a finely tuned inner truth compass you won’t know where to push, where to pull, when to stop pulling and start pushing and vice versa, or where pushing or pulling would be a waste of energy. You won’t have a clear sense of what’s a worthy goal or what’s just a politically convenient agenda for someone in power. You won’t be able to see the gaps between the bars in the cage and know when and how to make a break for it.
No matter how well-intentioned you are, your good intentions are useless in this fight unless they are guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of well-intentioned people have thrown all their activism and energy into feeding into America’s pernicious two-party system, into fanning the flames of Russia hysteria, into cheering for western interventionism in Syria or Iran.
No matter how intelligent you are, your intelligence is useless in this fight unless it’s guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of highly intelligent people have poured all their cleverness into justifying neoconservative agendas, into staging coups to install brutal dictators, into creating engines of genocide.
The only thing that will enable you to use your gifts for the benefit of mankind is the guidance of clear inner wisdom, and the only way to obtain that is by buckling down, going against the grain of your unconscious habitual conditioning, and getting to work. The most compassionate thing you can do for the world is to clear your perceptual lenses of falsehood and delusion so that you can make yourself useful to it.
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