What it Means to Be a Spiritual Activist

By kyrashaughnessy

February 16, 2015

activism, lifestyle, meditation, motivation, spirituality

To Do or Not to Do

To put it mildly, there is a bit of an obsession with “doing” in the current market culture. Productivity levels, infinite growth as a norm, success as climbing the social ladder. We are encouraged to use our time to produce so that we can consume. Hmmm….

In response to this trend, still relatively recent in the grand scheme of things, there has been a wave of “be-ers.” Mainly sprouting from the new age spiritualist movement(s), the swing of the pendulum has led many to strive towards Being as opposed to Doing.

Somehow all this Being created a popular vision of spirituality as inactive. With the main goal of most spiritual paths I have come across being some form of non-duality, I think it’s time we talk a bit more about spiritual activism.


Widening Awareness, Broadening Definitions

I learned early on that in certain circles identifying as “spiritual” was shooting myself in the foot. No one would ever
listen to my opinions again, period. For some, the word conjured up pictures of meditating masses wiling the world to change and then carrying about a daily life of middle class consumption. I took this as a challenge of translation.

I say translation because it is my experience that people with the same mother tongue can at the same time be speaking a completely different language. Our “language” is based on the assumptions and inherited meanings associated with every word we, or someone else, says. If I say the word “spirituality” to someone they will have one understanding of the word and I may have another. Sometimes it’s in our best interest to consider what word would best communicate our true meaning to that specific person, rather than just using a word that’s comfortable to us as individuals. More on this later perhaps.

For myself, spirituality has always been intimately linked to social change and activism. With an awareness of the associations some people may have with the word spiritual, I learned to broaden my definitions and use terms that communicated the essence of things. Animism, radical interconnection, philosophy of oneness, permaculture, holistic worldview, epistemology, call it what you will…The basic gist is that everything is connected. Yes, everything. And that simple fact is a motivator for major, radical, transformative change on all scales of human life.


The Spiritual Activist

Identifying yourself as a spiritual person has nothing to do with checking out from the hard challenges of the world. For many it is in fact the complete opposite.

More commonly, a spiritual approach simply means that one is also dedicated to personal transformation as an integral part of the process of creating a better world. By that I don’t just mean processing years or lifetimes of childhood trauma and social programming. Whether in the name of justice or the sacred, respecting life/the
ecosystem means including oneself in the picture. What good is being revered as a hard-core, dedicated political activist if we still replicate oppressive patterns in our intimate relationships, be it with our partners or our bodies? Similarly, “channeling the divine” in mediation or song is not so impressive if it leads to an ego large enough to crush a 16-wheeler.

What I think is beautiful about the combination of the words spiritual and activist is that, for me at least, it brings together those two strains, the Being and the Doing, to allow us a Whole way forward. All of a sudden we don’t either have to be dedicated to the Present Moment and the Higher Self or to Social and Ecological Justice and The Future Generations. It’s all part of the same deal. It’s all part of being fully Alive and Aware.

It’s also about Being and Doing what you are able to be and do. Not striving towards some imposed standard.



Of course, people do exist who choose a spiritual path as a way of avoiding certain things in the world and in themselves. There are also those who choose the activist path as a way of directing and venting unprocessed rage or trauma rather than examining or trying to heal its roots. Whether we choose action or transcendence as our route of escape, the driving force is the same. Whether it leads to burnout and alcoholism or ascetic self-denial, if the motivating factor is fear (of oneself, the world, the past…) it’s a similar situation.

That being said, it’s no good judging others motivations and feeling holier than thou for having “figured it all out.” Being aware of where people might be coming from can simply serve us as a guideline for communication and compassion. Being aware of where we are coming from is integral to clear intention, “right action” (to borrow a Buddhist term) and having our choices and actions perceived the way we want them to be.


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