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#96 – World Work Part 2

May 2015

           In Part 1, I suggested that just as we are affected by and can affect an invisible world of bacteria and microbes, so we are affected by and can affect an equally invisible world of subtle forces and energies. I ended the essay with a simple “energy hygiene” exercise I call the Touch of Love.

            The overall context of my thoughts, though, is about the debate, if it can be called such, between two approaches to dealing with world problems. On the one side are those who feel it’s important if we are to make real change to work on one’s spiritual life and what might be called one’s “vibrational output”, which is to say the way in which we affect the subtle dimension around us. On the other side are those who feel only physical activism will have any effect and that inner work is an ineffective and narcissistic denial and retreat from the problems we are facing.

            In a way, this argument is one of economics based on a material world idea of scarce resources. In this case, the resource is one’s time and energy. Given severe and threatening conditions in the world, such as climate change, is it “cost-effective” to spend time and energy in meditation or pursuing inner development when that same time and energy could be used in protesting Big Oil or writing to one’s Representative in Congress or engaging in some form of social activism to produce political and social change? Can I justify spending an hour engaged in some contemplative activity when I could have used that hour stuffing envelopes for my local environmental action group? After all, I only have so many hours in the day and so much mental, emotional, and physical energy at my disposal to use.

            Put this way, we see the argument doesn’t really make sense. Time and energy are not physical resources and are not depleted in the way money is. Yes, I only have so many hours in a day, but we’ve all experienced how time stretches and when we’re doing something that we love and in which we are fully engaged—that is, when we are in the “zone” or in the “flow”, as runners and psychologists like to say—we can accomplish much more in less time than when we are mentally or emotionally distracted or depressed. And as for vitality and energy, we know both scientifically and experientially how these are increased or decreased by our moods and by our sense of loving connection with what we’re doing.

            I remember a woman who came to me years ago complaining of low energy. She was a passionate individual who felt keenly the problems in the world, so she had a habit of taking on causes to “help the planet.” If someone asked her to volunteer for a particular project, she couldn’t say no. The problem was that her primary motivation wasn’t love or a sense of joyous service; it was guilt and a sense of duty. What she really wanted to do was spend time painting, but her various causes allowed her no time for that., and she felt anxious if she wasn’t “serving”. As a consequence, she was on the edge of burn-out and breakdown.

            I was able to help her see that she wasn’t really helping the causes she believed in because increasingly she was bringing to them a sense of depression and scattered energy. Consequently, her volunteer and her paid work were suffering. I suggested she needed to start saying no, cutting back on the amount of service she was trying to give, and taking time just for herself. She was desperate enough to be willing to try this, and the result over time was that she regained her usual joy and vitality, stopped trying to do everything to save the planet and picked where she was able make a real contribution and to do it effectively and with joy.

            There’s nothing earthshaking about this, but it demonstrates that inner and outer work really go hand in hand. Neither a blissed-out navel-gazer nor a burnt-out activist are helpful to a world in crisis. Besides, most people aren’t going to be attracted to or go to such extremes anyway. We can get muddled, but most of us have an innate sense of balance in these things that serves us most of the time.

            Looking back at the economic metaphor, it turns out that time spent working on our inner energy states and our spiritual unfoldment actually can multiply the amount of vital energy we have to pour into our outer activities. When love and joy are present, miracles often happen. Certainly more can be accomplished than if we’re working solely because of anxiety, pressure, or guilt. The time and energy invested in inner work can repay us in rich dividends to be spent for the outer causes that are important to us.

            But there is another side to this, and I was laying the foundation for it in Part 1 of this essay two months ago.

            If I want to de-clutter and clean up my house, it doesn’t make sense to take the clutter out of one room and simply toss it into another. One room may end up looking clean and clear, but the house as a whole is still cluttered and disorganized, just in a different way than before.

            Because we don’t acknowledge the subtle dimension of the earth, we don’t fully appreciate how the energy and vibrations of our thoughts and feelings can clutter up this invisible side of the world and consequently affect how we feel and how we react in the physical world. It’s analogous to doctors not washing up before performing surgery. The operation may be successful, but the patient becomes infected.

            So let’s say a person is on the street protesting Big Oil or the proposed construction of a new pipeline, or opposing fracking or off-shore drilling. The act of protest, if it can put political and economic pressure on corporations or the government that leads to change, might be an effective and important thing to do. But the person who is filled with anger at the government or at the leaders of a corporation, probably fearful of the consequences of what they are doing, possibly even feeling hatred for those involved, may be “off-gassing” powerful emotional energies into the subtle environment which become their own kind of pollution. Others who are less balanced in themselves or more emotionally vulnerable may pick up on this subtle pollution and, finding themselves now feeling anger or fear, though perhaps not knowing why, may be motivated to acts of violence. At the least, they add their negative emotions and thoughts as further psychic pollution. In effect, our collective human body is further infected.

            If, on the other hand, our activist had spent some time learning how to act from a calm center, had learned how to transmute his or her more violent and angry emotions, had learned how to be more whole and how to bring love and respect into their activism, then such a person could still be on the streets or in a courtroom or passing out fliers but not further polluting the subtle environment. In fact, he or she could be mindfully cleaning up the psychic clutter of that subtle room in the world’s house even while working on cleaning up the physical room.

            This is not an either/or matter. Given the dual nature of the world and of ourselves, “being spiritual” is also being practical. Spending time and energy to understand and master his or her own inner states gives a person a powerful edge in working with challenges in the world. The most effective activist these days is a person who has a vision of the whole earth and, drawing on his or her own wholeness, works to heal and transform that which needs healing and transforming in both rooms of the planetary house.

Other Subtle Activism Exercises and Resources