Spiritual Activism – Review
Spiritual Activism: Leadership as Service, by Alastair McIntosh and Matt Carmichael, May 2016. Green Books, 204 pages, ISBN 9 978-0857844149. RRP £11.99 (paperback)
Gandhi once said, “I have only three enemies. My favourite enemy, the one most easily influenced for the better, is the British Empire. My second enemy, the Indian people, is far more difficult. But my most formidable opponent is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him I seem to have very little influence.”
Transformation is never easy – be it personal or social, political or spiritual; and often the ways of contemplation and of action are polarized and set against each other. The authors of Spiritual Activism have sought to bring them together, showing how they are not only interlinked but interdependent and mutually enriching and enlightening.
They bring together resources from a huge range of Eastern and Western traditions and disciplines. Definitions provide useful groundwork, and an illuminating discussion of the nature of consciousness shows how different states of consciousness are beginning to be recognized and understood within the field of psychological research. The spread of mindfulness hints at this.
The authors explore the dangers of an imbalance between the worlds of spirituality and activism; the burnt out angry activist or the self-preoccupied pilgrim. The dangers of an imbalance within either world are raised too; in the chapter “Understanding Cults and Charisma” they wisely point out that “to build on rock is our objective, but to do so, we have had to map the shifting sands.”
The book maps the terrain well and provides a helpful introduction to what is a huge field. Each chapter ends with a story of an individual; someone whose life and witness bears testimony to the theme. These are interesting and inspiring; ending the chapter “Nonviolence and the Powers that Be” with a case study of Muhammad (pbuh) is a welcome move in today’s world.
For me, the most interesting chapter is “Nonviolence and the Powers that Be” where spiritual and activist practices are brought to bear on the major contemporary problem of violence. Putting nonviolence at the heart of change and challenge requires leadership, imagination and spiritual resources. The authors do not pretend that the path is easy guarantees quick success, but this remains the only way to, as they put it, “set the soul free”.
We are faced with the collapse of many of the stories that have fed and nurtured our view of the world. Many are looking for fresh ways of living and working together, as we seek to tackle the issues of climate change, rising inequality within and between nations and the overarching dominance of our economic system. As Maggi Ross, in her study on Silence, so clearly writes – “Life hangs in the balance. The choice for silence or noise, for carefulness or carelessness is ours in every moment.” We need to choose carefully – and this book can help us all in making wise choices.