Spiritual Progress vs Political Engagement

We absolutely insist on enjoying life. We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders.

Big Book – Page 132

Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?


On Thursday 23rd June 2016 there was a referendum about something or other in the United Kingdom. Like many of my fellow citizens, I went to bed that night thinking that the result would be different to the one that I actually woke up to the following morning. That Friday I attended an early morning 12 Step meeting and was pleasantly surprised that not one person mentioned the political bomb that had just been dropped. I was in fact, extremely proud of my brothers of my brothers and sisters. They were practicing the 12 Traditions and living our preamble.

In early recovery I wore my personal politics extremely loosely, sensing intuitively that rigid political convictions and identification with certain ideologies and causes can only serve to strengthen the ego and reinforce my sense of separation from others. However, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, like many people I became politically overcharged in 2016. Far too much of my time was squandered on resentment generation via political opinioneering. I had heated (as opposed to warm) conversations on a number of occasions, even, I am ashamed to say, falling out with one of my brothers and an old school friend who had been best man at my wedding! I accept full responsibility for these rifts: at any point I could have politely changed the subject.

I once attended a 12 Step meeting in which the secretary joked about the 1984 Brighton Hotel Bombing which resulted in the deaths of five people and the injuries of thirty one others. At meetings I have also seen people wearing badges stating support for one cause or another. I have heard one member professing his love for an American presidential candidate, another sharing her hatred of a British Prime Minister.

Do I actually know for sure that the world will be a better place if my preferred political candidate (or cause) wins an election? Is the history of the world not replete with politicians once heralded as peacemakers who ultimately ended up being recognised as warmongers? Talk of being on ‘the right side of history’ smacks of playing God when I am not even entirely sure if I am on the right side of today.

When I hit bottom with drink and drugs, I thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It was certainly the worst that I had ever felt. Looking back, it might well have been the best thing that ever happened to me. If I am often not sure what is best for me, how do I know what is best for the planet at any given moment.

Let us return to the quote from the Big Book which introduces this piece. We absolutely insist on enjoying life. We try not to indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, nor do we carry the world’s troubles on our shoulders. When I indulge in cynicism over the state of the nations, I am not insisting on enjoying life. I have learned that alliance with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution comes at a high price: my own peace of mind. My ego likes to engage in controversy, and loves to endorse or oppose specific causes. The 12 and 12 instructs us to avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. I would go one step further, avoiding subjects that are likely to ignite the flame of ego whenever it is possible to do so.

Sometimes people with such dense pain-bodies become activists fighting for a cause. The cause may indeed be worthy, and they are sometimes successful at first in getting things done; however, the negative energy that flows into what they say and do and their unconscious need for enemies and conflict tend to generate increasing opposition to their cause.
Usually they also end up creating enemies within their own organization, because wherever they go, they find reasons for feeling bad, and so their pain-body continues to find exactly what it is looking for.
Eckhart Tolle – A New Earth

It is so much easier to throw oneself into social and political activity than to understand life as a whole; to be associated with any organized thought, with political or religious activity, offers a respectable escape from the pettiness and drudgery of everyday life. With a small heart you can talk of big things and of the popular leaders; you can hide your shallowness with the easy phrases of world affairs; your restless mind can happily and with popular encouragement settle down to propagate the ideology of a new or of an old religion.

Politics is the reconciliation of effects; and as most of us are concerned with effects, the external has assumed dominant significance. By manipulating effects we hope to bring about order and peace; but, unfortunately, it is not as simple as all that. Life is a total process, the inner as well as the outer; the outer definitely affects the inner, but the inner invariably overcomes the outer. What you are, you bring about outwardly. The outer and the inner cannot be separated and kept in watertight compartments, for they are constantly interacting upon each other; but the inner craving, the hidden pursuits and motives, are always more powerful. Life is not dependent upon political or economic activity; life is not a mere outward show, any more than a tree is the leaf or the branch. Life is a total process whose beauty is to be discovered only in its integration. This integration does not take place on the superficial level of political and economic reconciliations; it is to be found beyond causes and effects.

Because we play with causes and effects and never go beyond them, except verbally, our lives are empty, without much significance. It is for this reason that we have become slaves to political excitement and to religious sentimentalism. There is hope only in the integration of the several processes of which we are made up. This integration does not come into being through any ideology, or through following any particular authority, religious or political; it comes into being only through extensive and deep awareness. This awareness must go into the deeper layers of consciousness and not be content with surface responses.

Commentaries on Living: From the notebooks of J. Krishnamurti 

Gin Lane
Eighteenth-century artist William Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ was published in support of Britain’s Gin Act of 1751 – which sought to limit the consumption of spirits.

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