The political thunderstorm of 2016 has left me shaken. Perhaps I am naïve to feel so taken aback at the directions which many major world powers have been taking; but I am taken aback. I am disheartened. I am worried, scared for the future of this planet. 2015 saw some positive moves forward in my book—Ireland voted for marriage equality, a man with actual left-wing politics was elected to the British Labour Party… And so perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security that an increasing number of people in the world were holding my views.
This is not a political blog, and I’m not about to start making it one. But I can’t pretend to isolate my religious beliefs from my political ones; I can’t pretend to isolate my spiritual life from everything else happening in my world. And today, I am afraid for the integrity of many things which my spirituality holds sacred.
I could write at length about my fears for the environmental crisis, my fears for all the ways in which vulnerable people’s quality of life will suffer, my fears for the repercussions across the globe. But there is already a wealth, an overabundance even, of such material online. So instead I want to write about how the election—and other political events this year—have made me feel about spirituality, my moral obligations, and my agency in this world.
One of the things I hold most sacred is the feeling of connectedness. It’s a feeling that is often hard-won. Connectedness on a cosmic level is something I can only drop into when I am at my spiritual peak, meditating every day, and thinking actively about divinity. But during those times when I have been able to access that feeling, it has given me hope and energy: hope that it really is possible for one individual to reach out and send tremors across the web; and the energy required to harness my creativity in order to make those tremors happen.
For the first few years of my interaction with the spiritual community, it was enough to see that I was influencing other people’s spiritual practices. It was enough to see that I had helped people clarify their thoughts, built ritual, or allow themselves to be spiritual in the first place. I had a deep, residing belief that spirituality was the key to people’s happiness—or at least to the happiness of my peers, those people in the West who had already fulfilled the first three or four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Over time, it’s become increasingly clear to me that this influence—inspiring others to be spiritual in the face of western scientific naturalist dogma—does not feel like enough. It’s not enough for me to shy away from involvement in political, social, and environmental activism under the guise of separating my spirituality from my morality, or not knowing where to start.
The changing political environment in the West has shaken my underlying belief in the efficacy of spirituality to really change anything. It has woken me up to the fact that, at the end of the day, when I am writing about Paganism from a progressive, feminist, inclusive, green perspective, I am really just preaching to the choir. The problem with online spaces is that they become echo chambers. We all follow each other, read each other’s words, and interact within the community in which we feel most comfortable. And that is important—it’s empowering and affirming, and ultimately safe. But it’s the very safeness of those echo chambers that has led me to becoming unconsciously complacent about the direction in which the wider world is going.
So now I am wondering: how can I help to create tremors that will change anything on a more fundamental level? How can I contribute? I am more than willing to keep putting energy into fortifying our community—giving us the spiritual backbone and clarity we need to put our stamp on the world. But I want to start thinking about how our community can push beyond the boundaries of our current influence. I want to think about what I can do as a spiritual writer and thinker to help build a better future.
Because the most resounding realisation this difficult year has brought to me is this: My spiritual practice has been so much sand for me to bury my head in. I told myself that connectedness with the Cosmos, with the All, with Goddess, was the most important thing. I told myself that connection to our community was evidence that I was reaching out. I told myself, worst of all, that if I was a pantheist, then the destruction of our particular society, ecosystem, and planet could only be seen as one more sacred process in the divine creative/destructive cycles of Cosmos. Therefore, my environmentalism, my socialism, was peripheral to this central tenet.
If revering natural processes is what I’m all about, then I need to revere the natural empathy and outrage I feel for those who are suffering. I need to revere this impulse to help stand in the way of the destructive march of capitalism. I need to revere my morals and my beliefs about social order. If the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm, then this desire for equality, for reducing suffering, for creativity over destruction, is mirrored in the divine whole of Cosmos. I am ready to own that. I am ready to stand for that. I am ready to belief that my influence and impact can do more than convince others that a spiritual practice is all we need for true happiness.
Spirituality can stand for more than a distraction from social responsibility. If I truly believe in the power of self-made religion, in the power of harnessing symbols that are meaningful to us as individuals, then I should believe that our spirituality can empower us for anything we choose. I am for spirituality that revitalises the self. But I am also for spirituality that revitalises a society, or a world.