The Radicalism of Contemplative Practice

Lots of people, regardless of where they stand politically, are feeling tested by the social climate of their nation and world. When I dialogue with people about such matters, one of the things I hope for is that we more clearly see the complexity of whatever issue is at hand. I’m convinced that most of us are in over our heads with the depth of complexity accompanying most social and political problems. Whatever it may be — immigration, economics, race relations, climate change — not only are most of us unaware of all the relevant factors, there are often strong disagreements even among the experts with exceptional educations or lived experience in their fields. All of that complexity is further compounded by our growing awareness of information being intentionally and unintentionally manipulated at all levels to serve vested interests.

That’s a very uncomfortable situation for people who care about the world, and most of us have very natural urges to moderate or eliminate that discomfort in some way. We can be tempted to throw highly charged tantrums, detach in cold intellectualization, invoke ruthless order, foment chaos, give up to hopelessness, or flee in some form of escapism. Each of those extremes holds a nugget of wisdom, but finding those nuggets in oneself, melding them together, and refining and crafting that precious metal into the best possible tool of wisdom is itself a deep, complex, and never-ending operation.

As for me, I’m convinced most of us could benefit by giving more time and energy to that operation. That’s why I’ve increasingly focused my personal time and energy on being an advocate, consultant, and facilitator of contemplative practice. However, we can sense the demands such work entails, and so it can feel daunting. Our hesitance is further complicated by the interference and distractions created by entities whose best interests are served when we function at lower levels of awareness, understanding, and compassion. They actually use very sophisticated conditioning techniques, both positive and negative, to keep each of us on a rat wheel where the spokes are ignorance, confusion, anxiety, despair, paranoia, hatred, apathy, addiction, selfishness, self-loathing, and all the classic vices.

It is therefore no surprise to me that sages of different times and cultures have concluded that self-realization and self-actualization as a more fully conscious, compassionate, and creative individual is the most radical thing any of us can do. The powers that seem to control this world would much rather we do anything but that.