Green Books, 2016
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
It is not easy to explain spiritual activism in a few words – and this is why this book has been written. But for me, it is about being both ‘spiritually active’ – that is inspiring others, as well as being ‘spiritually grounded’ – that is being a compassionate activist with protests and practical action.
There are 10 chapters in the book covering a wide range of territory. Examples include: explanations of spirituality and activism and how they relate to each other, mystical experiences, psychology, movements (including Shamanism), cults, nonviolence, campaigning, discernment and magic. Each chapter ends with a case study featuring a well-known person who has been involved in spiritual activism such as Julia Butterfly Hill, Gandhi, Muhammad (pbuh) and Desmond Tutu.
The authors are widely read, knowledgeable, spiritual and they have been involved in many campaigns. So they are coming from a place of experience and passion. Therefore this book is no academic study but a detailed map of the spiritual activism terrain.
For me, one of the best chapters was ‘The Psychodynamics of Campaigning.’ The authors talk about not denying the shadow. On page 153 they say, “when trying to convince yourself and others that you are ethically blameless or morally superior to the masses, or even to your fellow activists, you have to do a lot of denying. You can’t face the complexities of others’ lives, which lead to their choices, so you become judgmental”. This is an important point and is, sometimes, a stumbling block for people (including myself) and organisations on the spiritual path who feel that they have somehow ‘arrived’. This only serves to limit understanding and growth. This chapter also looks at how to integrate the spiritual path with campaigning and ends up with an inspiring case study of a black African woman who lived in the USA in the 1800s.
It is no coincidence that one of the authors – Alastair McIntosh – is a Quaker as Quakers are renowned for their practical action. And for me, and I know this is shared with all other GreenSpiriters I have met, practical action is an integral part of green spirituality. Otherwise, spirituality is simply a dream with no relationship to the physical world.
Furthermore, there is a grounded honesty about the book which deals with difficult subjects head-on. One anecdote that is scorched into my mind is Alastair’s confrontation with the well-known RD Laing, the psychotherapist, and how Alastair dealt with a challenging situation that almost came to blows.
I can heartily recommend this book for anyone wanting to get a spiritual perspective on activism and ideas about how practical action relates to a living, vibrant spirituality.