Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Connect Inner and Outer Transformation!
by Donald Rothberg
The profound challenges of our times call out for the formation of a critical mass of those deeply committed to the interconnection of inner and outer transformation. Without the integration of our spiritual and social lives, we will find neither mature spirituality nor effective social action.
The split between the spiritual and the social has structured much of the modern world, following the critiques of Western religions (often far removed from their own most mature forms of spirituality) as dogmatic, irrational, and oppressive. It is time to move on to a postmodern, integrative, and socially engaged spirituality that might integrate the main achievements of modernity -- notably science, democracy, and the autonomous, individuated self. Yet it would also respond to modernity's systemic problems -- the disconnection with the non-human world and myriad ecological issues, especially global climate disruption; the lack of full development of democracy; the gap between rich and poor; endemic violence; and the hyper-individualism of much of Western culture.
The real work of our times is both to respond through action to these systemic issues and to develop the culture, personal and relational practices, and modes of perception that might support effective action. It is thus to walk a path of both inner and outer transformation, connecting the spiritual and the social, seeing how they require each other.
It is to see also how what we are called to do -- in our individual lives, families, communities, organizations and institutions, or ecosystems -- is the same. It is to be aware of what is happening, with mindfulness and wisdom; to respond to suffering and conflict with compassion, passion, and discernment; to understand our interdependence; to bring the qualities of kindness and equanimity to difficulties; and to take everything as an opportunity for continued learning and development.
We especially need practices and principles that can guide us in developing these qualities and capacities. From the best of the world's spiritual and social traditions and from contemporary creativity, we need to develop our tool kits and to organize curricula and training programs to support our ongoing learning and evolution, doing so even in the very midst of action. For at this time in history, we wake up while "in the world," in the midst of pain and beauty, danger and opportunity.
We walk this path prepared for the long haul, and yet every moment of care, awareness, and skillful action has consequences, no matter how small. Every moment matters, whether a quiet moment with a tree, a skillful response in a difficult interaction, or a contribution to resolving a community problem.
In walking this path, we remain linked with those who have come before, all who are present now, and those to come. The work is larger than us, much larger, and yet we are part of it. As the second-century Rabbi Tarfon once said: "It is not upon you to finish the work. Neither are you free to desist from it."
Donald Rothberg is a teacher of socially engaged spirituality, a member of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center Teachers Council in northern California, and the author of The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World.
Source Citation: Rothberg, Donald. 2011. Connect Inner and Outer Transformation! Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.