A bay at sunset.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Yetto.

To be a contemplative is to focus the heart on the Absolute Reality that gives meaning to life; to be a spiritual activist is to be engaged in the social world without losing the perspective of that heavenly Absolute Reality.

To be an activist is also to be a realist, to realize that many people are tied primarily to the materialistic plane, the secular world, the outer appearances. And yet no sane human being is entirely without a sense of values, an inner life which, if we are honest, is the key to happiness.

The contemplative faces that inner world of values directly and draws strength and wisdom from it, but no human being is devoid of those inner values, no matter how confused, egotistical, or negative they may be.

The gap between the religious world and the secular world seems to be growing larger; both sides seem to lack a way to communicate with each other. This is one of the greatest challenges of our times. The secular world views the many disparate beliefs and the conflicts among them and wants no part of it. The religious world, suspicious of the freedoms claimed by the secular world, looks at the erosion of values and morals and sees religion as something that can protect the moral nature of humankind.

But there is a third perspective, and this may be the hope of the future. This third perspective recognizes the limitations of all religious beliefs, but without discarding the core values of spirituality. It also recognizes how much the secular world sacrifices to the idols of consumerism and materialism. But it respects secularism for not imposing a single interpretation of belief upon society and for allowing the freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle.

This third, integral perspective also recognizes that humankind is capable of different levels of consciousness. In the simplest terms, it recognizes that selfhood can be a prison, its walls the attachments to our ethnic, political, or religious identities, our prejudices, our psychological blind spots and complexes. It also realizes that these attributes of the “false self” can be observed, understood, and transformed through a mindful presence and an open heart. This integral state is not new. It has made appearances through human history and has never been completely absent. It has been a mostly invisible tradition, known to a minority in every religious and ethnic community.

Nevertheless, what we lack today is a common language for communicating what we most value.

As a contemplative who is also an activist, I consider the recognition of the “sacred” one of the most urgent needs of our time. The “sacred” need not be based in a supernatural, or religious view of the world. Every human being can acknowledge certain values as sacred: the innocence of childhood, the beauty of nature, the value of life, the courage of integrity. The recognition of the sacred is the recognition of and relationship with real value, with something greater than the individual’s selfish preoccupations. This selfish, short-term self-interest, this disconnection from real values, is what is causing environmental and human degradation.

Shaikh Kabir Helminski is the author of Living Presence and The Knowing Heart, a translator of Rumi, and the co-director of the Threshold Society (sufism.org). He has been named as one of the “500 Most Influential Muslims in the World.”


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