The Shift Network Blog

Integrating Spirituality and Activism - How to Change the World
Cat J. Zavis
By Cat J. Zavis

Our world is riddled with tragedies: the epidemic of killings by police in the U.S. of African Americans, boats capsizing with hundreds of people fleeing war-torn countries in search of security, safety and well-being, children dying from illnesses stemming from malnutrition at alarming rates, women and girls being raped as victims of wars, and the list goes on. As spiritual seekers we desperately yearn for a day when peace and nonviolence, love and care, kindness and generosity as well as a deep connection with the sacred in one another and with the creative force of the universe reign. Many of us, in our despair, turn to spiritual guidance and practices to soothe our pain and find solace. Feeling powerless to impact the enormity of the problem and recognizing that social change efforts often lack deep spiritual integration and wisdom, we instead decide to focus our energies on our inner work rather than align ourselves with larger social change movements. We find comfort in the belief that personal transformation alone can and will result in societal transformation.

Yet, this is a notion that must be challenged. Instead, we need to understand that the inner transformation of becoming fully awake and evolved requires social transformation. Our individual enlightenment cannot be achieved without societal enlightenment. When the earth is suffering, when other people and beings are suffering, then we all suffer as well. If we believe, as most spiritually alive people do, that we are truly interconnected, then we know that our individual well-being and spiritual growth is dependent upon the well-being and transformation of others and our society.

We are often told, “Whom do you think you are to try and change the world? You are still riddled with flaws and cannot contribute to changing the world until you are more fully healed yourself.”  Yet this is simply untrue. There is not enough time for us to all achieve the spiritual healing and enlightenment that we desire. We are all interconnected with one another and are rooted on this planet we call home. We all come from the same atoms and will someday return to a unified whole. And so, we cannot be healed until we heal these disparate parts as well. We are all unhealed, damaged, and imperfect healers. Our true wholeness will come only through participating in spiritually engaged activism that is grounded in compassion, love, kindness, generosity, and seeing the sacred in each other and the universe.

People often ask me, “Why should I get involved, there’s nothing I can do and activism is really about being angry and invalidating the views of others and I don’t want to do that?” I respond that we desperately need people who are spiritual seekers and are grounded in spiritual practices and traditions to be part of our social change movement because we want to create a world based on the wisdom and spiritual teachings of love the stranger, justice for all, compassion, and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. The only way we can create this world is to ground our efforts and the movement itself in those very values and teachings. All too often we see efforts to transform society devolve into that which they claim to despise.

The Network of Spiritual Progressives integrates these very spiritual teachings and values in our social change work. We seek to build a movement that embodies these principles and we are unabashedly “idealistic” about it. We remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. did not become an icon of social change by giving a speech that said, “I have a . . . complaint.”  He had a dream – a vision of a completely transformed world. The majority of successful social change efforts have also had a dream – a dream that most thought was totally unrealistic (e.g., undermine and overthrow patriarchy, dismantle apartheid, end colonial rule over India, gay marriage, civil rights). We at the Network of Spiritual Progressives similarly have a dream, a vision of a world based on a New Bottom Line where our social, economic and political institutions are deemed “successful” not to the extent that they maximize money and power (the old bottom line), but instead on the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, empathy and compassion, social and economic justice, peace and nonviolence, and environmental sustainability, as well as encourage us to transcend a narrow utilitarian approach to nature and other human beings.

Are you still skeptical about whether this sort of change is truly possible? We invite you to join us for The Politics of Love and Justice: Integrating Spirituality and Activism to Build a Sustainable and Caring World telesummit where you will hear many wonderful and committed people share how they infuse these values into their social change work. You will be inspired and learn about resources and ways to get involved with our efforts so you can not only deepen your own transformation but also meaningfully contribute to systemic changes in society at large.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when? - Rabbi Hillel, Pirke Avot 1:14


Cat J. Zavis is the Executive Director of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, a Collaborative Divorce Attorney, Mediator, Child Advocate, Coach for Parents co-parenting their children after divorce and author of the upcoming book, Parenting with Your Ex: Another F***ing Growth Opportunity. She is also a sought after trainer in empathic communication, having trained hundreds of Collaborative Attorneys, Coaches, Therapists, Mediators, spiritual practitioners and parents. In 2009, she was awarded a Peace Builder Award for her business. (To read Cat’s full bio, click here.)