HomeArticleActivism Without Inner Work Is Impotent

Activism Without Inner Work Is Impotent

Image via Toshimasa Ishibashi https://www.flickr.com/photos/iandeth/

Have you ever known someone who’s intensely interested in helping people, but is so neurotic and unskillful that they mostly just make things worse?

“Stop!” you’ll find yourself wanting to yell at such people. “Stop helping! Go help yourself!”

That’s how I see most political activism today. So many well-intentioned people who want to help, and are so crazed by mass media psyops and cultural mind viruses that their energy seemingly goes everywhere but where it needs to. I’d like to say a bit about that here, if you’ll indulge me.

It’s really weird how many people in the political circles I move in are still running pretty much the exact same programs they were running in 2016. There are still former Berners acting like Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America despite her being more or less irrelevant in 2018. There are still leftists and anarchists acting as though small neo-Nazi groups present a greater existential threat than the mainstream neoliberal neoconservative Orwellian power establishment. There are still liberals running the same “OMG TRUMP NAZI LITERALLY HITLER WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE” script despite overwhelming evidence showing that the most evil things this administration has done are all extensions of Bush and Obama administration policies. There are still anti-interventionist Trump voters doing everything they can to compartmentalize away from the undeniable fact that this president is continuing and expanding the interventionist policies of his predecessors.

Even if you had a crystal clear understanding of what was happening in US politics in 2016, continuing to perceive through the lens of that same understanding today is blindness. And the more the world continues to change (and change it always will), the more blind you will be if you continue to apply your 2016 worldview to it.

Unless you’ve got a very clear sense for what’s true and what matters and when you’re being manipulated, your conceptual framework for understanding the world is almost a matter of luck of the draw. You were born into a particular family with a particular worldview, you have a set of life experiences which shapes your ideology, and that ideology forms a perceptual filter through which you consume information. That filter dictates what your media consumption habits will look like, what you’ll take in as true, what you’ll reject as false, and what you’ll overlook or omit. You might get very lucky and coincidentally stumble into a worldview which happens to accurately reflect what’s going on in the actual world, but before long that world will change, and your habitual relationship with information will necessarily lead you and reality along diverging paths.

The only variable in this process, as near as I can tell, is consciousness. Individuals who have done a lot of work bringing consciousness to their mental habits and inner workings are not randomly floating about at the whims of chance in a tornado of information, but are grounded in a clear sense of which way is up. This doesn’t mean that everyone who has done a lot of inner work will necessarily share the same ideology (I often feel like I have more in common with someone on the other end of the political spectrum who has engaged extensively in self-discovery than I have with a fellow socialist who has not). What it does mean is that they have a much better chance of correctly figuring out when they are being told the truth, when they are being manipulated, and whether something is ultimately good or detrimental for the path they’d like to see society walk along. In a culture that is saturated with media propaganda, this is an indispensable asset for understanding the world.

People often ask me where my perspective comes from. What media outlets do I use? What books have I read? Who do I look to to get my finger on the pulse of the world? I usually just list off a few alternative publications I honestly don’t use all that much and a few journalists I mainly enjoy because they sometimes say cool things on Twitter, but I only do this because I don’t expect my real answer would be particularly interesting to the people asking the question.

In all honesty, I actually get my ideas about what’s going on in the world by meandering around between conversations with my husband, conversations and debates I get into with people on social media, random articles and video clips that readers draw my attention to, bits of information I happen to stumble across, and all the while checking in with my guts about the whole mess as I go along. It’s an ongoing and ever-changing process of taking in useful information and discarding unhelpful or harmful information, and it’s guided primarily by the intuition and insight I’ve cultivated through many years of dedicated inner work.

I’ve got a picture of a guy meditating as the feature image for this article (credit to Toshimasa Ishibashi) because that image is a commonly recognized symbol of the pursuit of inner work, but that isn’t to suggest that meditation is the only form that that work can take, or even that it’s necessary. Any method which brings consciousness to one’s inner processes and mental habits is beneficial, including self-inquiry, mindfulness practices, yoga, energy work, and psychotherapy. If you remember that the goal is to no longer be at the whim of preconditioned mental habits in perceiving the world, it’s easy to figure out what practices are useful toward that end by how acutely aware they make you of how little conscious control you have over your own inner processes. Anyone who’s ever tried to still their mind in sitting meditation for the first time knows what I’m talking about.

This matters politically because activism without inner work is impotent. If you’re beholden to the whims of your unexamined mental habits, any political activism you engage in will be determined by the groupthink of the people you’re surrounded by (who are generally equally unconscious) and leaders who may or may not be guided by truth and compassion.

The difference between the activism of someone who has done a lot of inner work and someone who hasn’t is the difference between a highly trained sniper and someone randomly firing shots in the dark. If you don’t have a finely tuned inner truth compass you won’t know where to push, where to pull, when to stop pulling and start pushing and vice versa, or where pushing or pulling would be a waste of energy. You won’t have a clear sense of what’s a worthy goal or what’s just a politically convenient agenda for someone in power. You won’t be able to see the gaps between the bars in the cage and know when and how to make a break for it.

No matter how well-intentioned you are, your good intentions are useless in this fight unless they are guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of well-intentioned people have thrown all their activism and energy into feeding into America’s pernicious two-party system, into fanning the flames of Russia hysteria, into cheering for western interventionism in Syria or Iran.

No matter how intelligent you are, your intelligence is useless in this fight unless it’s guided by cultivated wisdom. Plenty of highly intelligent people have poured all their cleverness into justifying neoconservative agendas, into staging coups to install brutal dictators, into creating engines of genocide.

The only thing that will enable you to use your gifts for the benefit of mankind is the guidance of clear inner wisdom, and the only way to obtain that is by buckling down, going against the grain of your unconscious habitual conditioning, and getting to work. The most compassionate thing you can do for the world is to clear your perceptual lenses of falsehood and delusion so that you can make yourself useful to it.

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Latest comments

  • You nailed it! Thank you for expressing what I have been witnessing way too frequently.. I’m learning to not engage at this point. I rarely meet anyone I can have a rational conversation with. It’s all regurgitated nonsense. Keep on writing!!

  • This article is strongly suggestive of an antidote to the artificial speed of digital media which is at once over excited and hypnotic, a cause or reinforcement, I think, of the brain lock about which you talk.

  • Hmm, methinks you maybe need to do some inner work on your judgmental attitudes to neurotic and clumsy people, Caitlyn …

    I disagree with you sometimes.

  • I attended a gun show last weekend, out here in the West. It was obvious from the conversations I overheard that they are preparing for civil war. I’m not joking. Then, when I got home, I read the latest screeds from the right about immigration, Trump “resistance” (to him and his Administration, etc.) and the comments that followed ALSO heavily advocated civil war.

    Their “reason” is bizarre – they hate the left, liberals, anti-Trump, the so called “antifa” movement, etc., etc., and believe that murdering Americans is their answer. Moreover, they consistently express the claim that they have the right to do this – while denying the rights of protesters themselves. This isn’t just a First Amendment issue, it’s literally the right to “peace, prosperity and happiness”.

    So when you write about “political reality” perhaps you have missed the seriousness of what is unfolding. I fully expect a shooting war to start where the rabid right wing starts killing people at protests, marches, vigils or wherever. They believe that they are justified in doing this, already asking for deportation of these “non-Americans” and believing that they are actually “defending our freedom” by taking it away from those that they do not like.

    You should be paying very close attention to this dangerous rhetoric that is bubbling and bullying to the surface now. It’s not harmless and has already led to one mass shooting (Las Vegas) where the shooter was trying to make a point. He was a right-winger himself.

    Despite the objections people post online, it’s very very clear that both groups are talking past each other. They’re not even remotely communicating, but the deranged commentary and claims being made by the right is getting worse and worse. They’re now almost entirely disconnected from reality and have imagined enemies everywhere.

    They’re also very heavily armed, the real number is about 500,000,000 million firearms (I am in this industry myself as a Class III dealer). Most of the media reports on these stats are woefully inaccurate. But the point being is this is no longer an issue of gun ownership, shooting sports, et. al., it is now an issue of how they intend to cleanse the country from the evil, liberal “left” – and every other non-white that they can be rid of. They stupidly think that they have the means to do this. They don’t.

    They need to be reminded that engaging the so-called “opposition” is a violation of law and will result in criminal convictions and prison, literally throwing one’s life away because of political differences and views. They perceive these views as being worthy of a firefight and a murder sentence and believe that the country will “stand behind them” when the shooting starts. They could not be more wrong.

    Understanding this mind set is critical. They are unhinged and without any kind of moral compass. Don’t even look for compassion or understanding, it’s not there. Ultimately, it is simply about them and their hatred for the things that have caused change in this country. They believe that they have both an ally and advocate in Donald Trump, who has tapped into this racism, xenophobic behavior and low intelligence and used it to his advantage and populism. If the shooting starts, they believe Trump will support it. And he’s dumb enough and crazy enough that he just might.

    There is a clear and present danger unfolding within the population of this country. One side is preparing to engage in wholesale murder. The other side is angry and yelling and some are attempting to reason. But they are most definitely NOT communicating. Under the Trump Administration, it’s possible that federal and local law enforcement agencies are NOT paying this topic close enough attention – and they most definitely should, as a great many people will be severely hurt and torn apart. Civil war is no laughing matter and quite frankly, there is absolutely no grounds or justification for this insanity.

    • I recommend you read Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk. It’s fiction, but I fear it may be prophetic, particularly in view of what you’ve written here.

  • Thank YOU! Caitlin

    to Those Who show,
    CARE, and share
    for the Main of any WORLD’S Balance
    is There

    Will Share “Activism & Inner Work.”! With a Smile ~ Greg

  • How is this not just substituting your type of elitism for theirs? Instead of only the corporate, wealthy, land-owning and/or highly educated being competent to determine ‘reality’ and what is best to do you advocate the same for those who have done the inner work as you conceive it (though explain it in no more than a ‘if you are enlightened you know what I mean’ circular-terms).

    I am a psychoanalyst. Inner work and self-understanding are major commitments of mine, so I am not unsympathetic. But the differences in various means of seeking this and their outcomes make the idea of a shared, wiser-than-thou view of things seem yet another illusion/delusion.

    • The “ego” perceives a “wiser than thou” view in those who disagree or choose another path the “ego” does not want to follow. Inner work involves awareness of the “ego” and the ability to be avoid being manipulated and forced to capitulate in agreeing to keep the “ego” company. People who have not freed themselves through inner work agree to hurt themselves, those around them, and the Earth in order, in part, not to be called “elitest” by the “ego”, which thinks it is better than everybody else anyway and should always be in charge–THERE is your circular mindf*ck. The true self does not indulge in such foolishness and does not take anything personally.

      • It is this sort of mindless incantation of rote nonsense that concerns me about a group of people who believe they are the uniquely enlightened.

        This doesn’t mean I don’t agree with a lot that Caitlin writes. It’s just that I prefer to think it is based on reason and fact and not some special capacity developed by some notion of “inner work” that makes one’s view superior to all others. Putting it your way, my inner work in analysis and ongoing in life causes me to be concerned about such claims of special knowingness.

        • mindless, yes, clearly you get it. Inner work simply gives us a choice, since through inner silence we can distinguish between all of the forces impinging on us, and decide which path we want to take. Anyone can do it. You don’t need a degree, or anyone with a degree to tell you what to do. People who say they are “uniquely enlightened”, are hucksters likely looking to make a buck. Sitting in silence as often as you can is possible for anyone motivated enough to seek freedom and clarity. It does take practice, and there are plenty of folks around to tell you that it is dangerous and foolhardy to trust your inner knowing. But, as I have found time and again when I have been encouraged to take advice that turned out badly for me–the person who gave the advice is nowhere to be found when the SHTF, and I have to take responsibility–why not just listen to my inner knowing, and learn from it?

  • Yes, you have to stop participating in things you don’t believe in if you are serious about living truth and creating truthful government. If you think you must go along to get along in order to reach a position of “power and influence” “necessary” to change the “system”, you will have become the “system”, aka, a lying piece of sociopathic shit, not the way to go, IMO. And DT’s agenda, which is to be surrounded by supportive people who are as morally and ethically bereft as he is, who feel justified by his position of power to act out their basest feelings, is not really anything but a perverted club.

  • I mostly agree.

    While with this: “There are still leftists and anarchists acting as though small neo-Nazi groups present a greater existential threat than the mainstream neoliberal neoconservative Orwellian power establishment.”

    You may need to rethink this bit: “There are still former Berners acting like Hillary Clinton is the single greatest threat to America despite her being more or less irrelevant in 2018.”

    Hillary Clinton is unfortunately still relevant, she is still the defacto leader of the establishment democrats who are still working very hard to push out progressives candidates and progressive ideas.

    At this point, I think the Democrats are a sinking ship and a lost cause, but many people do not, and many see them as the only viable route for a progressive candidate to get elected. Also, remember that Hillary is still a primary reason for why we have Russiagate, and she is most certainly going to try and run again in 2020. So yeah, she is unfortunately still relevant, because she is still a threat.

    • re trying to change the Dems from within:

      A rabbit changes a python’s shape, briefly.

  • Many years ago , I did a lot of inner work for a good number of years.I am talking about meditation and I know exactly what you mean about stilling the mind .Unfortunately or not ,I dropped out of that world also many years ago.I am now 70 but really got a good feel for what you are saying .It is as though there is an inner knowing about what is true and what is not .I seem to recognize the bull$hit right away .I see it in many around me in conversations that start out being solid but end into vacuous drivel because they have lost their moral compass if you will .No compassion whatsoever because it is the other’s fault , for being the wrong color,for being born into another culture ,for living in another land etc.etc.
    For a long time I have discovered that unless one changes oneself ,one will never change another .Not that one should even try to begin with.
    Your post resonates.Cheers !

  • I think it’s very important to distinguish forms of inner work and spiritual development from religious dogma and spiritual universalism that bypasses politics with the kind of ‘its all ok in God’s eyes’ kind of quietism. Spiritual teachings that emphasize passivity and inner work as a way to DO politics (‘my meditation alone is for the benefit of all [which it is, don’t get me wrong] so I get to take a pass standing up against injustice and power’ – usually a privileged set can do this) can end up as the kind of quietism that enables fascism. Let’s not forget too the sheer irrationalism of Rightist evangelicalism in the US, where government officials routinely plant God in their speeches justifying their cruelties, or racists like Jeff Sessions quote scripture. I have no illusions these folks are doing inner work in the sense you are referring to, but I think we need to be more specific and not grant an opening to those who would mistake ‘inner work’ for religion or dogma or an appeal to some universal overlord or set of guiding ideas that cancels individual agency and accountability – this kind of thing is the groundwork for ‘only following orders.’

    Inner work is above all about truth – discovering the truth, for example, of how your unexamined and habitual behavior patterns and assumptions predispose you to particular political beliefs or set you up to unconsciously ingest and metabolize certain dominant narratives. Inner work is not about belief at all but about discovering truth in yourself and being willing to look at the truth of the world around you. It was seeing the ugly and stark truths of the world through the clarifying quality of inner work that in fact made me question my de facto liberal politics, then question establishment power, then to move to a place of political truth. For me that means a politics of socialism, solidarity, and a dismantling of US (where I live) corporate oligarchy, and with it the toxic nexus of corporate capitalist power-white supremacy-nationalism-exceptionalism that fuels the death drives of US internal and foreign policy. I think making the the link between serious and sincere and truth-based inner work – as opposed to simply adopting a belief system – and the open-eyed politics that flows from that is important.

    But I also think of this line from the Bhagavad Gita – ‘plunge into the heat of battle, but leave your heart at the lotus feet of the lord’ – so I agree that inner work is also and quite simply about knowing yourself and your real strengths and limitations so you have a better sense of how EXACTLY you can be useful to a cause or a group, rather than engaging in egoic wish fulfillment or self aggrandizement. In that sense for me inner work is not so different than the Socratic ideal of rational self examination leading to rational examination of the world. Again, in a world beset by irrationalist religious dogma driving thoughtless and destructive and murderous government policy, we need above all to maintain a fundamental philosophical rationalism based in facts. And in my own experience this is totally compatible with the goals and methods of authentic inner work – whether you are meditation or inquiring or working in group settings (it can be especially powerful for a group to work on ITS truths as well).

    Thanks for all your good work. And for bringing this particular thread into consciousness.

  • Alexander Technique

  • Even just 20 yrs ago this sort of communication was not possible.

  • great insight .really enjoying your posts !

  • Thanks so much for this particular article Caitlin.

    I’ve been noticing much the same thing lately to the point where in most conversations I have I find myself trying to workout where in this person’s historical psychology are their comments coming from.
    I’d already worked out that all I was going to hear was an avalanche of ideas that had bounced around their head from one bad memory to another.

    I love the work of Joe Dispenza who addresses this behaviour and how to fix it more than anyone one else I have read/seen.

    It’s often a strange mix of odd and lonely being a conscious thinker in a world that is so manipulated and programmed – and most simply have not got a clue.

    Such a pleasure reading your material.

    Much Love

    Michael

  • I’m not 100% sure what you are referring to about the consciousness or not of a given point of view. My activism is based on evidence of malfeasance in the food and health world which has manifest itself in the obesity epidemic and the diet craze. After working within that domain for a few years I found a link that directed me to the profound ignorance that characterises economics. I have concentrated there ever since.
    As far as being on the inside is concerned, we are all of us on the inside receiving end of economic malfeasance.
    I discovered the reality of economics through the internet, since it is open to all to discover much of what goes down as propaganda or as truth. Economic truth is embedded in Modern Monetary Theory. It is antidote to traditional academy based mainstream economics that has promoted neo-liberal ideology this past 40 years.
    Believe it or not it began with the Labour Party in Australia under Hawke-Keating and followed through by both sides of politics since. Labour in England was the same and Mitterrand in France. The EU was a neo liberal construct, which is why it is a shambles today. Brexit and Trump are manifestations of the dissatisfaction across the spectrum today. People see something is wrong but cannot pinpoint the cause.

    MMT is a description of the mechanics of the state control of the money supply. It’s not an hypothesis, but a description. The mainstream would have you believe the Federal government has to act like it is a household, a user of currency with a finite tax based economy. Reality is the federal /national governments with their own currency are creators of their currency. Their constitutions say so, so they, unlike the rest of us, cannot go bankrupt in their own money. They have infinite access to their money and as long as resources are available they can spend to fund such things as free education, free welfare, free healthcare, full employment and many things the current state would have us believe was unaffordable. It’s not unaffordable. That is a lie.

    I am always busy on line trying to set the record state and join with the many like minded souls trying to get the truth accepted. Hopefully it will not be like Max Planck had to say when trying to get his quantum theory accepted, that progress was through one death at a time.

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