Ideas for Meaningful Action & Sustainable Spiritual Activism

Many activists already consider their work to be meaningful, but fewer seem to consider it sustainable or spiritual. And there are many people who don't consider themselves activists, yet are yearning to do something for their local or global community that resonates more strongly with their spirituality. How do we make sense of this misalignment between activism and spirituality? What do we do about it? Here are some fresh ideas – let's dive in!

looking through broken window at sun and clear sky

It's helpful to start with an assessment of our social situation. We live in polarized times, marked by antagonism between various factions in our society. Many religions have been both resistors and enablers in this, and ultimately they may be casualties: there’s reason to believe that as zeal for religion wanes, it’s being reinvested in politics. At the same time, it’s also being reinvested in spirituality. So people are seemingly getting both more combative and more curious? How do we make sense of this apparent contradiction?

For me, these dynamics speak to our fundamental needs for both effective action and deep meaning. Many of us feel religion and other institutions have lost touch with either or both of these, so we turn to different outlets. But, in our secularized world, there doesn’t seem to be the meeting place we long for between politics and spirituality, so our lives become compartmentalized.

We talk and live politics in one moment, spirituality the next, as if meaning and action were somehow separable. This leaves us dissatisfied: the focus of politics merely on material reality doesn’t address our longings for and understanding of a deeper reality, and modern spirituality can be exasperatingly sentimental and disconnected from tangible change. Such artificial fragmentation fuels our anxiety and resentment, fueling in turn more polarization.

We can no longer afford this vicious cycle of gridlock, burnout, and alienation – the stakes for the planet and every one of us are too high. So how do we find a fulfilling, elevated middle ground between politics and spirituality? How do we find meaningful action and sustainable spiritual activism?

looking through crystal ball at upside-down vista of tree and sunrise/sunset

Because we are ultimately Divine beings in a Divinely created universe, I think we’re best off approaching this from the direction of spirituality.

The ideas I offer here don’t replace the majority of what we typically consider activism, though they can alleviate – and I do hope they replace – the hostility that a more narrow-minded version of activism espouses. On the contrary, I think what I offer here can empower new gains for peace-and-justice-loving activists: a way out of our national animosity trap, a way into deeper Soulfulness, and a way to reconnect activism with an ethic of radical service.

Such values of peace-making, contemplation, and service have been much maligned in recent decades as naïvely ineffectual – even actively harmful – in the quest for a better world. But when we reexamine them through the eyes of our ancient ancestors, we can reclaim their wisdom, and reunite them in an understanding of ancestral activism. I think we’ll find these kinds of action more meaningful, more spiritual, and truer to who we are and want to be as Divine beings.


Our nation and our world desperately need to establish a common understanding of reality. If we continue fracturing into separate orbits of belief, we’ll only keep fraying our social fabric, until nothing but shreds and pain remain. We need to find relative political agreement, which means we need to first find relative spiritual agreement.

circle of chairs for discussion in library

Per our working definition of spirituality, we need more deliberate social conversations about the meaning and nature of life and the Divine. These conversations should be hosted anywhere and everywhere – living rooms, public venues, conventions, podcasts, blogs, in our own journals, etc. These need to include people representing the diversity of backgrounds and belief systemsespecially people who disagree with each other – with the express purpose of drafting and broadcasting resolutions of common ground. In this, mutual questions are as important as common beliefs. And we need to consider skilled curation of these conversations and reconciliation as activism, the way the founders of the great religious traditions and their even-more-ancient forbears did.

ancient stone amphitheater, birthplaces of democracy

None of this reinvigoration of talking precludes action on the causes we care about – we will still have to advocate real change in the face of resistance. But if we continue only doing that, succumbing to cynicism about the power of conversation, we will be acting essentially in bad faith. This will only deepen the stalemate, inspire fewer and fewer people, and pave a road to ruin. (How many wars dragged on and on, destroying untold lives, because their combatants refused to verbally hash things out? Lives aside, how much sheer energy and time was wasted?) What if we could have something better, something that inspires even people who seemingly disagree – a shared, collaborative vision for our world that can facilitate more collaborative action?

If we can do this co-visioning, I think we’ll be surprised how much spiritual agreement there actually is, and how much more easily other agreements can then fall into place.

mountain stream amidst meadow and forest

We can no longer afford to treat the Natural world simply as a resource to be expended, or as a concept to be idealized from the cushiness of the indoors. We need to fast from our consumptions and distractions, immerse ourselves regularly in Nature, and cultivate our spirituality there.

We avoid this for many reasons, including that we’re afraid we’ll feel a Divine calling out there that forces us to challenge our comfort. And we will feel that, no matter how “called” we already feel we are to what we’re doing – our Souls crave constant growth. We’re also afraid Nature will evoke our own unfathomable spiritual depths. And it will evoke that, as it uniquely can. Our fears of Sacredness here show these are tasks to be leaned into.