Are spirituality and politics really so different?
Is sitting in meditation and standing up to take responsibility for the condition of the world part of the same practice? Can they– or should they– be separate?
And is mindfulness practice just about becoming more aware of your own thoughts and actions in daily life, or something much more?
Nowadays, when you hear the word mindfulness, it’s almost strictly in the context of mindfulness meditation. Even the word ‘mindful’ is only used in context to the sensory awareness you develop through that practice (or just the effort to become more aware outside of that practice).
But in Buddhist tradition (to which Lewis hails as, in his own words, a “1st generation American Buddhist Dharma Brat”), mindfulness has long been about much more than just the practice of mindful breathing that’s become so popular in the West over the last decade.
According to Waylon’s bio, his aim is to “bring the good news re: ‘the mindful life’ beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care.” And that mindful life– something the world needs much more of now than ever– is all about social responsibility, political participation, and compassion.
3 Lessons from Waylon Lewis on the Convergence of Politics, Spirituality, and Technology
Recently featured on the TFM podcast, episode 20, Lewis talked with TFM founder Robert Plotkin about everything from social responsibility to the role that mindfulness practice plays in connection with politics and global issues, and how we can use technology for the greater good without letting it control us.
These are 3 lessons from entrepreneur and Elephant Journal founder Waylon Lewis:
1. Mindfulness is about more than just meditation
For nearly two decades, Elephant Magazine, now Elephant Journal, has been a source for opinions and information on mindful living.
Elephant has been voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, but Lewis says the publication is about much more than just that.
From love and relationships to spirituality, health and wellness, Yoga, green, and politics, Elephant covers the gamut on topics which center around one single idea: mindful living.
How does all this connect to mindfulness practice? Social responsibility is a form of mindfulness because it’s about stretching beyond yourself to the world at large, developing compassion for others, and realizing that you have a role to play in how all this turns out.
In a world which is more connected than ever as a result of the Internet and, by extension, social media, it’s become more important than ever to not sit idly by and allow the events of the world unfold without at least making an effort to stay informed.
Mindfulness practice isn’t just about your own stress and suffering but about better understanding how your actions affect the world around you.
When you see mindfulness practice in this way, you become aware of how interdependent everything is and the role you have to play in trying to make things better.
2. There is no separation between spirituality and politics
“If spirituality is just for naval gazing I don’t want any part of it.”
Elephant Journal is known for its unique stance on politics: they don’t shy away from it.
Lewis says you can’t live mindfully and stay out of politics. It just doesn’t make sense.
“We’re actually about life, we’re about the world,” he says of Elephant’s stance on covering politics. “You can’t stay out of politics. Politics affect food, politics affect infrastructure, politics affect education, politics affect war, or peace, or equality. And we’re about all of these things.”
It’s a common– and damaging– misconception that meditation is about “blissing out” or “emptying your mind”. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. When you sit down to meditate, you confront the issues you’re facing: your stress, your anxiety, your depression, heartbreak, sorrow, despair, jealousy, and anger.
To sit and meditate is to dedicate yourself to figuring things out on the inside so that you can stand up and go about life more effectively on the outside. Waylon says he didn’t understand this at first when he was a kid.
“I grew up in the Buddhist community and when I was a teenager. I was busy playing video games or playing basketball or, you know, chasing after girls (pretty ineffectually). And I would walk into the meditation room and I’d see a hundred people meditating on a beautiful Vermont afternoon. And in my mind I’d be like, ‘what are you guys hiding from?’ Get out there and live; Carpe Diem.”
He continued: “What I learned later is that people actually are dealing with reality. Meditation is important. They’re sorting themselves out. You call meditation practice meditation practice for a reason. It’s practice for life. And if you’re not going to then get out there and be of service to the greater good than it’s just selfish, right?”
Lewis says that if spirituality is selfish, that’s the opposite of true spirituality. True spirituality is one in which you turn inward to sort yourself out so that you might turn outward and help others.
In this way, there is no separation between spirituality and politics.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take a hard-line stance on a political issue, but it does mean that spiritual practice should naturally make you become politically active, at least in terms of informing yourself and voting when you have the opportunity.
3. Discussing mindfulness online is inherently awkward– but important
Waylon talked with Robert about the apparent contradiction in being an online publication about mindfulness and mindful living.
Lewis says, “There’s an inherent tension in being about mindfulness, living a mindful life, encouraging people to get outside and find their breath and all that kind of stuff and being online where 70% of our readers are reading on their phone while they’re on the toilet or walking and they really should be just, you know, looking at the trees and enjoying their life.”
Elephant has at times been pegged as hypocritical for talking about mindful living online. But Lewis argues that’s exactly where discussions on mindfulness should be taking place.
“Well, you don’t want to talk about mindfulness to a bunch of monks on top of the Himalayas, right?” says Lewis. “You want to talk about mindfulness to crazy, speedy business people and college kids and parents. These are the people who need mindfulness and appreciate it the most.”
Mindfulness wasn’t just discovered. It’s been in the West for decades and, while recent scientific research sure has helped popularize it, that’s not the only reason it’s become a household term over the past few years.
Now, more than ever we– as parents, students, and professionals– need to take steps to create balance by becoming more aware of our daily habits and how those habits impact our life.
Technology and the pressures of modern life– and current events– are constantly pulling us this way and that and threaten to negatively impact our well-being.
You need to be vigilant in not only balancing your technology use but changing how you use technology so that it becomes a tool that helps you live better.
Learn more about Waylon Lewis and Elephant Journal
He’s been voted Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”.