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Yogis and spiritual leaders get political


Why yogis and spiritual seekers like Marianne Williamson are getting up off their mats and Zabutons and engaging in politics.
Yoga Votes at the Republican National Convention
Yoga Votes at the Republican National Convention.

This fall, yogis and spiritual seekers are getting up off of their mats and Zabutons and engaging in a realm known more for closed-door deals than open hearts—politics.

Sean Corne’s non-profit organization Off the Mat Into the World is running Yoga Votes, a campaign to get yogis to the polls, and modern spiritual guru Marianne Williamson is hosting Sister Giant, a conference aimed at bringing an “enlightened consciousness into politics.” It’s a new instance of two very different, yet similarly spiritually-driven campaigns, working towards common goals.

“This extraordinary uprising of spirit has been occurring for years now. It has revolutionized our thinking and behavior in so many areas. But the one place you don’t see it is in politics,” says Williamson, who will be addressing the topic at Middle Collegiate Church in New York this weekend. “The world of politics is stale. It’s mean. It’s toxic. It’s corrupt.

Crossing over to the dark side

Because of the “toxic nature of political discourse,” Williamson says, spiritual seekers tend to distance themselves from it. They don’t want to be a part of something that seems disingenuous and dirty.

Kerri Kelly, the director of Yoga Votes, agrees. “Often, yogis would prefer to ‘stay in the light,’” she says, “but yoga actually encourages going into the dark, uncomfortable places. We need to turn towards the things that are broken or dysfunctional and be active participants in transforming them.”

“The road to involvement is so fraught with everything we don’t want to be about,” adds Williamson. “But we can’t transform if we don’t engage.” It’s a dilemma most people are familiar with—like biting your lip when your Uncle Joe talks about the hoax that is global warming, rather than delving into the emotional exhaustion of climate stats and convictions.

“What has happened is that those interested in a higher perspective and consciousness just stay away from politics. There’s a real conundrum there,” says Marianne Williamson.

Engagement, not endorsement

“Engagement” is a major unifying feature of this advocacy movement, which does not endorse parties or candidates.

In fact, Williamson scheduled her Sister Giant conference for the weekend after Election Day (although she will cite issues she thinks are important, like child poverty and high incarceration rates). Because to her, this about bringing “consciousness and maturity” into politics, not playing the game.

On the other hand, Yoga Votes is primarily concerned with getting yogis to the polls and their values of “inclusivity, compassionate, action, and collaboration” into the political process. The focus is not on what the 20 million yogis in this country do once they’re in the voter booth, explains Kelly.

While some embrace this vehemently non-partisan approach as unifying, others have criticized it as being naïve and misguided.

For example, when Yoga Votes set up a free yoga-massage studio at the Republican National Convention, the blogosphere was outraged. Volunteers rubbing the feet of men who, at that moment, were likely working to cut reproductive rights, ban gay marriage, and enforce systems of income and racial inequality? How much of a difference could a few chaturangas really make? And how powerful can a constituency be without a clear platform to stand on?

Williamson and Kelly say the movement is bigger than all of this and will find its footing as it grows.

“No matter who wins [the election], we need to talk,” says Williamson. “We’re the last people who should be sitting out the big social issues of the day. If you understand the mechanics of the heart and mind, you know how to change the world.” —Lisa Elaine Held

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