The New Oxford American Dictionary defines politics, “the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.” It is concerned with the theory of governance, but is most often motivated by the status and power of individuals within a particular society.
The Ignatian principle of holy indifference, on the other hand, is characterized by an attitude of openness. It is a sense of holding a thing—or person or idea—loosely, as with an open hand. We speak of principles and convictions, taking a stand and making a statement. Yet by doing so the essence of what energizes that conviction or principle is bound, imprisoned, subject to entropy—if that principle is not held with holy indifference.
When one arrives at a conviction, the understanding of the principles involved meet at a discrete place and time. That is, when I believe I have received an important insight or perspective about a thing, I do so on a point in my formation field (age, season in life, era, socio-economic circumstance, culture, community, heritage, state of health, etc.). As I continue to be formed, transforming, my perspective adjusts and my view broadens.
If, however, I choose to hold tightly to what I believed as a child, or teen, or college student, or after a bad breakup . . . and refuse to be moved by the very real changes that occur in the brain as we grow that allow us to understand greater complexities and perceive nuances, then my brain stops making new connections, deepening entrenchments of thought, and my soul withers from starvation.
Uninspired politics is individualistic, implies the achievement of power and being “right,” not necessarily concern for the goodness of all members of the citizenry. Inspired (literally, “spirit-breathed”) leaders recognize that even in the midst of chaos and even war, leadership must be collaborative, involving a variety of talents and perspectives. When these conditions exist, each member must hold personal perspectives loosely with a willingness to be moved by others’ ideas.
The mindfulness spiritual practice of holy indifference necessitates the time and space to breathe the Breath of God:
Breathe in the peace and grace and wisdom and presence of God.
Breathe out the unproductive bits that make me think I alone have the answers.
Breathe in the power and mercy, healing and joy that comes from knowing God-with-us
Breathe out the sense that I am alone, that it might be hopeless.
What is that thing that Samuel Beckett said? “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”
Let’s go on. Together.
For more on holy indifference and the sociological research in mindfulness, see my book,
Leading Together: Mindfulness and the Gender Neutral Zone