I believe all authentic spirituality is engaged spirituality. I would describe spirituality as the transformation of our usual self-preoccupation into an inclusive, open, connected awareness. Spiritual practices of ethics, meditation, generosity, service and lovingkindness not only turn this tendency around toward actual engagement; they become the manifestation of a free mind.
Meditation practice releases us from the grasp of the habitual tendencies that distort our perception (e.g. holding on to what we like as though we could control change, and pushing away what we don’t like as though our rejection could make it disappear), and allows us to see life more clearly. What is revealed through clear seeing is a world where no one and no thing stands apart. The realization of interconnectedness becomes the basis for how we act, both in a personal way, such as within our families, and in a more global way, as we participate in social justice efforts.
In the Mahayana Buddhist teaching there's a very famous image trying to convey this sense. It's "Indra's Net," where the universe is depicted as an enormous net. In one place, where you can imagine the strings of the net meeting right at the nexus, there's a jewel—a very polished multi-faceted jewel like a diamond or a piece of crystal. Now, imagine in this infinite net at every place where there is that joining, there's another jewel just like that original one. In each of these places there's a jewel that is reflecting every other jewel all at the same time. If you look at one thing, you see all things.
In day-to-day life this translates into a much more realistic perception of the larger patterns and confluences we are all a part of.
Over the last few years, even when despair has been growing in the world, I've heard many people speak about finding something inside them that they didn't know they had. Perhaps they remember to stay more connected to their deepest values, or to the immediacy of love, or to the need to live a meaningful life. To be at all able to move forward in times of great difficulty means drawing on one’s own deepest resources.
Therefore, tools of spiritual development, such as meditation, are of inestimable value in bringing us in touch with the depths of wisdom and love within each of us. We can choose to pursue these not only for our own sake, but for the benefit of all we may seek to help.
[Excerpt from essay on social activism presented to the Institute on Unlimited Love at Case Western University, Cleveland, OH, October 2004]