“Radical” at Its Roots

Image by Beatrice Nussbaum

S&H Editor in Chief Ben Nussbaum reflects on the word “radical” at its roots.

Radical. Originally the word meant root. A radical change was a change that returned to the root, the most important things.

What’s striking about the seven people profiled in our spiritual radicals section (p. 38) is how root-focused they are. Returning to the basics can require pushing at the boundaries. If you are progressive enough, you get back to where you started. Emily Qureshi-Hurst reconnects strands of inquiry that separated long ago. Jes Kast returns to the words of her tradition’s scripture. Kameelah Rashad reminds us that a spiritual journey can only get so far without physical wellbeing and basic security. It’s radical only in that it’s obvious, but sometimes we forget the obvious things. Rabbi Wayne Dosick restores vibrancy to old rituals. And on and on.

I see a theme of returning to basics in other parts of this issue, too.

Kevin Anderson (p. 12) describes how compassion starts with self-compassion, an idea that is somehow both revolutionary and self-evident. Julie Peters (p. 20) writes about the Stages of Change theory, which is a modern spin on an intuitive idea: Change is hard, and sometimes we move backwards as part of over- all progress.

If there’s a theme in this issue, it’s about freeing ourselves from a kind of mental pollution, emerging from a fog of confusion. Putting away distractions and rationalizations to focus on what’s core. And while we’re at it, maybe we should push away the dinner plate, too. Dr. Andreas Michalsen (p. 32) makes a compelling argument that eating less frequently—returning to an older way of partaking of food—can be spiritually enlightening and physically lightening.

More metaphorically, Nikki Giovanni (p. 70) tells S&H that “we know that water is the beginning of life, and that nothing will grow without it. I love that, because water changes. ... Ultimately, I want to be a cloud. And when I become a cloud, I become rain again. That’s what’s going to keep us all alive.” After the heaviness of the holidays, it’s time to dissipate a little, evaporate. Spend more time forgetting what you know. Lighten the load. Be radical—focus on roots.