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Be the Change

Grow

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” said “Mahatma” Gandhi, who led India to independence and inspired human rights movements worldwide – all by dramatically living the simple, nonviolent life he preached. We now see this quote everywhere: at churches and yoga centers and political rallies and on workshop flyers and bumper stickers. But what does it mean?

Gandhi stood (or sat) against armed adversaries. He withstood years in prisons. Without violence, he fought off an empire and brought a new level of dignity to the caste of “untouchables.” What Gandhi didn’t spell out for us is how we too might “be the change.”

We are part of the the most free, the most powerful, and the most consuming nation on Earth. Our most difficult battles are with ourselves. Meanwhile, Mother Earth is crying out for each of us to be the change, to become the best possible person — not “some day“ but right now. At some level, we know that.

Maybe we tell ourselves that we can’t change because we’re not Gandhi. We feel we lack his courage, his strength, the power of his will. Maybe we believe that our change won’t really make a difference. Yet Mahatma (Sanskrit for “great soul”) would be the first to disagree. Speaking of himself, he said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

The Simple Foundations of A Legacy

As a young man, Gandhi was not an exceptional student. Nor was he a successful lawyer. Apparently, he did not aspire to greatness. Instead, he built his legacy on simple foundations: He swore to speak the truth at all times. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient community, and he practiced ahimsa, a Sanskrit word meaning to do no harm. Holding steadfast to those simple practices against the power of injustice catapulted him onto the world stage.

What Gandhi asked of us is that we not lose faith in humanity: “Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

He asked us to be fully ourselves: “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.”

And he recognized that even the wisest can be dead wrong: “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.”

So how can we, too, “be the change?” We can keep our faith in our basic goodness, we can express ourselves fully, and we can reach out to others to help us along.

In that spirit we ask you to join with us in taking three bold steps toward becoming the change that you want to be and see. Think of it as a spring cleansing for your own Great Soul.

Step 1: Recognize That We Are Always Changing

Modern neuroscience tells us that our sense of self is as illusory as the Buddha taught. We can and do change all the time, depending on where we put our attention, the company we keep, and our physical environment. Not surprisingly the most effective tools to mold our selves are spiritual practices. So we first ask you to take a close look at yourself – to assess your strength and weaknesses in relation to 16 aspects of a spiritually grounded life.

Step 2: Recognize That We Are Not Always the Best Judges of Ourselves

While each of us is living in his or her own highly personalized internal world, the notion of an independent self is also an illusion. The movie Super Size Me is an extreme example. The main character, a healthy and happy man, eats every meal for a month at McDonald’s — almost all of them supersized — and we watch his transformation into someone sluggish, depressed, and irritable. He still wakes up each morning and experiences a coherent sense of being the same person, but we see that his best self has been hijacked. Step 2 is to acknowledge that we are not always the best judges of ourselves.

Step 3: Reach Out to Get Help and to Inspire Others

Imagine that you are going in for delicate brain surgery. You are frightened: How well the surgery goes will determine who you are going to be, and so you reach out to those close to you. You ask them to hold your highest good in their thoughts – and they in turn feel honored by your request. Well, Step 3 isn’t brain surgery — far from it. But it can be frightening. We ask you to take a bold step: to reach out to your close community for their help in being your best in relation to these aspects of a spiritually grounded life. Your request will honor your group and will help you in becoming the great soul you are. Your bold step may empower your friends as well.

The Process of Change
To set this process in motion, you may want to fill out the evaluation on page 47 to keep as a benchmark. The more powerful way to approach this evaluation is to fill it out at Spiritualityhealth.com/Gandhi. (If you don’t use the Internet, you can photocopy it and mail it to your group.) After you fill in the form, you will receive two emails: The first email will provide links to specific articles and practices on our website that we believe will be helpful to you on your journey. The second email will contain a link to forward to your trusted group. (We will not capture anyone’s email addresses or results for any purpose other than the immediate use with this evaluation.) Your friends will then click on the link that will take them to the site, where they can complete the assessment for you. Their evaluation will then automatically be emailed to you — anonymously or not, depending on their choosing.

The Ripple Effect

This is an experiment. We have no idea what might happen, but we dream that the 75,000 people who purchase each issue of this magazine will take these three steps, spreading the experiment to 5 or 10 others, who also will pass it on. Each of us who fills it out will be saying to our friends as well as to ourselves, “I want to look at myself. I want your help. I want to be the change I want to see.” Hopefully, doing that will lead to deep conversations and actions that will lead to real change.

Meanwhile, we’re updating our website to provide more tools to help, including a daily practice; our free weekly newsletter will have a weekly practice. Why all this emphasis on practice? Simple. What we practice is who we are.


Stephen Kiesling is a former Olympic rower, cocreator of the Nike Cross Training System, and editor at large of Spirituality & Health. A 35th anniversary edition of The Shell Game: Reflections on Rowing and the Pursuit of Excellence has just been published.


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