I look up at the stars and I feel both small and big at the same time. Gazing at the stars leaves me with both a sense of wonder and a realization that we are all on this planet together, connected. This week’s headlines in the world news left me feeling sad. Headlines that feature violent acts, which in turn illicit fear, anger, misunderstanding, disconnection, and calls for revenge and yet more violence. Such stories can lead people to grow fearful of people that they don’t even know and it can lead to beliefs that there is an “us” and a “them.”
Recently my husband and I saw a bumper sticker that read “I am already against the next war.” Yes, indeed, that is how we both feel. Yet, what can we two small individuals do in the big scheme of things to prevent something as big as war?
I have been reading a book in bits and pieces, as there is much in it to contemplate and digest. The book is by Ed and Deb Shapiro and is called Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. The authors include amongst their own stories the stories and words of more than one hundred meditation practitioners. Those included vary from Oscar award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn, to Jon Kabat-Zinn who is director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, to best-selling author and inspirational speaker Marianne Williamson.
In one section entitled “What One Person Can Do” here is what is written:
“One person can make a difference, as we have seen many times throughout history. Usually, the only thing that stops us from stepping out and taking action is our own sense of inadequacy or doubt. Rama had a vision of bringing people together, and, as a result, nearly 10,000 Soviet and American citizens have participates in her Citizen Summit programs. And yet when she began this work, she was a housewife and a yoga teacher with no idea how or if she could do anything.” Rama Vernon shares this about her story “The Cold War was at its peak. The Korean Airlines disaster had recently occurred, bringing us very close to a nuclear war. As I put my children to bed, they would ask, ‘Mommy, are we going to be blown up?’ ‘No, of course not,’ I would reply, reassuring them as much as myself. ‘Our government would never let that happen.’ And then, through my yoga-teaching work, I was invited to travel with thirty others on a Peace Mission to the Soviet Union. So, quite unexpectedly, I was in Moscow, standing in the center of what Reagan had termed the Evil Empire, behind what Churchill has called the Iron Curtain. I was raised to believe that our thoughts create our reality, and what scared me most was that I was not alone in my fear, that thousands of Americans shares those same fear, and that if enough of us continued to hold those fears, we would create the very thing that we feared most. I realized that the only way to change such a stereotype that we have been conditioned to believe is to bring people face to face with one another. We could not take the Russians to the United States, so I resolved to bring the United States to Russia.”
While there is a great deal of depth in this book, there is also sometimes humor. One such moment is when Ed Shapiro’s shares a personal story about him and his wife Deb’s private meeting with HH the Dalai Lama: “After some thirty minutes of discussion, I was feeling so moved by this gentle, simple, and loving man that I just wanted to stay there and learn from him. I did not want to leave! I was completely in love with the compassion and wisdom emanating from this delightful being. Finally, I said to him, ‘I don’t want to leave; I just want to stay here with you!’ I thought he would say yes, how wonderful, I recognize your sincerity, but instead he just smiled and said, ‘If we were together all the time, we would quarrel!’”
It was both surprising and refreshing to hear that a revered spiritual leader and icon like the Dalai Lama could admit to at times being quarrelsome. It also led to a brilliant realization by Ed when he shares this about relationships:
“So, relax, if HH the Dalai Lama, someone who meditates for a few hours every day, can quarrel, then so can we! Inevitably, there are going to be times when a relationship is troubled, when differences collide and egos clash, when stories and histories intrude, or needs are not met. But the holding on to such disagreements and the ensuing shame, blame, and hostile silence is the real problem. There will always be times of flow and times of discord. Having a disagreement or even getting angry does not make us an angry person; it is not the whole of us. Who we are is still basically good; we needed to make a point and just may have done it in a rather unskilled way.”
|Interfaith Peace mandala
When Deb and Ed Shapiro were with the Dalai Lama they also asked him what they could do to help humankind to awaken to caring and kindness. The Dalai Lama said that people of different religions should come together in peace and respect and talk openly, honoring each other’s differences and similarities.
Do you meditate? If yes, do you do it regularly and why?
What are your thoughts about being the change? Do you feel empowered to create change? If yes, how? If no, why?
What do you think you could do to make a difference?
In the midst of events taking place on the larger political scene there are things that give me hope and that demonstrate how people from around the world want us to come together in peace. On elephantjournal.com I came across a slideshow of photos taken at a pro-USA demonstration in Libya following the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. You can find the slideshow of photos by clicking here.
I have also been following the Israel Loves Iran campaign on Facebook. The photos, letters and stories that continue to be published on-line are incredibly touching and show the very personal side of people who do not wish to be at war with one another. Here are a handful of the photos that have been shared.
Hillary Clinton also made powerful remarks in light of the recent violence.
If you would like to read more about meditation and transformation ~ Here are some more stories that appear in the book Be the Change:
Sylvia Boorstein – “The point of meditation is to keep the mind free of confusion. Meditation, past calming our nerves, past being good for our blood pressure, past allowing us to work out our own internal psychological dramas, which it does, past helping us to get along with our kin and our community, is a way of really deeply seeing the truth that the only way to ameliorate our own suffering and the suffering of the world is to keep our minds clear.”
Robert Gass and Judith Ansara – “We can get lost in the story, which usually has fault or blame attached to it—I’m feeling this because this happened or you said that—and so we have learned to just drop the story. Even when we are not in the place that we would like to be, we do not process about how we got there or about how we are going to get out of it; we just stop, because otherwise we can start tearing at each other. Usually, one of us will say, ‘Are we having a conversation that is contributing to the greater good?’ We get connected first and then talk about what was disconnecting us, rather than tearing at each other from a place of disconnection, thinking that will get us connected.”
Seane Corn – “First yoga changed my body; then meditation changed my attitude. Then I realized that whether my practice was fifteen minutes or four hours was irrelevant because it was not about how yoga changed me, but how I, through this practice, can being to change the world. What I really felt was how dare I not step into the world and hold that space?”
“I first started by working with child prostitutes in Los Angeles. I did not know how my life was going to change when I entered the shelter, but I met my shadow there. I hated those girls —and it wasn’t just girls, it was young boys too—they were so arrogant and defiant as they were so wounded. They were also like a mirror in which I saw the part of myself that had been abused, and how I had nto dealt with my own defiance, arrogance, or wounding. They really did not accept me at first. Are you kidding? This big-mouthed, floppy-headed white girls from new Jersey bounding in to tell them how to do yoga? They slaughtered me! It was the most humiliating experience I had ever had because I went in trying to fix them. I did not go in there recognizing that I am them. They took one look at me and were totally unimpressed. No way I wanted to go back. I sat in my car and cried and cried. The next time I went, I was way more humble as I had recognized that we were there to serve each other.”
Ajahn Sumedho – “We are not isolated entities; we do affect each other. The more we experience this in meditation, the more we recognize how our own relationship to society need not be one of just being critical or putting up with or ignoring it, but of using our abilities, intelligence, and talents to serve each other. If I feel a sense of ‘me’ as a self-centered isolated being, then I will just think of my own immediate pleasure or needs and I have no relationship of sensitivity to anything else. But as I open to the truth of our connectedness, then I have a respect for all life; I no longer see others as just there for my own selfish exploitation.”
Kirsten Westby- “I needed to mediate before I could even leave my room in the morning. It gave me the strength to recognize that suffering is the human experience that we all have in one form or another, and not to feel overwhelmed by it, not to lose my balance…I worked with Urgent Action Fund for five years, traveling into war zones and listening to stories of what was happening to women and girls…More than anything else, meditation released me from anger. I could feel anger coming up, but I knew that my way of surviving and working in this context was to let it go, to know that these boys were not the enemy, but were just as much a victim of this whole machine of war, forced into the army at such a young age. Really there was no enemy; it was just a whole environment of people who had been used and abused. I would constantly remind myself of their human qualities so I could start the day without any aggression.”
Joseph Goldstein – “There is one basic understanding that helps us in every dimension of relationship; that each one of us is totally responsible for our own emotions. Some time ago, I was in a relationship with someone and as we were having a little argument, she turned to me and said, ‘Stop making me feel aversion.’ I started to laugh, which, of course, did not help the situation, but nobody makes us feel anything. How we feel and how we relate to what we are feeling is completely up to us. Generally, we blame others for how we feel; we think others are responsible for our mind states. If we all took responsibility for our own emotions, then most of our interpersonal relationships would be a lot easier.” “If we have the view that other people are responsible for how we feel, then we are turning over all the power to them. We cannot control what other people do—their minds, their attitudes, or their behaviors. But if we understand that how we are feeling is completely up to us, then we can reclaim that power. Then, no matter what anybody else does, it is up to us how we react, how we relate. Nobody can make us feel a certain way.”
Mark Matousek – “Albert Einstein described human self-absorption as a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. Our obsession with physical survival prevents us from seeing beyond this primitive level, which is why meditation is so mind blowing. Dropping below the animal level, we discover another way of seeing and being that is more vast, inclusive, loving, and durable than the fearful, self-protective mind we use ordinarily. With meditation, prayer, yoga, or some tool for reaching through the selfish mind to our greater nature, we are doomed to remain in the animal mind.”