“A monk who used to come to the institute was asked how we can measure spiritual progress, and he said it was by our capacity to be effective, which he saw as listening and being present,” says psychotherapist Maura Sills in Be The Change (see below). “When the capacity to be effective is diminished or lost, then I think we have lost our humanity.”
That ability to be present and engaged enables us to receive whatever is happening without judgment; to embrace difficulties, deep sadness, upset feelings, or injustices while staying aware and available. As John Stewart said at the Rally to Restore Sanity, “All I want is your presence…” It may not be possible to maintain it all the time; there are endless external distractions with the demands of the ego-mind and on-going internal chatter. But we don’t have to let such distractions rule.
Accepting what is doesn’t mean we are powerless or become a victim, it actually makes us even more powerful. We cannot change anything until we accept it as it is, for in that moment of acceptance we can move to transform it. If we do not accept what is then we will keep resisting or denying, making transformation impossible. For example, if pouring rain is thwarting our plans then we can either get upset and moan and groan, or we can accept it is raining and see what else we can do instead.
Everything we think, say, and do has an immediate effect on everyone and everything else. This means that our thoughts and actions can lead to chaos and destruction as easily as they can lead to creativity and transformation. It also means that we have enormous resources available to us at all times.
“Do not make the mistake of thinking you are a powerless individual in a vast world,” writes Tai Situ Rinpoche in our book, The Way Ahead. “Know that you are armed with three great powers. You have the power of the body—the source of all action; the power of speech—the source of all expression; and the power of the mind—the source of all thought.”
Our actions, obviously, have the most direct impact on others. The destructive results of the belief that we are disconnected and that, therefore, what we do has no bearing on others, is apparent everywhere. While we were in southern Egypt we hiked far up a dry riverbed into silence and beauty and rubbish: piles of polystyrene and plastic dumped in the middle of nowhere. While in Sri Lanka, Deb was happily swimming in the beautiful Unawatuna Bay when human feces floated past her. We have all just experienced such selfish and mindless behavior with the oil spill in the Gulf, which wrecked untold damage due to this same belief that it does not matter how our actions affect others.
We misuse the world when we believe that we are independent from it or are in some way superior. Every action we take, even the smallest and simplest of everyday choices, has a consequence, no action is independent of its effects. Nothing is without a purpose. And yet we think we are separate to this.
The impact of our words is less obvious than that of our actions, but they are just as effective. Words are heard and felt; they reverberate throughout our system, affecting those who hear them and causing either joy or conflict. They can start wars or mend hearts. As such, they should not be used lightly, but with consideration of their influence.
Thoughts may be subtler, but when used purposefully they are equally powerful. From our thoughts are born our words and our actions; they influence our behavior and beliefs, who we care for and who we reject. They also influence the unseen and unknown as we send our thought waves and energy out into the universe. Positive thoughts and feelings bestow all the riches life can offer, while negative ones deplete our whole being. Which will you chose?
Photo: McCall Magazine cover, Girl In Rain, from George Eastman House.