If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. –Lao Tzu
At a time of economic downturn, with corruption on the rise and countries at war, we wondered what could bring greater awareness, kindness, and compassion to a world in so much chaos? Could something as subtle and understated as meditation possibly have any affect on business, the environment, conflict, or even politics? Can meditationmake a big enough change in consciousness to transform the way we see ourselves, each other, and our world?
We have both been immersed in meditation since we were young. It is the foundation of our lives, and often makes us wonder what life would be like without it when we look around and see the massive confusion and suffering that many people experience. So, for our book, Be the Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and The World, we wanted to paint a more varied picture by including many of the cool people who do it, how it affects them, and why you should do it too!
Meditation has been the main focus of spiritual practice for thousands of years, but it is only in the last few decades that the general population has begun to realize how valuable it really is, regardless of spiritual or religious interests. However, this poses a conundrum. If meditation is so available and as well known as it seems to be, why is it not already an integral part of everyone’s lives? If health reports are saying how good it is as a way to cope with stress, how it makes you feel better about yourself and others, why do we ignore it or find excuses not to do it?
Self-centeredness and selfishness — hallmarks of the ego — affect not only our own lives and relationships but also influence the way we behave in the world. There is no limit to the damage a strong ego can do, from the arrogant conviction that our own opinions are the only right ones and everyone should be made to believe in them, to wielding and abusing power at the expense of other people’s lives or liberties. The ego is neither good nor bad, except when self-centeredness dominates our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of life. A positive sense of self gives us confidence and purpose, but a more negative and selfish aspect of the ego makes us unconcerned with other people’s feelings; it thrives on the idea of me-first and impels us to cry out, “What about me? What about my feelings?”
The ego also makes us believe that we are the dust on the mirror, that we could never be so beautiful as the radiant reflection beneath the surface. Yet how extraordinary to believe that we cannot be free when freedom is our true nature! When we begin to see that such self-centeredness does not lead to happiness and we yearn for something more genuine, when we realize that the pit of meaninglessness and emptiness inside is never truly satiated no matter how much we feed it, or when we have just had enough of chaos and suffering, then the longing for change arises.
This brings us to the importance of contemplation and meditation. Without such a practice of self-reflection, we are subject to the ego’s every whim and have no way of putting a brake on its demands. Meditation, on the other hand, gives us the space to see ourselves clearly and objectively, a place from which we can witness our own behavior and reduce the ego’s influence.
Meditation changes us. From being self-centered, we become other-centered, concerned about the welfare of all equally, rather than being focused on just ourselves. We become more acutely aware of how we affect the planet, how we treat each other and our world, and seek to become a positive presence rather than a negative one. As we find our own peace, we want to actively help others to also be at peace.
Science is now proving that meditation is a genuine way to generate peace by reducing potentially harmful emotions, such as fear and anger. We usually think of such mind states as a fixed part of life, but they do not need to be. Many negative emotions arise from the emphasis we place on success and achievement, which is a left-brain activity. During meditation, we engage the right side of the brain, which encourages us to communicate in a more positive and caring way.
To bring peace to those around us and to our world, we have to change from being concerned with our own needs to reaching out and helping each other. But for kindness and compassion to become a natural expression of who we are, we need tools—help, guidance, and support. Meditation in its many forms is the one tool we have found that does all of this. By getting to know ourselves, discovering that we are more than we thought we were, and by connecting more deeply with our essential self, we find that we have the resources, strength, and wisdom to not only make changes, but to become the change we so long for.