Instruments for Positive Change

What does the world need? A few things come to mind: love, joy, peace, compassion, understanding, positive energy, positive solutions, balance, conscience…so many specific problems, in fact, are really nothing more than a fundamental lack of these and similar qualities.

Gandhi is quoted as having said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As overused as this statement may be [and that it may not have been Gandhi’s at all, see below] it yet speaks a deep truth: to affect positive change in the world our first concern must be to make such changes in ourselves. As living examples we are able to act as instruments to manifest those changes more broadly. Otherwise we risk the kind of pretense that Emerson referred to when he said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.”

Take anger and aggression, for example. We certainly see too many examples of these negative qualities on an everyday basis. And how often do we express them ourselves? It is in that very expression that our work lies. For you cannot pretend to work for peace if, say, you drive aggressively or allow yourself to become angry at any kind of insult. Those are the same reactions that elsewhere lead to violence, war, and every other non-peaceful act.

So how does one go about this task of self-transformation? Here’s a simple principle:You become what you concentrate on. It’s very easy to concentrate on problems, but this seldom produces solutions. If we want solutions, we have to focus on solutions, that is, continually visualize or affirm positives rather than negatives. It sounds simple, but it can be very challenging because positive thoughts and affirmations require great energy and vigilance (it’s why we think of “heaven” as up). Negativity, on the other hand, has little constructive energy—it’s actually draining and discouraging (and why “hell” is down).

Rejection, too, only brings emptiness, never fulfillment, like a diet defined solely in terms of what you don’t eat. Rather than simply reject or negate things, clearly understand what it is you want, then do everything in your power to make it happen, even if it’s only for one person at a time. Every step you take, no matter how small, is then a success on which you can build. In this way there is no such thing as failure.

This clarity is also very helpful in working through seemingly insoluble “either…or” differences between people, for with it you may find others actually want the same thing and only differ in their means to achieve it! Common ground enables you to discuss the situation in terms of “both…and.”

It is also important to accept reality as it is—both in ourselves and the world. Being effective means clearly seeing what actuallycan be done, and seeing what is truly right and serviceful for everyone involved. With a solution-oriented approach, it’s possible to find some positive step to take even when a situation looks entirely hopeless. Indeed, stress, anger, and frustration—all frightfully ineffective means for bringing about positive change—originate in wanting or wishing the world to be other than it is and in trying to control things we simply cannot.

Learning to be calmly centered and balanced in yourself is an excellent way to develop this acceptance, and to increase both self-awareness and self-control. By living more consciously at your own center—and not in other’s definitions or expectations—you gain a greater freedom to respond in a positive manner to the ever-changing needs of people and circumstances, rather than merely reacting in habitual ways that are often neither helpful nor appropriate.

Finally, recognize that all transformation is a gradual and evolutionary process. Patience, it’s been well said, is the fastest path, no matter what your goal. As the great spiritual teacher Paramhansa Yogananda said, “I may not be able to reach the top in a single leap, but at least I can put one foot in front of the other!” Keep your feet on the ground and your mind firmly fixed on your highest aspiration. In time you’ll not only be amazed as how you’ve changed, but also at how the world gratefully reflects that light in return.

[Note: In attempting to find the context for the Gandhi quote, I learned that the only source of the statement is his grandson, Arun Gandhi, and that it’s actually questionable whether it was said at all. No such statement can be found in Mahatma Gandhi’s writings.]

Helpful Techniques

"Superconscious Living Exercises"–Positive Affirmations for Raising/Changing Energy
(Created and taught by J. Donald Walters.)

(1) Briskly walk in place lifting opposite arms and legs together, affirming out loud, “I’m awake and ready! I’m awake and ready!”

(2) Brings hands to chest then open arms wide to the sides, affirming “I am positive!”; bring hands to chest then extend in front, affirming “Energetic!”; bring hands to chest then extend overhead and jumping up, affirming “Enthusiastic!”

(3) Rub hands together then rub hands briskly all over the body, affirming “Awake! Rejoice, my body cells!

(4) Rap around the skull with the knuckles, affirming “Be glad my brain, be wise and strong!”

(5) Rap all over the body with the knuckles, affirming “I am master of my body! I am master of myself!”

(Children and seniors love these; restless children can be engaged by doing them with increasing speed.)

"Alternate Nostril Breathing"–For Calming, Energizing, and Balancing the Nervous System
(Traditional yoga pranayama exercises that have a direct effect on the nervous system. It’s best to only practice one variation at a sitting, depending on your specific needs at the time—more calmness, more energy, or more balance.)

Calming/Cooling Breath: Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril to a count of eight (or whatever count is comfortable). Close the left nostril with the ring and little fingers and hold the breath for the same count. Open the right nostril and exhale to the same count. Repeat 3-6 times.

Activating/Warming Breath: Same as the calming/cooling breath except inhale
through the right nostril and exhale through the left. Repeat 3-6 times.

Balancing Breath: Alternate between the calming/cooling breath and the activating/warming breath
(that is: in left, hold, out right, in right, hold, out left). Repeat the whole cycle 3-6 times.

"Watching the Breath”—Simple Meditation Exercise for Concentration and Centering
(Traditional yogic practice; practice once or twice a day for best results, even if for a few minutes, as it develops the habit of centeredness.)

(1) Sit upright, with a straight (but relaxed) spine and chin parallel to the floor. With eyes closed, gaze upwards to the point midway between the eyebrows (without crossing the eyes, though)

(2) Inhale slowly through the nose to a count of eight (or whatever count is comfortable),
hold for the same count, and exhale to the same count. Repeat 3-6 times.

(3) Inhale and exhale deeply. Without moving the eyes, observe the breath as it flows in and out naturally through the nose, watching it without controlling it. As you inhale, mentally say “I am” or “hong” (the sound of the inhalation, rhymes with “song”), as you exhale, mentally say “peace” or “sau” (“saw”).

(4) If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the breath and the affirmation without making a fuss. As your breath becomes calmer, feel with that calmness that you’re touching your inner center.

(5) Watch the breath for as long as you find it enjoyable (5-15 minutes is fine).

(6) Take a deeper breath, exhale, and forget the breath. Turn your now-developed concentration at the point between the eyebrows to visualize, feel, or simply be aware of a positive quality (peace, love, joy, etc.). Concentrate on that quality for at least half the time you spent watching the breath, feeling it permeate your mind and body. Then you can visualize it expanding from you to touch other people or situations.

(7) To finish, come back to outer awareness gently, bringing that same quality into your activity.

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