Lasting change happens when people see for themselves that a different way of life is more fulfilling than their present one. Eknath Easwaran
My father was, if nothing else, a man of action. In his 40’s he was putting together big business deals while having started his own fledgling company at 29. He grew to hobnobbing with the business elite in textiles, furniture, tobacco, oil and other industries in North Carolina. He sat on corporate boards where he said he could do more good than he could have outside protesting in the streets. And this man of action started every day possible sitting still. When weather allowed he would sit on the screened porch, rocking and planning his day with meticulous care.
Don’t just do something, sit there! Good decisions and bright ideas are hard to come by in the midst of life’s turmoil. In the throes of turmoil our minds are like a room full of monkeys, rolling, tumbling, grooming, and fighting with each other—“monkey mind” we call it. Until the monkeys grow quiet we are distracted and unable to make the best decisions we’re capable of. Monkey mind doesn’t allow our fertile minds to push up fragile sprouts of growth—new ideas for making our lives better.
In our lives, each of us will fight the same demons of quieting the ego mind so the inspirational, intuitive being can be heard and experienced. Breathing itself is inspirational. By getting quiet enough to simply become aware of each breath for a few moments, the ego mind starts to slow and quiet. Inspiration comes from the Latin, spiritus, meaning both spirit and breath. As we become aware of our breath, we make room for the experience of spirit. Our breath is the primary fuel for sustaining the physical being and, ironically, is inseparable from our spiritual being. Ancients in many languages knew this; it is not a new age concept, it’s as old as our DNA. In Greek, pneuma, as in pneumatic, can be translated as wind, breath or spirit. In Hebrew, ruach can mean the same 3 things. And of course in English we have inspiration, respiration and spirit.
While getting quiet may seem far afield from the subject of making change in one’s environment, it is really the essence of it, the starting point of our journey of a thousand miles. The journey is taken one small step at a time and it begins with step one, becoming quiet enough to actually get clear about what it is you really want to do, be and have. Most us never find these things in our lives because we are so busy reacting that we can’t take action. As we react we play along with an agenda that has been set forth by others, or events, or circumstances. When we react we are captive, as surely behind bars as any prisoner. The bars may manifest as a negative relationship that saps our energy rather than enlivens us. They may appear as a job that stifles and kills any creative thought or inclination we might have. Or the bars might be addictive patterns of behavior that no longer serve us well.
My old cat, AllStar, would stand near his food plate and when finished eating for the moment he would paw and claw at the floor around it. I finally figured out that this was vestigial behavior, behavior left over from time in the distant past where a big cat would cover the remnants of his kill with dirt to hide it temporarily until he returned for it. AllStar had this pattern of behavior in the very core of his being. We all have our own ritual behaviors that have brought us a sense of peace, calm or well-being in the past, but which now are doing us harm.
Don’t just do something, sit there! This endeavor of bringing about desired change will test our resolve, stretch our patience, and challenge our courage (from the French for heart, coeur). You may be resisted, even by those who could possibly benefit the most from the change. You may be chastised and you may be scorned, so it’s important to learn to take a few moments to be quiet to assess your resolve, to find patience, and to pray for courage. They are all there for us. The dark times make the light times all that much sweeter. The valley of the shadow of death is a place we traverse on our way to higher ground, toward the light. We have a choice about how long we stay there in the valley by our attitudes and beliefs.