By Ed and Deb Shapiro,
Authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World
Meditation is now the IN thing. Cross-legged yogis and Buddhist monks can be seen in advertisements for everything from computers and credit cards to herbal teas, major newspapers and magazines carry stories on the benefits of meditation with tips from famous film stars, and no self-respecting bookshop is without a how-to-meditate section.
It is only in the last few decades that the general population has begun to realize how valuable the practice of meditation really is, regardless of spiritual or religious interests. Yet meditation has been the main focus of spiritual practice for thousands of years. You do not have to be a hippie or on a spiritual quest to meditate: we have taught everyone from housewives to athletes and musicians, and therapists to CEOs, in town halls, high school gymnasiums, corporate boardrooms, and on our own TV series in London.
However, 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, why do we ignore it or find excuses not to do it? And why do we think of something as a waste of time when all the research tells us it is of such immense value?
Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” In other words, change has to start within ourselves; we cannot expect the world to change if we do not. If we want to have more love in our lives, we must become more loving; if we genuinely want to end terrorism and to bring real and peaceful change to the world, then we must start by ending the war within ourselves.
This brings us to the importance of contemplation and meditation. Without such a practice of self-reflection, we are subject to our ego’s every whim, and we 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. We get to know the madness of our monkey mind and until it loses its hold. Only then do we have a genuine opportunity to change.
Through the practice of meditation we find that the more positive aspects of ourselves are enhanced while the more self-centered aspects begin to naturally fade away. As the need to be constantly engaged in the details of our own story loses its relevance, so the ego releases its grip and becomes less demanding. This does not mean that we become just like a doormat and let people walk all over us. Rather, we become more confident, are able to communicate more openly and honestly, and to love more unconditionally.
In this way meditation enables us to change. 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 passive or negative one. As we find our own peace, we want to actively help others to also be at peace. When we find our peace there is one less person suffering!
We were in India in 1986 when we first met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, and probably the world’s most famous meditator. We were waiting for our meeting in a room that led off a balcony at his residence, beyond which rose the Himalayas resplendent in the morning sunshine. Ed wandered outside to enjoy the view. He saw a monk further along the balcony waving for us to come. We presumed this monk would bring us to our meeting. But as we came closer, we realized that this simple and unpretentious man was the Dalai Lama himself. We immediately began to prostrate, as this is the respected way of greeting such a revered teacher. But the Dalai Lama took our hands and made us stand, saying, “No, no. We are all equal here.” It was easy to think, “Oh sure! You are the great Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to millions, and we are just mere mortals. How can we possibly be equal?” But over the following months, we both experienced the true equality he was referring to — the equality of our shared humanness and, simultaneously, our shared heart.
A Compassionate Revolution
A revolution is a re-evolution, where we take a higher step in the evolution of consciousness; it is also a revolving, a turning around of ourselves in response to an inner calling. To be the change and make a real difference in the world means we need a revolution — a compassionate revolution. This is the turning of our energy from being focused on self-centeredness, self-survival, and closed-heartedness to concern for others, generosity, and open-heartedness. If we genuinely want to end war, inequality, and abuse, then we have to practice ahimsa and kindness toward all equally, for there will never be peace in the world if we are not at peace within ourselves.
To activate a compassionate revolution is to enter into an exploration of all aspects of our humanness so that we can live sanely in a world that often looks insane, riddled with affliction and conflict. So much hurt and denial, abuse and disrespect, so many atrocities have taken place in the name of religion and politics, or through greed and selfishness, so many misunderstandings between families, races, and countries.
As the Tibetan teacher Mingyur Rinpoche says, “Who makes problems? We humans. And who is the controller of the human? The mind. And how to control the human mind? Through meditation. If you can control the pilot, then the pilot can control the plane.”
Meditation can do this because it brings us to a place of clear and caring responsiveness. It is that rare activity that can ease suffering while also giving us the awareness and spiritual intelligence to move beyond the self-centeredness and self-destruction that cause suffering. It removes the obstacles in our mind that prevent us from seeing things as they really are, freeing us to become kinder and more compassionate. In other words, it awakens our full human potential. And, as we are transformed, so the world will also transform.
©2009 Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World
Published here with permission of the publisher.
Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, are the award-winning authors of fifteen books on meditation, personal development, and social action. They are featured bloggers for the HuffingtonPost.com and for Care2.com, teach meditation workshops worldwide, work as corporate coaches and consultants, and are the creators and writers of the daily Chill Our inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. The Shapiros’ books include Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award;Voices From the Heart with contributors such as President Gorbachev, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Bishop Tutu; and Meditation: The Four-Step Course to Calmness and Clarity. Ed, from New York, trained in India with Paramahamsa Satyananda, with Sri Swami Satchidananda, and with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Deb, from London, trained with Tai Situ Rinpoche. The Shapiros have taught meditation and personal development for more than twenty-five years. They currently reside in Boulder, Colorado.