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BE THE CHANGEJuly 23, 2016
In A Scent of Sage, my debut novel, I quoted Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked across America for the cause of peace, with nothing but a travel apron and good shoes. She said, "If we knew how powerful our thoughts were, we would never again have another negative thought." Her message has never been needed more.
Waves of despair threaten to engulf us day after day, as we watch the violence, killing, and hatred, even in the name of religion. The headline for a recent New York Times column was: "Make America Hate Again." It's enough to threaten anyone's peace, even in a South Pacific paradise. It would be so easy to drown in powerlessness. Yet, many of us wonder, what can I do about it? The heart of the world seems to be breaking, but perhaps it is breaking open.
As author Steven Covey says, "Between the stimulus and the response, there is always choice." Our primitive urge to retaliate -- to wipe the bad guys off the face of the earth -- can be transformed into resolve. Besides, as cartoon figure Pogo says, "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
The world doesn't have to fall apart on our watch. Each of us can decide. We can choose not to cave in to despondency. Indian peace activist Mahatma Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." Let that be our communal motto.
Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustave Jung taught that humanity is powerfully linked by the "collective unconscious". In fact, this is true, he said, of all sentient beings. Do you remember the story about "the hundredth monkey"? In 1952, scientists were studying the behavior of monkeys on Koshima Island in Japan. In order to coax them out of the jungle, they began throwing fruit and vegetables onto the sand. One monkey took his sweet potato covered with sand and washed it in the sea. Younger monkeys watched and learned. By the time the 100th monkey followed suit, instantly this learned behavior spread across the water to monkeys on other islands. It had mysteriously entered their awareness. The thought and the act had reached critical mass. Isn't there hope, then, among us humans, at a time when social media connects the world in moments?
Every one of us has the power to create a ripple effect across the world, with every thought, word, and act. We can be a catalyst for love and for any virtue we set our minds to cultivate. As Voltaire said in Candide, "Tend your own garden." The Baha'i teachings say, "Replace a thought of war with a thought of peace, a thought of hate with a thought of love." This simple act has the power to create a sea change in our own lives, and thus in the collective awareness of humanity.
For my part, I have resolved to give up my inner grumbling about the state of politics, especially because I seem to have unpacked an old habit of cursing. The last thing I want is to be the curse I don't want to see at this tipping point! I intend to be part of the change for good. I want to help virtues go viral. Those of us who choose hope have our inner work cut out for us. There are 4 principles for change I heard recently in a talk at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
- Don't delay.
- Never give up.
- Remember the joy it will bring.
- You're never too old.
I remember the shock and devastation of 9/11. Afterwards, in towns across America, Muslim families were no longer safe or welcome. In one community, a mother of four was afraid to leave her house, because she wore a headscarf in obedience to her Faith. Then, something strange began to happen. Little by little, all the women began to don scarves in the Moslem style, as they shopped, or dined or walked around town, or went to church.
Peace is giving up the love of power for the power of love. Starting with self-care, weigh your words, and even more importantly cleanse your inner thoughts. Use positive language. Change anger into a call for justice, fear into prayerful trust, criticism into acceptance, helplessness into service. Above all, spread love in your household, your community and the world. Together, we can be the tipping point that just might make all the difference.