Start With Yourself
01 February 2005
Step One to Remaking the World
DAG HAMMARSKJÖLD, the late UN Secretary General, once wrote, ‘I don’t know Who—or What—put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer “Yes” to Someone—or Something—and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, has a goal.’
If, like Hammarskjöld, we have heard the call to serve a purpose greater than ourselves, said ‘Yes’ to being part of remaking the world, then ‘change your self’ is the logical, initial response. All real change starts in the heart and life of the individual. This self is the small ‘s’ self, the ego self, and the change process is designed to liberate us to become our true Self, in partnership with God and with Truth. We are not only human beings, but also human becomings.
So what sort of change? Mostly it is a disempowering of destructive and limiting motives and relationships. We are caged by the cage we have made. We need to be set free from bitterness, fear and the anguished darkness that has led us into our many addictions. So we identify what has power in our lives. And we choose instead to empower compassion, selflessness, trust and God. Sometimes it is painful surgery that is needed, apology, forgiveness, walking away.... Sometimes it is a gentle healing of the hurts of the past, the discovery of love and acceptance.
Radical change, daily change, evolving change. For me the first experience of radical change came when I was about to set off for India aged 21. Full of a sense of mission to spread a message of peace and harmony, I was smitten with a sudden disquiet about my qualifications for the job. I asked the Indian leader of the expedition what I could contribute. ‘Come with clean hands,’ he said, ‘ and a clean heart, and come and teach people how to listen to that still small voice of truth that speaks in every heart.’
I was left with an uncomfortable and overwhelming awareness of my own integrity gap. I talked peace but was at war with my own father. Also I was far from having clean hands (both a liar and a thief!) and was not in the habit of listening to that inner voice of truth, or God, as I understood it to be.
So I listened, and with alarming clarity felt God saying that even if my father was 99 per cent wrong, my bitterness was my choice and I should apologize for that. It took some weeks to pluck up the courage, but amongst my tears and my inarticulate request for forgiveness, I began to see him differently and my bitterness melted. Some years later he apologized to me for the hurts of the past.
Since then I have attempted to choose daily change as a way of life, deconstructing the cage that, unchecked, reasserts itself through the quick lies and self-deception, meanness of spirit and the jealousies that so quickly take control.
Then there is evolving change and healing, which have occurred at deeper levels of my life over the years. (It is an interesting scientific fact that evolution occurs through aberration rather than perfection.)
For me, this has been nurtured through my relationship with Jesus and study of both his teachings and those of many different religious streams.
A set of coordinates, or friendly guides, help in this freedom struggle.
Absolute honesty, that searchlight that reveals the truth about myself to myself. In its light I face my shame and name my shadows.
Absolute purity: freedom, of course, from lust and sexual abuse in all its forms, but also a wonderful quality of single-mindedness, cleanliness and non-attachment. The freedom to love without demanding anything in return.
Absolute unselfishness, the art of lateral living, with a mind and heart for others.
And all these three as prerequisites for absolute, unconditional love, the ultimate answer and the fundamental need of every person and of Earth itself. That quality of compassionate and visionary acceptance that elicits the best from one another.
These absolutes are all accompanied by absolute grace, the Divine understanding which makes up for our shortfall.
And then there is the practice of inner listening to that ‘still, small voice’ as practised over centuries by the likes of Elijah, Gandhi and Mother Teresa. It is a privilege to be employed and enjoyed by all. It speaks of connection, correction and direction.
‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ said Mahatma Gandhi. And that just about sums it up.
This article is part of a series of five. Return to this page in the next issue