A central question in a class I just finished (taught by Becca Deysach at Prescott College, relevantly titled “Be the Change”) was if and how personal practice (e.g. meditation, mindfulness, self-examination or compassion) relates to social transformation. Here are my reflections.
The central relationship between personal practice and social change (the evolution of society) is that social change starts with people, with each individual, and thus as personal practice powerfully influences individuals, it influences social change (through the contributions of these individuals). Personal practice provides a stable foundation to build upon, a meaningful source for influences that can spread far wider than the individual.
Social change is nothing more than individual change observed from afar; the growth of a forest is nothing but the growth of individual plants and trees and blades of grass. One spreads compassion by being compassionate; one spreads love by being love; one empowers by being powerful (in communication and relationship).
I can’t quite say what contribution I’ve made to this world so far, but I try to be a positive force, first and foremost, by who I am. Our power to affect change is manifested daily in interactions with baristas, drivers, sales clerks, beggars, family, friends and strangers. Every interaction is an opportunity to spread love, acceptance and possibility (or hate, judgement and negativity, which we often do unconsciously). Every interaction is an opportunity to serve. Our influence on the world comes not first from what we do — our material contributions and accredited accomplishments — but from who we are, not only to those we like and those we know but to every single person we encounter (and to ourselves!). It’s from this place of being that doing arises.
Personal practice helps us to guide and shape who we are; our ways of being. To be one who cares, who loves, who empowers, who inspires, is to be a powerful force of potential in the world. It is to be the possibility of social change, one interaction at a time. Social change happens on many scales, but it starts small, with every single one of us.