Be the Calm
I see many well-intentioned people imploring others to “be the change” they wish to see in the world. This is a now-classic spiritual cliché, which I believe was popularized by Gandhi. Simply put, I think it’s dangerous and unnecessary. Most people are not ready to try to change the world, nor do they have the tools required to make any valuable impact. Those who try are often met by nature’s intense retaliation. Ok— so what can we do?
I believe we should start by focusing on the idea of becoming calm. In doing this, we access a more honest place within ourselves and cultivate inner-strength. What results is a more comprehensive way of approaching the world that, through personal transformation and ever-increasing degrees of self-discipline, results in constructive change by default.
To be change is simply to become chaos, especially in a world that is already always in natural flux. To obsess over change is to be perpetually dissatisfied. It is to act, not necessarily on the best judgment, but instead on the mere desire to make things different than they are. Why do we do this? It rarely solves anything.
This is the strange paradox about this cultural idea of progress— it relies on a continual process of tearing down. It is a destructive impulse. The stronger the impulse for change, the more severe the destruction that ensues. The supreme irony is that those who are unwilling to change themselves often try to change the world to meet their needs. Who’s more in control here? The world, obviously. True change comes from within.
If you cannot be the calm, you cannot be the change. There is no change without the calm. In fact, the most revolutionary change today would be to embrace the calm, to fall backwards into a simpler and more humble state. We destroy ourselves more and more every time we forcefully accelerate towards the next change. Think of how many people who try to change the world just act hastily and make things worse. They look to the external world as a solution to their internal problems.
Zen implores us to do the reverse— correct your internal state, and the world will benefit. Slow down, and life becomes clearer. When we are so focused on what’s next we miss the moment and completely lose sight of how to make what we want to happen happen.