For most people it has become very obvious that we have to change the world. But if we set out to do this, we have to ask ourselves: What is it that we can actually change?
At first, it seems as if there were an almost endless panorama of possibilities. We could try to change capitalism by making the wisest choices in shopping. We could try to stop global warming by selling our cars and riding our bikes. We could try to change other people’s behavior by convincing them that what they do is leading us in the wrong direction.
But if we take an honest look at our options we have to admit that the outcome of all these endeavors really is not in our hands. And while all or at least some of these ideas for changing the world might be valid and even make a slight difference, we have to acknowledge that our influence in these matters remains vague and indirect. In some cases it might even produce results contrary to what we intended.
So Michael Jackson, when he sang “I’m starting with the man in the mirror”, was not the only one to realize that the only thing we can effectively change is: us. Reaching that conclusion signifies an important step in our personal evolution. But immediately the next big question arises: How do I change myself? And in which direction am I to move?
The answer to these questions is not trivial and, more importantly, it will not be the same for every person. There are, however, elements to this puzzle that are universal and equally valid and helpful for everyone. And one of them certainly is to get out of what Paramhansa Yogananda called the “reactive process”.
I remember how I used to spend time at my friend’s house when I was a teen and how his parents every so often got into a fight when we were having dinner. It usually started with some random thing they disagreed about, but funnily, their argument would always take the same turns. Let’s see …
- You are just not interested in what I think. You did not even bother to ask me where I wanted to go for our holidays, you just booked something.
- Yes, because for so many years, me and the kids had to go on our own because you had always just lost your job and started a new one, so you could not take time off.
- Well, sorry for trying to earn money and support my family!
- If you had not always run away at the first signs of problems, you could have kept this job at XY. It was a good job. But no, you could not just do what you were told but had to be the rebel …
- And so on.
If we look at how we usually respond to what we encounter in life, whether it be people, events or circumstances, we will discover that most of our reactions are mostly automatic. Thus it can become very easy for others to “push our buttons”, and create predictable responses.
But if we honestly measure our reactions against their outcome, we have to admit that very often, if not most of the time, they are neither adequate nor helpful. Like my friend’s parents, we may let our hurt feelings dictate our answers, just creating more hurt feelings in ourselves and others.
Or we might lose our job and react with anger or fear, only to discover later on that this opened the door for a much better job or opportunity in life. And even if we do not find a better job, looking back we will have to conclude that this state of frustration or anxiety did nothing to help us get out of a situation which existed anyway, regardless of our reaction to it.
Also, some outer circumstances are a sure bet for provoking very predictable reactions in most people: when they gain money, they are happy; when they lose it, they become downcast; when they hope for sunshine and it rains, they will be anything from sad to disappointed to angry; when the train is late they complain; when they look forward to something and it does not materialize, they will become impatient; when a global pandemic strikes, they react with fear and/or refuse to face the reality of it.
And while all these reactions might be understandable and what we consider to be “human”, they nevertheless are not at all beneficial and make us prisoners of automatic subconscious routines, rather than human beings who can behave freely and appropriately. Above all, giving in to the reactive process makes us passive objects of what is happening to us rather than active subjects.
From what we have said so far, it should be clear that we can only dig our way out of this hole by regaining control, so that our behavior is no longer in the hands of automatic reactions which at some point our ego thought were a good idea (well, they were, but only for feeding the ego).
To accomplish this, it is essential to introduce new attitudes and habits, which ideally are able to catch those undesirable reactions as soon as they occur, because the more they are allowed to have their way, the more powerful they become.
Here are a few things you can do if you want to get back in the driver’s seat:
- Do Pranayama
Pranayama literally means “control of the life energy”, so the connection to our theme is obvious. Kriya Yoga, considered the highest technique of Pranayama, necessitates careful preparation, but there are many other techniques available to control the flow of energy in your body, which is mostly done by controlling the breath. Even a few deep breaths when you are shocked or angry or otherwise drawn into reactive emotions help to calm you down and act much more freely.
- Learn to meditate
Meditation is beneficial for all aspects of your life. I am convinced that even from the discipline and energy you put into sitting down every morning and evening, you gain a tremendous amount of calmness and control over your life. Yogananda said that meditation is our daily intimate meeting with God. But even if this is nothing that you can identify with, meditation will give you increased awareness, joy, calmness and energy, and all of those qualities will certainly help you dealing with life’s challenges. The deceptively simple Hong Sau technique of concentration is helpful on many levels. One of its benefits is that it increases our detachment from the physical plane.Once I had very intriguing experience with this technique: I had just taken my seat on an airplane, when suddenly I was having an attack of claustrophobia. I had never had anything like that (and have not had it since), so I was panicking, not knowing how to deal with it. Luckily, I had the idea of trying Hong Sau, and after only 30 seconds or so, the attack was over and I was completely relaxed again.Hong Sau, then, helps us to expand our awareness beyond body or personality, which makes it much easier not to react in the way the subconsciousness has been programmed to do.
- Have a positive attitude and be grateful
Yogananda taught that the yogi’s attitude towards life is to be always even-minded and cheerful. So we try to be calmly accepting with a positive, joyful outlook on life. Energy always flows in that direction which the mind is focused on. If you keep focusing on the problems and bad sides of things, this is all you will ever discover.
Train yourself, then, to concentrate on the positive aspects, which will foster a positive outlook on life. It will then become natural for you to be grateful for all the gifts and wonders that lie behind the appearances of life. You can use affirmations to firmly establish positive attitudes. And you can also use the simple technique of writing down all the good things you encountered during the day in a little diary every evening.
Being positive and grateful will give you lasting happiness.
Some say that all the flaws, weaknesses and negative emotions we display are “human” after all. Yogananda’s response to this claim is that, quite to the contrary, under their influence we are not yet fully human. And that means, that we have not yet fully realized the potential for all the wonderful qualities that we can observe in Masters like Jesus, Buddha and others. So, the more we become human in the real sense, the more we develop love, compassion, calmness and joy.
And this is what really makes the world a better place.