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3 Bold Steps to Becoming the Great Soul You Want to See in the Mirror

Be the Change!

Cultivate by Jennifer Davis

“You must be the change you want to see in the world,” said “Mahatma” Gandhi, who led India to independence and inspired human rights movements worldwide—all by dramatically living the simple, nonviolent life he preached. We now see this quote everywhere: at churches and yoga centers and political rallies and on workshop flyers and bumper stickers. But what does it mean?

Gandhi stood (or sat) against armed adversaries. He endured years in prisons. Without violence, he fought off an empire and brought a new level of dignity to the caste of “untouchables.” What Gandhi didn’t spell out for us is this: How might we too “be the change”?

We are a part of the freest, most powerful, and most consuming nation on Earth. Our most difficult battles are with ourselves. Meanwhile, Mother Earth is crying out for each of us to be the change, to become the best possible person. Not someday, but right now. Another 20 years of “Be the same” and climate change will likely be catastrophically irreversible. We feel that truth in the heat, the smoke, the wind, the floods, and in the eyes of our children and grandchildren.

Maybe we don’t change because we’re not Gandhi. We feel we lack his courage, his strength, the power of his conviction. Maybe we believe that our change won’t really make a difference. Yet “Mahatma” (Sanskrit for Great Soul) would be the first to disagree. Speaking of himself, he said, “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”

The Simple Foundations of a Legacy

As a young man, Gandhi was not an exceptional student. Nor was he a successful lawyer. Apparently, he did not aspire to greatness. Instead, he built his legacy on simple foundations: He swore to speak the truth at all times. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient community, and he practiced ahimsa, a Sanskrit word meaning to do no harm. Holding steadfast to those simple practices against the power of injustice catapulted him onto the world stage.

What Gandhi asked of us is that we not lose faith in humanity: “Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” 

He asked us to be fully ourselves: “I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.” 

And he recognized that even the wisest can be dead wrong: “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.”

So how can we, too, “be the change"? 

We can keep our faith in our basic goodness, we can express ourselves fully, we can live more simply, and we can reach out to others to help us along.

In that spirit, we ask you to join with us in taking three bold steps toward becoming change that you want to be and see. Think of it as a cleansing for your own Great Soul.

Step 1:  Neuroscience suggests that the self is as illusory as the Buddha taught. We can and do change all the time, depending on where we put our attention, the company we keep, and our physical environment. Not surprisingly, the most effective tools to mold our selves are spiritual practices. So we first ask you to take a close look at yourself—to assess your strength and weaknesses in relation to 16 aspects of a spiritually grounded life. 

Step 2: Neuroscience and many religious traditions tell us that the notion of an independent self is also an illusion. We constantly cocreate one another through our mirror neurons and perhaps even through our intentions. Step 2 is to acknowledge that we are interdependent and not always the best judges of our highest selves. 

Step 3: Imagine that you are going in for brain surgery. You are frightened: How well the surgery goes will determine who you are going to be, and so you reach out to those close to you. You ask them to hold your highest good in their thoughts—and they in turn feel honored by your request. 

Well, Step 3 isn’t brain surgery. But it can be a bit frightening. We ask you to take a bold step: to reach out to your community for help in being your best. Your request will honor your group and will help you in becoming the Great Soul you are. Your bold step may empower your friends as well.

The Process of Change

To set this process in motion, sit quietly and breathe before you fill in the form on this page. Then cut out and hang your answers on your mirror—so you can ask yourself what to work on each day and what to dream about each night. Add new marks as you see fit. When you feel ready, reach out to friends so you can learn how they experience the Great Soul you are—and what you have to work on. 

Filling out the form and letting the responses guide your practice will be helpful. Reaching out to friends should be even more helpful—and may lead to real conversations and real changes that you want to see in yourself and in the world.—Stephen Kiesling