Originally published on Yoga International.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead
In the wake of what has been a steady stream of both human-made and natural disasters, many people have been left feeling that they just can’t take any more. We may experience compassion fatigue (the deep exhaustion that comes from prolonged empathy) and feelings of powerlessness, anger, or frustration. While these feelings are completely normal, they alone do nothing to create actual change. Our normal habits of sharing posts on social media, watching repetitive news reports, and complaining to friends can do a lot to further our feelings of anger and helplessness; however, they do very little for the betterment of ourselves and society as a whole.
So, this past year, I made a resolution: I will not complain about anything I’m not proactively doing something to change. For instance, I don’t allow myself to complain about a political situation or social issue if I haven’t first taken direct action—such as making calls to elected officials or volunteering to help with causes that are important to me. This practice has resulted in a profound paradigm shift, which now leaves me feeling like part of the solution, rather than a victim of circumstance.
This past year, I made a resolution: I will not complain about anything I’m not proactively doing something to change.
If we want to make a difference in the world, we need to create both the internal and external conditions that will support us in making the biggest impact. Here are some important ways you can empower yourself to create meaningful change with both grace and strength.
1. Ground yourself.
First of all, give yourself an opportunity to really experience your initial response. Take time to feel sadness, shock, grief, or whatever emotions may be arising. Feel love for those who are suffering, including yourself. Amidst this, invite feelings of safety and comfort, and stay connected to the deep sense of being that is always present inside of you no matter what is happening in life. Commit to a practice that helps keep you in touch with this grounded state of being, such as going for a walk in nature, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or yoga nidra guided meditation. Take care to eat well and sleep soundly. You will be more effective when you come from this centered place.
2. Remember that feeling “bad” about things doesn’t change anything.
While it is important to feel these events fully, we lose our power when we let feelings of sadness, anger, or fear replace our ability to act. Remember that these feelings are messengers telling us that we want things to be different, that we want change. Acknowledge your feelings, listen to their message, and then let them empower you to make a difference.
3. Focus on issues that speak to your heart, and do something about those.
No one can do it all, so it is best to focus on one or two things you can do well, and then commit fully to your cause. Trust that you will be the best at what inspires your heart the most. Then consider how you can best make a difference. Maybe you can give your time to directly help the situation. Alternately, use your voice to educate others about a cause or make a monetary donation. The more you feel and see yourself making a difference, the more passionate you will be about continuing to create change.
4. Avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Be careful not to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Focus on what you canaffect, and trust that other people will take care of the issues that matter to them—we’re all in this together. Also, take time to look at the positive outcomes from challenging situations, such as the way adversity can bring people together to make a difference. Sometimes our “default” is to focus on the negative things. In reality, billions of positive things are happening at every moment.
5. Find community.
Remember that we can do more together! Sometimes we are afraid to act alone, but when we harness the power of community, we are empowered by this connection and collaboration with others. Find people devoted to your cause, and build on the energy that comes from working collectively toward a greater good. Broadening your sense of community also helps with feelings of isolation and helplessness, as you witness others’ important contributions.
6. Practice self-compassion, patience, and positive self-reflection.
We often see only what we “could have done” or “should have done better,” which is discouraging and minimizes the importance of our efforts. One of the most important parts of serving is to reflect on what you did and why it helped. This creates positive mental imprints and releases endorphins in the brain, increasing your chances of being proactive again in the future and improving your efficacy.
7. Be resilient and avoid discouragement.
If it’s cultural change you’re working for, remember that it doesn’t happen overnight. There will be harsh reminders that progress is not always linear. Remember that adversity does not always denote a lack of progress. Progress takes time. Have faith that you are planting seeds that will ultimately blossom into positive change.
8. Prioritize your time.
We might often think we don’t have enough time to help, when in reality, we do. Recognize that saying “I don’t have time for that” is just a softer way of saying “I don’t prioritize that.” Reflect on how you prioritize your time, and make appropriate changes. Instead of going out for a drink with friends, try working together on a service project or fundraiser. For example, you could devote one night a week to cooking a meal for homeless youth. Create a new normal for your prioritization of time that includes time for selfless service.
9. Take care of yourself.
Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup—depleting ourselves of energy inhibits our ability to help others. Make sure you are leaving time for true self-nourishment. Identify and reduce or eliminate any activities that may seem relaxing but are actually increasing your stress (like scrolling through social media or mindlessly watching television). It’s important to remain committed to the practices that keep you grounded and connected to your true, unchanging self—whether it’s a spiritual practice, meditation, a sport, a walk in nature, or something else that speaks to your heart.
Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup—depleting ourselves of energy inhibits our ability to help others.
10. Remember the power of positive energy, meditation, and prayer.
Prayer and meditation are proactive activities that can strengthen you, inspire you, and keep you peaceful in the midst of adversity. The next time fears or worries arise, flood them with love, presence, and compassion. Remember, light always overcomes darkness in the end. Always.
So…do you accept the challenge? Will you join me in not complaining about things that you aren’t doing something about? Who else is going to do this essential work? Look around you. Look in the mirror: It’s us. We CAN make a difference. We ARE making a difference.
Let’s support each other in making this world the best that it can be. This is not an ideological concept. The world is changed by those people who can feel the suffering, and then show up to take action.