"Do not make the mistake of thinking you are a powerless individual in a vast world," writes Tai Situ Rinpoche in our book "The Way Ahead." "Know that you are armed with three great powers. You have the power of the body -- the source of all action; the power of speech -- the source of all expression; and the power of the mind -- the source of all thought."
Effectively, whether we are aware of it or not, everything we think, say and do has an effect on everyone and everything else. This means that our thoughts and actions can lead to chaos and destruction as easily as they can to healing and friendship. It also means that we have enormous resources available to us at all times.
Our actions, obviously, have the most direct impact on others. The destructive results of believing that whatever we do has no bearing on anyone or anything else can be seen throughout our natural world. Every action we take, even the smallest and simplest of everyday choices, has a consequence. For instance, in southern Egypt we traveled by truck into the desert. From where the truck left us, we hiked far up a dry riverbed into silence and beauty and rubbish: piles of polystyrene and plastic dumped in the middle of nowhere. On an island in Greece, we found large bags of garbage washed ashore that had been tipped into the Mediterranean by passing boats. While in the exotic paradise of Sri Lanka, Deb was happily swimming in the beautiful Unawatuna Bay when human feces floated past her. Apart from polluting the land and water, such garbage and raw sewage is devastating to the surrounding plant, animal and sea life.
"Nothing exists by itself; everything exists only in relationship," says Marc Ian Barasch in "Be the Change." "This leads to the realization that life is not just about my own pursuit of happiness or search for comfort, but the ego is always wanting gratification and this can lead to all sorts of problems. For instance, as we don't like to scrub and scrape our cooking pots, we invented Teflon and nonstick pans. But now toxic perchlor fluoride from Teflon manufacturing can be found in the umbilical cord blood of 98 percent of newborns. Everything exists in relationship."
Every creature, insect, tide or weather pattern has its own unique role to play as an integrated part of the greater whole. Nothing is without a purpose. If we don't understand this, then our actions can easily be abusive.
"The environment wastes nothing. It disposes of hundreds of billions of tons of fallen leaves and decaying materials, recycling them in an elegant and beautiful system," explains Mark Mawrence in "Be the Change." "Whereas we, in this modern world, waste everything. We excrete hundreds of billions of tons of toxins into the environment, causing the impact that we are all familiar with. Eskimos in Alaska are breathing lead from fumes emitted in Los Angeles. Farming cycles in Hawaii and Central America are impacted by smog created in China. Once we establish that connectedness between us all, whether we live in Boise, Idaho, or Tokyo, we see how everything we do impacts each other."
Our neighborhood is our shared home, our environment our shared garden. Picking up rubbish is not just an act of kindness to the street, but also a way to ensure that we don't clog our rivers or seas; fighting to save the rain forests is not just so that the trees can survive, but also so that we may breathe more easily. Just as ignorance creates ignorant actions, so skillful awareness can generate a more positive outcome.
Ed remembers walking down a fancy shopping street in London when a teenaged girl in front of him finished drinking a can of soda and threw the empty can on the ground. "I picked it up and handed it back to her, asking 'Would you throw this on the floor in your home?' She looked at me like I was crazy."
The impact of our words may be less obvious than that of our actions, but they are just as effective. Words are heard and felt; they reverberate throughout our system, affecting both those who say them and those who hear them. How we express ourselves can cause either conflict or joy; it can start wars or mend hearts. Words come and go, and others may soon forget what we say, but they will never forget how we make them feel. The simple act of replacing words that belittle or hurt with ones that encourage and uplift can change our world.
And it's not what we say but how we say it -- we catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! Hurtful words creep under the carpet and constantly remind us that they are there, while loving words lift and shake the carpet loose of unwanted memories. As such, words should not be used lightly, but with consideration of their influence.
Thoughts may be even subtler, but when used purposefully, they are equally powerful. As we think, so we become: like a domino effect, our thoughts influence our feelings; from our feeling are born our words and our actions; our thoughts affect our behavior and beliefs, whom we care for and whom we dismiss. They also affect the unseen and unknown as we send our thought waves and energy out into the universe. The greatest discovery is that we can change our life and the world by changing the way we are thinking. If we think it's impossible, it's impossible; if we think it's possible, then it becomes highly probable.
"We need to understand our own minds; we need to see our own patterns and expressions," says Joseph Goldstein in "Be the Change." "In a way it is so obvious. If we are full of judgment or anger or fear, we are just contributing to the problem. And if we let judgment go and become more loving and accepting and compassionate in ourselves, then that is what we give to the world."
How can you use the power of your body, speech and mind to improve your life? Do comment below.
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See our award-winning book, "Be the Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World," with forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman and contributions from Marianne Williamson, Joseph Goldstein, Ellen Burstyn, Marc Ian Barasch, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie, Mark Mawrence and many others.
Our three meditation CDs -- "Metta: Loving-Kindness and Forgiveness," "Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight" and "Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation" -- are available at www.EdandDebShapiro.com.