“They can be like a sun, words. They can do for the heart what light can for a field.”
—St. John of the Cross
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Be the Change

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
Marcus Aurelius

Almost everyone has ideas about how to change the world. We all want it to be a better place, even if we differ about how to bring about change. Sometimes we rail against the government, or against large corporations, seeing only greed and corruption in high places. We might get extremely angry about all the injustice in the world, and think, If I were in charge, things would be very different. But would they? No doubt righteous anger has its place in life, but perhaps we might also remember that real change has to start within each of us. If we want to change the world, we must first change ourselves. As Ghandi put it: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”

In Hawaii there is a technique known as ho’oponopono. One doctor who practiced ho’oponopono succeeded in curing a hospital ward of criminally insane patients without ever meeting them in person. Instead, he reviewed each person’s file and then turned inward, into his own heart. He kept saying, over and over again, “I’m sorry,” and “I love you.”

We might think, well that sounds nice, but how could it possibly have any effect? The curious thing is that it did. After a few months, some patients who had been shackled were allowed to walk unrestricted. Others improved so much they were taken off their medications. Some who had been considered “lifers” were freed.

The doctor explained that in ho’oponopono, he recognized that the people around him were reflections of something that needed to be healed in himself. Situations and events involving others may appear as something outside ourselves, but the truth according to ho’oponopono is that the world is as we are, and that if we want to heal it we must take complete responsibility for ourselves and our connection to the world around us.

The story is told about a famous rabbi who lived in Europe several hundred years ago. One day he encountered a man breaking the Jewish law by working on the Sabbath. But instead of remonstrating with the man, the rabbi decided that he would examine himself. What is it about me, he asked himself, that causes me to encounter someone who is working on the Sabbath?

Most of us are not used to thinking like this. We are accustomed to seeing ourselves as separate from the world around us, in which case it is easy to assign blame to others for any problem at all, from noisy neighbors to a war halfway across the globe.

An extraordinary example comes to us from Canadian author/photographer Colin Mallard. A graduate student at Boston University School of Theology in the late sixties, he had just helped organize one of the largest student rallies in the history of the antiwar movement in Boston when this story took place.

Colin’s opposition to the conflict in Southeast Asia had deep roots. Growing up in England, he had listened to the stories of aunts, uncles and grandparents still recovering from the trauma of WWI. The result was a deep abhorrence for war; he did not believe in violence to resolve the disagreements among human beings. So when the Vietnam conflict came along, he took a stand.

At the end of all the speeches, as the huge crowd in the Boston Common began to disperse, they found themselves surrounded by police and National Guard, who began attacking students as they tried to break through the ranks. From the corner of his eye, Colin noticed a policeman approaching from behind and to his right, twirling his long wooden nightstick, eyes riveted on a longhaired student in front of Colin. Catching up to him, the policeman clubbed the student, dropping him to the ground with the sound of breaking bones.

Something snapped in Colin. He moved toward the policeman, fully intent on killing him. Then suddenly something opened up and he saw himself as never before. He, a pacifist, someone unalterably opposed to violence, was fully capable of killing another human being. For years he’d taken pride in being better than others. How often he had pointed fingers at those who justified violence and war.

One moment more and he’d have stepped into a yawning chasm from which there would be no turning back. He was stunned. He was capable of killing; he felt no better than those he protested against. Not knowing himself had almost cost the life of another human being and untold suffering for both their families.

In those few seconds on Boston Common he knew that a mirror had been held up to him. He also knew that he’d found the roots of war—and now it was time to discover the origin of peace, a journey that would continue for the next thirty years of his life.

Perhaps we might consider the possibility that everything that comes into our lives, both good and bad, is a reflection, a mirror in which to see ourselves. If we accept such a radical premise, we might find new meaning in the words of the song that is heard in so many churches today: “Let there be peace on earth, /And let it begin with me.”

There is no other place to start.