I thought it might be a helpful new feature to offer book reviews. I’m always reading something, and whether it be a yoga book, or Sherlock Holmes, it informs my practice. I think often wisdom comes from unexpected places. So to kick off, here are some brief thoughts on Isabel Losada’s For Tibet, With Love (I know it’s from 2004, but I’m just getting around to it). Now the issue of Tibetan independence or autonomy is of course important, but there are other forums in which to discuss it. What I’m concerned about is Losada’s personal journey of discovering her passion for Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s messages of compassion and non-violence, and her need to do something. Not only that need to do something, but that need being confronted with an intellectual skepticism of an individual’s ability to change anything in a world dominated by powerful governments and corporate monoliths that may not have the same views as we have on certain subjects. This transcends the Tibet issue. Losada begins with the serenity prayer:
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
This prayer guides her passion and her critical skepticism of her efforts as she travels to Lhasa, meets with the Tibetan activist groups, governmental representatives of Tibet and China, and ultimately stages a dramatic stunt on Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square. Even after this she notes ‘we had made lots of ripples. But we hadn’t rocked the boat.’
Is it worth writing letters when officials don’t read them or just send back a standard response? Is it worth protesting every day for what you believe if no one listens and nothing changes? How do you know what works and doesn’t? How do you know you’re not making something worse?
For anyone who’s gotten involved with any cause or otherwise felt implored to act for something they believe in, the nagging doubts and skepticism may ring true. I still hear the words of a South African chief I met in a rural village who pulled me into a hut and said “What will you do for us?” What can one do in this complicated world? How can you be effective? How can you create positive social change?
Not until Losada meets HH the Dalai Lama in the final chapter does she gain some perspective.
It didn’t matter – it doesn’t matter whether I succeed in what I try to do or not. My serenity to accept the things that I can’t change comes now from knowing that I will not cease to take action. My courage to continue to take actions that may change something is no longer attached to my judgements about what counts as worthwhile…Maybe the wisdom lies in not having too much serenity and accepting the world as it is, and in not having too much courage and wanting to change the world all at once. If the Dalai Lama can tell me that the intention is more important than the result, then I’ll just go on and on taking positive actions. Just like you will. Whatever change we want to bring about, maybe one day there will be a positive result. Who says you and I can’t change the world?
We become paralyzed by fear of our own inadequacy. We question what we’re doing in the midst of doing it – even if we know from a place beyond intellect that it is right. We must let go of the outcome and focus more on the taking the action to begin with, whatever may come of it – whether it is big, small, earth-shattering or modest. We must let the fear and self-criticism go. If we stay focused, calm, and committed to the guidance of our heart (perhaps with a wee bit of skepticism so we don’t overreach) the well-intentioned action will have a positive result. We may not see it – at least in this lifetime, to be Buddhist for a moment – but eventually the action will bear fruit. And the continuous commitment, repetition, learning, and experimentation will only make our actions more productive.
So, whatever your issue is – remember that taking action in our lives is a practice as well. It takes time and a bit of fearlessness. Follow the voice that comes from a place beyond intellect. Step off your mat, and act!