“Everybody thinks of changing the world; nobody thinks of changing themselves.” -Leo Tolstoy
So says Tolstoy. I say give up trying completely and die to the idea of saving the world. It’s over. Finished. Done.
That’s the lesson I learned after three years of international work followed by ten years of teaching in special ed programs in the public schools. Give up trying to save the world. The world is the world. You can’t save it. You will go crazy. You can only do what you do the best way you can. An essential practice in life is to be passionate about what you do and dispassionate about the results. For example, you can raise tons of money, get donations from all over the US, and install a beautiful learning center in a remote village in Armenia, only to find out that the center is locked shut, never used, the internet connection sucks, nobody got the right training, and the school director put the giant TV in his office (I should have kept the TV for myself).
So what’s the point? You are the point.
The point is not to change the world–the point is to change you. The point is for you and me to do something we care about, whether that’s teaching or preaching, banking or baking. Like when I give money to bums. Friends say, “They’re just going to buy alcohol. You’re encouraging them.” I’m sure they are, and, yes, I’m probably encouraging them. I can’t change them, but giving something changes me. Like all spiritual practices–giving is a practice. That’s what’s weird about giving, it’s not really about the receiver, it’s about you. Unless, of course, I do it so that my friends see it. Then I’m just putting on a show (which is what I feel like I’m doing right now just talking about it!). I truly believe that when you give, don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing. Otherwise, yes, the reward is already been given.
As a teacher you can design the most beautiful and technically perfect lesson in the world, and nobody will show up, or there will be a fight, or all the kids will fall asleep.
Who cares? Do what you do best, passionately, with great love. Do what you believe in. Let the results be part of the larger picture of life which is often outside our scope. That’s mystical doing.
Give up (expecting results) and die (to the results of your action). You’ll be happy you did. Do what you are passionate about, or at least what you like to do (you can’t always be passionate about work), and then let go.
A Side Note For Artists
One of the best things I’ve done over the years, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successfully, is to constantly try to detach myself from the results of my actions. This is extremely important if you are an artist or a writer. It’s a strange mental game in art, because if you are creating art, of course you want people to enjoy it. For years I wrote and recorded songs and shared them with nobody. I told myself I loved what I was doing for the sake of it. I didn’t need results. This was a lie, of course. I did want people to hear my music. I was worried about what others would say. I had to Give Up and Die to my insecurities. And eventually, with some encouragement, I formed a small band, The Falderals, and now we play out regularly in the Twin Cities. We have an album (buy it and help me with my big impossible idea). Sometimes, after a show, nobody says anything to us. Sometimes nobody claps. Sometimes people really like us and buy our CD. All we can do is play the songs we wrote as best as we can. We try really hard to be passionate about our music and detached from the results (we’ve played our share of empty rooms). I imagine some people wonder what an old guy is doing touring around with his indie folk band when he should be home soaking his feet and eating bran–but how necessary is music in life?
It’s the same with writing, blogging, or doing any other job. Detach yourself from the results.
Ask yourself: is what I’m doing coming out of a genuine place inside me?
This does not mean you don’t take criticism or seek to improve. I love, love, love when people critique my songs and my stories. Very often, they are right, and when they are, I see it right away. A spark lights up inside me–if I’m open to it, if I’ve given up and died to my pride–and that spark says, “hey, they’re right.” Then I make the change. Sometimes, though, when I’ve truly taken it in and thought about it, I can see they are not right, or they are not right for what I want to do. So then I say thank you and let it go. I always recall a study someone once told me about, which really helps me with decisions. Someone once analyzed the decision making of successful CEOs and found that nearly half or more of the decisions they made were wrong or mistakes. The point was that they decided. I always remember this when I’m making any kind of decision that I feel from the gut. I think, this is what I’m deciding and I’m going to go with it. It might be wrong. I’ll correct if I need to later.
This Week’s Practice
So, this week’s practice: do something bold, something you’ve always wanted to do, and detach yourself from the results. Be passionate about what you do and dispassionate about the results. You cannot always rely on results. The point is that your actions change you, not the world. I’m still glad I made that learning center in Armenia. I learned a lot. I learned that next time, I’m keeping the TV for myself.
Give up and die…you’ll be glad you did.