Change the World from the Inside Out
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” – Buddha
In high school, I entertained lofty notions of fixing many of the world’s problems. However, I did not feel up to the task. Despite my ambitions, I felt fearful and weak. Whenever I contemplated tackling the big issues, I saw them as far beyond my capabilities. But instead of focusing on increasing my capabilities, I instead tried to think of ways I could tackle these challenges with just what I had at the time.
The result was that I felt constantly overwhelmed. In high school, I spent most of my time despairing how ineffective I was. In college, I did what a lot of people do: I stopped caring and focused on enjoying my life, often through distraction.
Luckily, I received a Warrior calling that brought my life back on track. As I started training my body, and developing emotional and mental strength, I found myself becoming more confident and outgoing. Problems that had overwhelmed me no longer did, and I felt a noticeable increase in my sense of effectiveness. My grades improved, even as I took on more extra-curricular activities.
A New Path for a Wimpy Kid
Picking up on this, I looked for other areas in which I could cultivate inner strength. After college, I returned to my study of self-defense and systematically improved my people skills. The following year, I set my sights on living and working in Korea to foster the ability to live independantly. I took on the challenges of expanding this blog and writing a book.
All this was done with an eye towards increasing my sense of empowerment and convincing myself that my dreams were within my grasp and, perhaps more importantly, worth pursuing.
The result has been a tremendous increase in my strength of purpose and my faith in my ability to effect positive change in the world.
A Weak Soul as the Root of Evil
All of these experiences led me to the belief that one of the best things I can do to improve the world is to empower and inspire people. A big part of that is fostering healthy living without losing sight of the role health plays in a bigger life purpose.
To some, this may seem trivial, nothing more than “feel good” psychology. After all, it doesn’t directly affect big issues like poverty, discrimination, greed, violence, and war.
I do see a connection, however.
Violence, I believe, is the result of feelings of vulnerability, which lead people to perceive threats all around them. This leads them to extreme action to protect themselves. Greed is caused by a feeling of insecurity, a worry that what you have is tenuous and could vanish or be taken away. When we feel weak, we feel overwhelmed. We may lash out, or we may withdraw into comfortable distractions, thereby allowing others to take advantage of us.
One of the best ways to develop a feeling of insecurity and vulnerability is with poor health. You are at risk of sickness, and you may be under a constant reminder of your frailty in the form of chronic disease. If you are weak physically, the world around you becomes an overwhelming place. Living constantly under these conditions does have subtle but profound effects on how you perceive yourself and the world you inhabit.
Note that I said these negative things are caused by feelings. There are plenty of impoverished people who nonetheless feel secure enough to act generously, just as there are countless wealthy people who see their riches in constant danger of dissipating. Familiar is the story of the miser who pursued wealth out of a pressing sense of scarcity, hoards it out of fear, and uses it to take advantage of others. It all depends on your inner sense of empowerment.
A Strong Spirit Creates a Kind Soul
I’ve come to believe that a foundation of inner strength is actually necessary for the enactment of honest compassion, kindness, and generosity. Lacking real strength, there is the danger that these apparently good acts will actually be self-serving cover-ups, aka false modesty or a holier-than-thou attitude.
I do believe that people are naturally compassionate, dignified, honest, and respectful. It is only when we feel our well-being is in danger that we resort to negative behavior in an attempt to protect ourselves.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that actually cultivates insecurity and fear, often in order to sell products but also to keep people reliant on governments or other bodies. This justifies mass consumption, war, extremist religion, and the economic policies that result in third-world poverty and hunger. The result of millions of people feeling weak is the global problems we see today.
So, what can you do? Start with something personal: your health.
Health is one way to empower yourself. Healthy, strong people don’t feel threatened by scarcity because they know their bodies can endure, so they are more comfortable living modestly and sustainably. They don’t get sick, so they aren’t afraid to strike out on their own. They can move freely, so they are now easily cowed into staying put where they can be controlled.
Of course, there are plenty of healthy people who, like the miser, got there because they were fed up of feeling weak. I was one such person. But even when I was strong, I still felt weak until I got my mindset in the right place.
Personally, my Big Issue is ecological destruction. I hope to make a difference by incorporating what I learn in my study of ecopsychology with MovNat training. By reawakening within people the natural movements we evolved to move freely in nature, I hope we can break down the fear and aloofness with which we view the natural world.
Eventually, I’d like to lead trips that combine the spiritual experience of wilderness immersion with physical training. I would use natural movement as a way to re-connect people with the natural world, while also teaching them how to empower themselves in health. Hopefully, this will result in stronger identification with nature and the development of compassion for it.