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Improving Self, Improving World

Improving Self, Improving World

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Published by Andrew Marshall
This article examines how self-improvement by changing one's consciousness is the only realistic way an individual can truly contribute to making a better world. It also suggests one method of doing this.
This article examines how self-improvement by changing one's consciousness is the only realistic way an individual can truly contribute to making a better world. It also suggests one method of doing this.

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Published by: Andrew Marshall on Aug 05, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Andrew Marshall
July 2010
Never is there a moment in life when it isnot possible to practise some form of self-improvement. The difficulty is recognisingwhat can be done and then applyingsufficient will and energy to do it. Beforewe look at this in a little more detail, itmight be useful to think about what self-improvement really is.From a material point of view it is easy tounderstand that self-improvement mightinvolve altering those circumstance in lifethat affect material comfort or perhapsstatus. Certainly the young areconditioned by education and parentingto recognize that work brings materialrewards in terms of standards of living. Itwould be wrong to ignore this area of lifebut, like many things, if the focus isentirely on one aspect, imbalance occurs.Sadly, the West has been driven verylargely by the work ethic and has lostmany values in the process. Even thewelfare principle behind social security,originally introduced to alleviate poverty,has suffered very much as more and morepeople seek rewards and rights forthemselves that often go beyond neededassistance. By and large, the focus of themajority of individuals is not so much onwhat improvements they could make tothe world around them but what they candraw on to benefit their own personalcircumstances.But if we turn that around just a little andthink of how we can improve ourselves sothat we react in a way that is beneficial tothe wider environment, the focuschanges. Instead of thinking of our owncomfort and wanting things for ourselves,we begin to see how we affect others byour thinking, by our speech and by ourreactions to all events in life. Instead of seeing the world as a resource to drawupon, we see it as both a learningenvironment and one to which we maycontribute. Looking at things from thisperspective, it is not so difficult to seethat life is an enormous opportunity. Wecan, if we choose, pass it up or ignore it;alternatively we can grasp it with bothhands and improve ourselves and ourworld simultaneously.From this point of view, education has avast role to play and many educationalistsare philanthropists also. The problem forus is that once school, college oruniversity is over, education in any formalsense tends to stop. Then we rely on, orare subject to, the media or our ownvoluntary inquiry for information that cantransform the way we think. If we tacklethis responsibly, we can make steady andsometimes significant inroads; but if weare to transform ourselves into better andmore responsible human beings, therehas to be an inner change that does notdepend just on intellectual understanding.Intellectual understanding is importantbut it doesn’t necessarily make us intokinder, more compassionate or moreselfless human beings. Something in ushas to transcend the tendency to wantthings for ourselves and see very clearlythat we are all part of one magnificentwhole.
2Such changes occur, generally speaking,over a long period of time. Onlyoccasionally do we receive a clear glimpseof things as they really are so that ourinternal reactions to outer events alter inany significant way. We are, after all,creatures of habit and will only changeour habits with focused effort.Fortunately, the habits that are mostimportant are those of the mind – theway we tend to think – and the mind isflexible, albeit it with a tendency to beobstinate.While it is important to understand theissues affecting the world or our widerenvironment, the most majorcontribution we can probably make isthrough retraining the mind so that ourapproach to it changes. If the way wereact to the world changes from theinside, all the outer responses we make toeverything in life through our actions andour words will have an increasingtendency to be life-supporting and so willcreate an atmosphere of harmlessnessaround us. All wars and all conflict, whichare the cause of so much suffering, arenot caused by nature but arise because of the internal reactions of human beings toouter circumstances – nothing else.Peace can only arise inwardly and then itcan naturally be manifested outwardly.How can we create the circumstances orconditions that will enable us to use everymoment in life as an opportunity for self-improvement in this way? So manypeople think that they will only be able todo something of this nature later on whenthey have more time – when their studieshave finished or they have a better job,when the children have left school orhome, or when they have retired or nolonger have to look after ageing relatives.The bad news is that the extra time wethink will come probably won’t becausethere is always something that needs tobe done. As someone once said, evenwhen we die the in-tray is still not empty.However, the much better news is that itis not extra time that is needed for self-improvement but a change in approach toevery second of the day. Then we maysee that there is no future to wait for;there is only the present and the presentmoment is in fact a time to be reveredand cherished.The key to improving our internalreactions is to be aware of them ratherthan responding automatically to them.Suppose, for example, that someone sayssomething that makes us angry. Habitualreactions may normally make us respondin an angry way, either through wordsspoken angrily or through some physicalreaction such as storming out of the roomand slamming the door. Feelings of angerare unpleasant enough and if we respondwith anger, we only increase our innerdiscomfort as well as creatingunpleasantness in the atmosphere. But if we can maintain sufficient presence of mind to recognise and acknowledge thefeelings within us rather than respondemotionally, there is a very good chanceof dealing with both the situation andourselves in a more enlightened fashion.Our internal reactions are governed bytwo main things: our emotional make-upand our habitual patterns of thought.These have innumerable causativeconditions that are extraordinarilycomplex and are different for everyindividual. It would be impossible, andprobably not very fruitful, to examinethem all. The important point is that self-improvement is about re-educating

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