Wanna change the world? You’d better look inside first.

I’ve wanted to change the world since I was ten years old.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1983, I have convinced my younger sister and two cousins that we must go on a hunger strike to protest the fact that we were discriminated against by the adults by having to sit at a kid’s table. We are all hiding in the downstairs playroom while three-year-old Nicole is instructed to sneak into the kitchen to bring us some cookies because we might just starve to death making a stand for equality and justice.

The story above is an illustration of my drive to make a stand against what I perceived to be wrong, unjust or unfair. That drive continued through my high school and college years and beyond. I loved a good fight. My causes ranged from women’s rights, animal cruelty, and racism, to education, sweatshops, and food production. My passion for my cause du jour was unparalleled. I fought a hard fight, and preached mercilessly at anyone who didn’t hold my same worldview. I was determined to make a difference; but often my fire burned me and those around me.

Although I did manage to do some good in those years, looking back I see that I probably repelled more people than I inspired; I probably burned more bridges than I built. The arrogant idea that I knew what was best for the world, was actually a defense against my own feelings of helpessness and anger. Of course I wanted to protect the voiceless and the powerless, because that was how I felt inside. Instead of confronting my own anger, I projected my anger onto the injustices of the world. My desire to “save the world” was really a cry to save myself.

Inequality, racism, environmental destruction, and corporate greed are very real. But if I am blinded by how those issues mirror my own issues, I will be ineffective at inspiring positive change.  Until we confront, deeply, our own wounds that are mirrored in the suffering around us, we will be immobilized or overreactive in our efforts to make a difference. Sometimes we will even do harm.

I am still committed to making the world a better place. I know my personal issues and I try to let them inspire and inform me rather than limit me. I am understanding more and more that there is no “us” and “them.” That divisiveness simply perpetuates pain and suffering. As I get more integrated within myself, as I accept my own shadow and my light, I am more able to see the world for what it is and show up with more compassion and humility. This is an ongoing process that will never end. We look inward, we look outward, then we look inward again…

Here’s what the process might look like:

  1. Identify something about the state of the world that really bothers you.
  2. Notice how it feels in your body. Where is there tension, lack of feeling, emotions or images? Track the sensations and emotions for a few minutes. Stay with this, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  3. Do any memories arise as you stay with the sensations or emotions? How old do you feel? Allow the answers to come from your body. Write down whatever comes to you.
  4. Notice if the situation “out there” is a mirror for something going on inside of you—a past trauma or hurt.
  5. Here’s the not-so-easy step—deal with your stuff! Get some therapy, join the Program, start to journal and meditate. Do what it takes to tend to your wounds so that your work in the world is not an unconscious defense against acknowledging your own pain.

Now go back and do Step 1 again. This is a lifelong process, enjoy!

Off the Mat, Into the World® offers trainings and intensives that guide people through this process.  If you want more information please go to www.OffTheMatIntoTheWorld.org.

Hala Khouri, M.A., E-RYT, has been teaching yoga and the movement arts for over twenty years. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University and her M.A. In Counseling Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is trained in Somatic Experiencing, a body-based trauma psychotherapy.  She leads yoga workshops nationally and is one of the founders of Off the Mat, Into the World® an organization that bridges yoga and activism.   Hala lives in Venice CA with her husband and their two sons. For more on Hala, please visit her WEBSITE

Hala Khouri will be teaching at The Tadasana International Yoga & Music Festival over Earth Day weekend on the beach in Santa Monica, CA, April 20– 22. Positively Positive is a media sponsor of The Tadasana Festival There are a limited number of 3-day passes available for $199.  Use this link to take advantage of this offerwhich ends on Friday April 13th 2012 at 11:59pm.