I’m inspired, impressed, humbled, and even relieved by people seeking change. Seeking change describes the subtext of a lot of my conversations of late. It also fuels a full range of goings-on I hear about. And, it makes me wonder. Why doesn’t all this collective action lead to sustainable change? What can?

Getting up and doing something seems to make more sense than sitting around talking or being inside my head thinking. I try to justify my choice to mediate in claims like meditation reduces crime. It’s everywhere. Schools increasingly have meditation activities. And, meditators have a competitive edge in business. But the past convinced me to meditate.

Meditation goes way back

Mediation has a long, rich history. Hindu documents from 1500 BCE mention mediation. However, scholars believe people mediated as early as 3000 BCE. 

Even Buddha’s mother meditated.

A way of meditating born from Confucius focuses on social relations. It helps people cope, become happy and fulfilled. Buddha’s mother meditated. Technically, she adopted him when her sister, his mother, died young. She, Mahapajapati Gotami, requested to and became the first woman ordained in Buddhism. It took repeated inquiries to attain ordination, which went against social norms of the time. Gandhi boycotted, marched, and rallied his community to join him in protest. He also meditated. His legacy offers lessons in applying love and nonviolence to correct political and social ills. His meditation practice helped him in his quest for authenticity, compassion, courage, patience, and self-realization. Finally, Mandela meditated. It helped him walk away from 27 years in a tiny, secluded South African prison cell feeling love and forgiveness.

What can we learn from these leaders who practiced meditation in their respective contexts?

Mediation today

When I think about it, extraordinary actions that lead to historical change puzzle me. How can one person have that much influence? I’m especially baffled when hearing the cacophony of voices in today’s divisiveness and unrest. When I consider how similar dynamics must have occurred during those leaders’ lifetimes, I begin to see our democracy as young. We may be nearly 250 years old, but it seems we’ve reached the adolescent stage of our national experiment. And yet, our country remains a fantastic place to call home. It makes me want to take part in ensuring we continue to mature.

We may be nearly 250 years old, but it seems we’ve reached the adolescent stage of our national experiment.

First of all, meditation is building momentum. Early mediators sought to understand a religion or a higher being. While today, people meditate to cultivate inner peace, engage in activism, deal with being pissed off, or to reduce stress. The broad range of motives suggests more of us meditate today probably than ever before. Next, stories of leaders, like those mentioned above, remind us that historical change made possible in part from meditating doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it happens gradually or, to be more precise, daily. Daily meditation practices helped those leaders change internally. They went from reacting to being. Others noticed and became influenced by their ways of being as much as by their ways of doing. That influence eventually led to widescale, sustainable change.

Seeking change through meditation

Change requires a catalyst; I vote, I write, I stand in protest, and I meditate. I contemplate opinions that don’t reflect my own. I entertain change. I ponder the big and the small and sometimes, I just sit and watch my thoughts go by. With these and more efforts, I participate in, witness, and am a victim and survivor of our times. Until I can do something better, meditation seems to me the most powerful strategy of all.