“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ~Robert Kennedy
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to take a yoga class at San Quentin State Prison in Northern California.
I had visited the prison before, attending other classes, with inmates, on anger management and a class based on Bryon Katie’s The Work, but this was my first yoga class.
It was an evening class, which made the prison seem that much more foreboding, and the class was full of lifers. The inmates in that room had committed very serious crimes. Most would never again see outside the prison’s walls.
A man sat down on the mat next to mine and immediately struck up a conversation.
He shared with me that the class had changed him in ways he hadn’t anticipated, that the yoga and mindfulness practice was helping him see the oneness in the world, and the invisible connections between all of us.
He had also begun to realize the damage he had caused by taking a life, not just to himself and the victim, but to his family, his community, and that of the victim’s. The circle of people affected by the violent act and its outcome was ever-widening. He had been in prison for years but had never really considered all of that before starting his yoga practice.
He said that what he had done was like throwing a pebble in a pond that causes ripples, only, he said, his was like tossing a brick in, and the ripples became destructive, monster-size waves.
That man will never again see the outside of the prison walls, yet he is taking significant steps to show up a better person and make a difference.
He is starting with himself.
When you take steps toward becoming your best self, no matter what you’ve done or how you’ve felt in the past, it is essential to walk your talk, while recognizing that even a tiptoe makes ripples.
How, you may ask, can you become your most authentic version of yourself? How can you live your values?
Start to imagine tiny ways that you can make a difference in your community, and then translate those thoughts into actions.
For example, if you love your neighborhood, support local businesses. If you love the Earth, recycle and compost. When you travel, look into staying at hotels and participating in activities that are both eco and socially aligned. Those are easy choices that help you feel (and be!) aligned with your values.
Of course there will be days where you trip, and sometimes fall and scrape your knee (or just your ego), but if you do your best, your best keeps getting better!
Your next step after a fall: Brush yourself off and examine what happened and why, then continue on the path with this new knowledge. Each time, it gets a little easier.
Every choice we make makes a difference.
In contrast to the lifer whose body was literally imprisoned, I knew another person whose mind it seemed was figuratively trapped. He once told me that nothing he did had any effect on anyone or anything else in the world. My heart sank—for him, and for all of us.
The truth is, every tiny thing we do leads somewhere. Social change of any kind starts with the individual, with our thoughts, words, and actions.
What we do and how we choose to be present in the world impacts not only our own lives, but the entire global community. The interconnections of every living being are infinite and continuously unfolding.
From inside of the tall, unyielding prison walls, lined with razor wire and lookout posts with armed guards, the lifer I met in that yoga class was choosing to show up, contribute, and make a difference.
He recognized that while he was only one person and had severe limitations imposed on him, he could still create positive ripples. His actions translated into a better, more mindful life for himself and those with whom he came into contact.
We Generate Positive Ripples by Living Authentically
This event took place nearly a decade now, but to this day, his story has stayed with me, continuing to generate positive ripples in my own life. On the person I choose to be. On the way I choose to show up in the world. On the choices I make, the words I speak and the actions I take.
Over the years, I have learned that it takes so much more oomph to get through the day when I’m not living authentically compared to when I am.
Inauthentic living is draining and depleting. By showing up as the most genuine version of myself, I have so much more energy, time, and space to do more in the world, creating positive ripples near and far.
Whenever and wherever we touch the water—we toss a feather, or a pebble or a boulder, negative or positive—the ripples and waves travel as far as the eye can see (and then keep going).
What’s most important to you? How do you reflect that through your daily thoughts, words, and actions? How do you show up in the world…what ripples are you creating?
How do you start living authentically and create more positive ripples?
First, define your core values. How do they show up in your daily life? How are you living them and/or not living them?
Next, be present where you are. Each step you take on the path will bring your values more into light.
Lastly, continue on the path, even when you fall.
It may not happen overnight, but eventually, your values will equal your words and your actions. You will also recognize your missteps much faster as you live more authentically. You’ll then be able to correct them and continue on the path, creating more positive ripples.