‘Change by doing’ doesn’t require much of selling. Whether it is a salt march, a war or the creation of Facebook, the act triggers a change process – sometimes quite massive. In contrast, ‘change by being’ is relatively less understood. Many people may not even consider it as a legitimate approach for change. And yet, I believe ‘change by being’ is just as powerful an approach as ‘change by doing’ if not more in bringing about a change. What is ‘change by being’? Let’s get a glimpse of it through 2 short stories of Ramana Maharshi and Eckhart Tolle.
Ramana Maharshi: David Godman narrates the story of a “miserable, crabby” woman who visited Ramana Ashram during 1940s in one of his interviews. The story was narrated to him by Arthur Osborne’s daughter. During that time Osborne’s house at Tiruvannamalai was a place where foreigners who couldn’t find a place to stay would be put up. One evening a miserable, crabby woman was sent to Osborne’s place by Ashram folks. The next day she left for the Ashram after breakfast. When she came back for lunch she was radiant and glowing with happiness. Hosts were happy and curious to hear about the “transformation story”. However, the woman remained silent throughout the lunch. Finally, the hosts couldn’t resist it anymore and asked her, “What happened? What did Bhagwan do to you?” The woman was surprised. She said, “He didn’t do anything. He didn’t say anything to me. I just sat there the whole morning and then came back for lunch.”
Eckhart Tolle: Tolle narrates the story of one of his neighbours Ethel , a “middle aged, intelligent and highly educated” woman in the book “A New Earth”. One night at 11 o’clock Ethel wanted to see Tolle urgently. It was clear that she was under stress. She was trembling as she took out papers from a file and spread them on the sofa. Tolle says, “I looked at her with no thought and no judgment and listened in stillness without any mental commentary.” Ethel kept talking. She was worried about a dispute which arose after she had refused to pay service charges for the repairs at her house. Ethel kept talking for ten minutes and then suddenly stopped. Then she looked at Tolle and asked, “This isn’t important at all, is it?” Tolle said, “No, it isn’t”. She sat quietly for a few more minutes, picked up her papers and left. The next morning when she saw Tolle on the street, she asked, “What did you do to me? Last night was the first night in years that I slept well.”
Did both the stories involve a change? Yes. Did the stories involve an action? Almost no visible action from Ramana or Tolle. So, what is happening here? I don’t know. But I like Tolle’s approach – which begins with complete acceptance of the situation – without being judgmental about it. Perhaps this creates a mirror so clear that the other person sees herself and the futility of the conflict with utmost clarity. That leads to the change.
David Bohm calls a person like Ramana or Tolle “a catalyst” – a person who “makes possible certain action without itself taking part, but merely by being what it is.”
Can anyone become a catalyst by creating such a mirror? Eckhart feels that it needs practice. For most of us, the mirror is tinted – in fact, heavily tinted. With practice it can become clearer. I hope it is like building stamina.
Tolle’s story is on page 175-176 of “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle.“Catalyst” analogy of David Bohm is on page 173 of “The ending of time” which contains dialogues between David Bohm and Jiddu Krishnamurti.