Yoga is a brilliant pastime.

It calms the nerves, opens the mind, and allows thoughts to flow freely. There’s a quote on the wall of my favourite yoga studio (and presumably many others) that says “Be the change you want to see in the world”, and it always gets me thinking.

The quote is attributed to Gandhi. Maybe this was his opinion, I don’t know since I’ve never read his diary, but he never ​actually said that. I don’t mean to nitpick, but what he said is that “change has to start from within before it can be expressed in the outer world”. I think that’s an important distinction. This quote has become the philosophy by which I live my life – ever since I heard the correct version, that is.
What I take from this quote is that the inner journey is the necessary first step before setting out to make a change. After I’ve workshopped myself a little bit and rediscovered the real me (and therefore the best version) the attitude of others towards me shifts entirely. Usually, for the better.

I have to digress for just a second, bear with! Whilst acknowledging what Gandhi never said, I believe it’s important to address the terrible things that he ​did ​say. ‘Terrible’ and ‘Gandhi’ almost seem to repel each other when written in the same sentence, as if they are polar opposites. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Gandhi expressed some very important, peaceful, and positive sentiments, and he was instrumental in the anti-colonial independence movement, however, the world is not black and white. Whilst often touted as a ‘good guy’, Gandhi was known to say things that were downright racist – such as describing Africans as “uncivilised savages”. I am telling you this because it is crucial to highlight the awful things figureheads have done alongside the wonderful, though to me the bad does not water down the importance of his positive message. This is not to say I’m sweeping these actions of his under-the-rug, I just think it’s increasingly important to acknowledge that our world is not made up solely of dichotomies. There is no such thing as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, it is possible to be and do good whilst having flaws (that of some greater than that of others). Gandhi’s racism is unmistakable and inexcusable, though it does not mean we can’t learn from his better, righteous, pearls of wisdom.

Now that’s off my chest.

You all know how important the accuracy of our original quote is to me, so I figured I’d share more of what Gandhi’s 1913 text says: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

He makes it sound so easy, doesn’t he? …maybe it is. Think of it this way, you’re sitting in a café, sipping on a hot drink, and your friend texts you. Possibly an inside joke, or plans to get together, or a funny picture of the two of you — whatever it is, it makes you smile. Suddenly you are awash with lovely thoughts and feelings. You look up grinning (perhaps with coffee on your upper lip) and expect that everyone around you is smiling too. The truth is they probably think you look a little strange. But here’s the thing – you catch someone’s eye and they return the smile, they might even pass it on (​Smiling is infectious​, after all). This is what I consider irrefutable evidence for Gandhi’s theory. If a little smile in a café, the result of your inner happiness, can create a chain of smiles, there is no reason to believe the goodness we cultivate inside of ourselves won’t spur on goodness inside of everyone we meet.

I think what Gandhi wanted to convey, is that if we do not like what we see, all we can do is change our approach to the world. To be blunt, it is impossible to change anyone or anything else.
Essentially, pinning down our core values, and living by them, is the only way to see those values reflected in the world.

Truly understanding a quote like this creates some very powerful thoughts. For me, it means I throw out all judgement of others — I can’t see into their world, just as they can’t see into mine. It stirs me into action and makes me want to lead by example. It wills me to create inner change, and, through that, social change. Most importantly, it asks me to be ever vigilant about my inner world and how I project that onto the world around me. I believe that’s what Gandhi (and, perhaps, the misquoting yoga studio) intended.

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