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Make It So!

By John Earle

All of our awareness, personal responsibility and inner work do nothing really until we bring them into reality through action. As the British commanders used to say when presented with a good idea from a subordinate, we need to, "make it so." With scholarly work we can all become great pundits but, in order to learn what life is really about, and in order for the changes we want in our lives to take place, we are definitely required to take action. This seems obvious, and yet, because we habitually avoid change, we avoid new action as well, diminishing our own potential and possibility. Because we do not know what responses new action will engender, and because it can be difficult to stretch into a new way of being, taking new action is very often an act of courage. There is rich reward here. Repetitious acts of courage, the willingness to try new things, create a field of courage and we become encouraged, or filled with courage. Our courage, our ability to voyage into the unknown, to try new things, to challenge ourselves, and to maintain our integrity in the face of personal attack are all enhanced; our self esteem is strengthened. We become more of who we really are.

Taking action enhances our personal integrity because action is the way in which we unite our inner world with the outer world. Action breaks down the barriers fear has created between these two worlds; so that our world becomes less fragmented, more whole and congruent. Without action it is difficult to create firm boundaries or clarity about who we are and what we believe. The more comfortable we become with our response to the world through skillful action, the safer we feel. The difference between action and inaction is the difference between coming forth and hiding, between being a participant in life, the one alive and engaged, and the numb observer seeking safety in disengagement. There is much truth to the old phrase, "actions speak louder than words." Oliver Wendell Homes said, "A life is action and passion. It is required of a man that he should share the passion and action of his time, at peril of being judged not to have lived."

It helps to understand some of the difficulties we encounter when taking action. Often when we take a certain action for the first time, the action doesn't work out the way we had envisioned or hoped. For instance, when we try to use authentic communication, speaking our truth without judgment or blame about something that we have formerly repressed or denied, we may fumble our words and feel awkward.

The person with whom we are sharing our truth might react negatively, so that we suddenly feel uncomfortable and emotionally unbalanced by their reaction. We can have mercy on ourselves when this happens. It is not unusual, when taking a new and more conscious action, to encounter obstacles both from within and without. Learning how to act more consciously takes practice. It is exactly like the tired but apt simile of learning to ride a bicycle. When we first try to ride we fall and it is very frustrating. Then we go a few feet without falling and experience the joy of movement and balance, a wonderful but brief experience. Though our experience was brief, we have gotten the taste of balancing and we keep on trying until one day we ride joyfully and naturally. An awkward attempt or a rebuff, as we try new ways of being, is not an excuse for quitting; we can use this feedback to develop our skill. Using awareness, personal responsibility and inner work to review our unskillful or frightened reactions, we become more adept at turning habitual reactions to fearful and unpleasant conditions into balanced responses. While new action does not always come forth perfectly, there are also wonderful occasions when our new action works very well. These moments are very exciting and gratifying.

Becoming aware of some of the ways we avoid action can help keep us in action. One of the classical ways we avoid action is by studying about it. We read books, attend workshops, join church groups, or take up psychological studies or philosophy. Great scholars learn scriptures by heart. We talk of love, or study inspirational stories and scripture without translating these teaching stories into personal action. But again, until we express new understandings through action they simply remain ideas, no matter how glamorous or appealing; no matter how many people agree with us. Until we bring what we are learning into our own life through action, no important change in our lives or personal contributions will result. This is what the Bhagavad Gita refers to when it states: "He who withdraws from actions, but ponders on their pleasures in his heart, he is under a delusion and is a false follower of the Path."

Why are those of us who withdraw from action under a delusion? Why are we "false followers of the path?" Because we are not speaking the truth as we know it in our hearts; we are not entering the world fully with its pain and difficulties. We must take action in order for our truth to be real, in order to brand it into our hearts and minds through experience. When we do this there is often less need for us to explain and discourse, rather we can exemplify and demonstrate possibility.

John Earle is the author of Waking Up, Learning What Your Life is Trying to Teach You (from which the above article is an excerpt) and runs the site Waking Up Online. He is a spiritual teacher and counselor specializing in relationship and interpersonal communication. His clients include individuals, couples and institutions. He has produced and led numerous workshops and retreats. His personal experience of a great variety of teachers has given him a broad and inclusive spiritual perspective. A hospice volunteer for over 30 years, he and his wife Babbie recently started a hospice in Central America.

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