The third A in the AAA change plan is action. Sometimes, and only with a healthy dose of self awareness, acceptance is the end of the line. Life brings you a situation that is so final and heart wrenching, like the death of a child or a terminal diagnosis, that all you can do is accept the situation. In these cases, the change takes place within, as you adjust your expectations and choose an attitude with all the tender peace you can muster.
In other situations, where you CAN change your circumstances or direction, awareness and acceptance form a solid foundation for the third A, action. There comes a time when to use the words of William Shakespeare, we must be “as good in act as we have been in thought.” The point being that your awareness and your actions need to be in harmony. Action without awareness is like shooting without aim. You’re likely to miss the mark. Conversely, awareness without action is like staring at the mountain and wondering why it’s not moving.
Life is challenging for many people. There are all sorts of trials and anxieties. Let this heartwarming story encourage you to take action, even one action, even a small action, and let your action build momentum for incredible growth in your life. You can also watch a short video that tells this story, here.
Some Chinese villagers built a shrine on the site of a well. They used a donkey to bring sand to the site. There was an accident and the donkey fell in the well. They tried everything they could to free the donkey, and eventually agreed that it was more important to finish the job than to save the donkey. So they continued to build, covering the donkey with sand. When the donkey realized what was happening, he began to weep and wail. The villagers ignored his pleas for help. There was too much at stake. Soon the wailing stopped. The villagers wondered if the donkey had died and looked into the well. The donkey was fine. He was shrugging the dirt and sand off his body and then stamping on it. Over time, he was creating a solid launching pad to stand on and climbing higher with each mound of sand. Eventually the donkey proudly rose high enough to jump right out of the well. He trotted past the villagers with a cheeky donkey grin, as if to say “How do you like me now?”
It is a beautiful reminder to you to use the circumstances and challenges of your life to build a platform for your own growth. Dust yourself off and stand on the mound of your own courage. Whether it’s a recession, the loss of a relationship or the seemingly insurmountable inequalities in the world, use the challenges to build your resilience and be the change you want to see in the world. If there are people who have made your life a living hell and tried to break your spirit, hold your head up when you see them as if to say, “How do you like me now?” Make a choice to be the humble but determined wise-ass who wouldn’t give up.
The controversial artist, Francis Alÿs, uses art to show the possibilities of human action. He created a piece called Moving Mountains. He had 500 volunteers stand at the bottom of a sand dune near Lima, Peru. He did it there intentionally because it is a place full of political and economic refugees, a poverty stricken, and landless community. The 500 people lined up at the bottom of the sand dune with shovels. He synchronized them so that they took a shovel and moved the dune forward at exactly the same time. Over the course of a couple of hours they succeeded in moving the mountain 4 inches.
It’s a beautiful project, futile, heroic, and ingenious all at the same time. 4 inches is almost nothing. And yet it would have taken the wind years to move the mountain the same distance. Like all good art, the participants, audiences, and future generations are invited to take inspiration from the work. Future generations of refugees would look back on the day that the mountain was moved and reclaim a small piece of their own power, inspiring something deep within them to believe that even seemingly insurmountable odds can be overcome.
This is an awesome example of the power of action, moving mountains one pebble at a time.
Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, wrote-
Every individual undertaking, every individual thought, word, or action which leads to the transformation of the Self and to the lifting of any other being, is of extraordinary importance. It is not necessary to move mountains to move mountains. It is necessary only to move pebbles.
We must become People of the Pebbles. We must do our work on a person to person basis. Then we shall move mountains. Then the mightiest obstacles shall crumble, and the way shall be made clear.
The important thing about moving mountains is you don’t move the whole thing at once. You move one piece at a time. There is a great story from the Zen tradition.
A Zen master was walking the bottom of a mountain one day and found an empty well. It was a snow capped mountain, and he took a teaspoon and walked to the top of the mountain, filled the teaspoon with snow, walked back down and put the snow in the empty well. He then turned around and went back up the mountain and filled the teaspoon again, and came back and put it in the well. He did that all day. At the end of the day there was still hardly anything in the well.
His exercise was like Francis Alys’s art- futile, heroic and ingenious. He saw a problem and he did what he could about it.
Faced with the problems that we have in our world today that sometimes overwhelm us beyond words- global warming, poverty, racism, violence, wars, recession and any number of personal crises, the inspiration from the donkey, Francis Alys and the Zen master is to do something. Start with one response. Know that you are doing something, and that something is enough.
Faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, do SOMETHING. Helen Keller once said, “Only in the dark, can you see the stars.” Only when you face the challenge head on can you draw from deep within your psyche the vision to see beyond the challenge. Manage a piece of the challenge; make a piece of the problem go away. Break it down. Make the problem more manageable; make it so that it is not insurmountable anymore.
Take Action and The Universe Will Conspire With you
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise occur…whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
This is a profound spiritual truth, but also a very practical truth. This 18th century Polish legend illustrates the point-
A great Rabbi was climbing in the mountains when he became lost in nature, completely at one with his surroundings. He had his eyes closed, meditating as he walked at the top of the mountain. He was so lost in his meditation that he headed straight towards the edge of the cliff. The next mountain saw what was happening, and accommodated itself to the meditating Rabbi. The mountain moved over so that as he took his first step over the cliff his foot landed on the next mountain. He walked on, oblivious, and didn’t miss a beat.
When facing challenges in your life, don’t see the challenge as your enemy. Work with it and not against it. The mountain, or challenge, is not your enemy. Life accommodates itself to you when you are in tune with your highest purpose. The mountain will move to meet you at least half way and create incredible flow and synchronicity in your life.
You CAN move mountains; you already have many times in your life. In fact, the courage and the strength to move mountains are built into your character and spirit. It is in the words of Emily Dickinson, “the thing with feathers, perched on your soul, singing a tune without words, that never stops and never gives up.” It’s sometimes hard to hear. But it’s always there.
As Zig Ziglar said,
The major difference between the big shot and the little shot is the big shot is just a little shot who kept on shooting.
Keep on shooting, but make sure you take aim. With honest awareness of who you are, and with peaceful acceptance of what is, it’s time to get busy and get active creating all that can be in your life and the life of the world.