Taking Action, Actively


In our yogic scope of the world, svadhyaya is the act of self-study or self-reflection. One of the five niyamas, or principles regarding personal conduct, svadhyaya lives under Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga. These eight limbs allow us to move from the external to the internal, offering us ethics and guides to balanced living, as well as ways towards enlightenment. In light of this, and in spite of it, I offer a query today – how can all of the work we do on the mat and off, that fires our inner selves, be nurtured and subsequently offered back out into the world? How can we channel all that we cultivate and harbor within ourselves towards others, towards our environment, so as to share in the benefits that we have derived from our yogic work, or really whatever our spiritual work may be?

My dance training primed me for a life of sharp analysis and endless exploration and education; my yoga practice has refined my mindfulness and awareness in ways that have contributed hugely to my studying of my self and others. Yet amongst all that studying lies one piece of the puzzle that seems weaker – this link between reflection and action, that which draws us out of static thought towards and hopefully directly into measures that serve our ideas and bring them to fruition.

I’ve been inspired lately by public demonstrations of values and beliefs being converted into action – the People’s Climate March, Emma Watson’s speech on behalf of gender equality and the inception of HeForShe, the protests in Ferguson and the supportive responses organized across the country. There certainly are many more examples. All these events may not have, in themselves, altered laws or immediately changed the face of the issues they confronted, but what they have done – hopefully – is set reform in motion.

As I sit here writing this piece, I wonder if instead of writing, could I, should I be shouting these thoughts I’ve been pondering for weeks in the middle of Times Square? What is one blog post in the expanse of the Internet these days going to engender? But I suppose that is the tricky matter of moving from reflection to action; there must be some interim point where we begin our journey – where we simmer on something and gradually let it take hold of us to the point that we must act. And I suppose the preliminary stages of action must take root deep within us in order to have solid grounding from which our activity can spread. So it makes sense then that our initial acts may be of a smaller scale. Is it even possible to shift from zero to 60 instantaneously?

I don’t necessarily believe we have to act on every one of our impulses; that could be too much. But I do find a tendency within myself – and in others that I’ve come into contact with a trillion times or just once – to get stuck in the reflection, in that svadhyaya mode. There is such beauty to reflection. From it can come greater compassion for self and other; from it can come a recognition of who we are authentically and a fire to behave in a more honest-to-ourselves fashion; from it can come dreams of what could be, whether that be in regards to a career or love or crazy adventure. All of these, I believe, are necessary to our growth as individuals and to our greater planet, as what mills around inside of us does often express itself even in everyday moments. How is it, though, that we can harness this power of self-study and all that comes out of it to better not just ourselves but our world?

I may be spinning in circles in this post, and I don’t really think I have an answer per se. What I can offer is the endeavor that I plan to set out on on my own two feet – this motivation to take all that lives inside me with me throughout my days and to share it more generously and more openly with others. To honestly act on what I believe is right and true. To take greater responsibility for my actions. All of this can seem overly-generalized, so I think it’s important to break larger goals down, to take one step at a time, as much as we can anyway. I’ll never forget when Ethan Nichtern spoke of how he picks up one piece of litter each day; it seems so simple and so small, but think of how much trash he would toss out on behalf of others in a week, a month, a year! It’s little ways of moving forward like this that can lead to incredibly profound results.

As you enter into this next week and into this next season, maybe even into this next school year, how is it that you would like to take action – for yourself, for others, for both? And how are you going to bring those goals to fruition? Do you need to leap to get yourself going, or would tinier steps be more beneficial in the long run for you? Each of us is different. The collisions in the world do come from the clashing of different people’s opinions and choices. But if we just stand back and watch our lives pass by, what happens to the beauty that’s circling within us? Let’s not let the world lose out on what we have to say and what we have to accomplish.

– Liz Beres

4 Responses to “Taking Action, Actively”
  1. Nick Dill says:

    “…where we simmer on something and gradually let it take hold of us to the point that we must act.” This idea really stuck with me. I feel as though I am the type of person that can be impulsive at times, and this is the perfect reminder to not force anything to happen. I am in a huge transitional period in my life right now, so this is just the advice I need. I need to sit back and reflect, and the right decisions will come because they will take hold of me. The right choice will force me to act. I need to stop resisting and reflect more. I need to reflect until I truly feel what I should be doing. I should stop trying to decide things based on a whim or by talking myself into something based on pros and cons.

    This post was also a great reminder to share myself with the world around me. I feel like we all get so caught up in our own lives and what we have going on that we shut other people out. How many people do we pass on the street everyday or ride the subway with? Hundreds, if not thousands. What makes them lesser that they don’t deserve all that I can offer? So as we enter into this new season, I plan to work on just this: sharing what I have to offer with the world with a warmth and openness.

  2. Really thought-provoking! This is tapping into something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately… what is the right balance between focusing on changing my own behavior, versus focusing on changing the behavior of others? In other words, what’s more effective: activism, or self-action? When it comes to the environment, the issue is urgent–and the more people on board with reducing their carbon footprint, the better. But is activism really the most thorough course of action? Lately I’m not so sure. Perhaps it is my frustration with how slow change seems to be occurring. We can’t escape the news that our planet is in danger–and yet how many disposable coffee cups do I see piled high in trashcans? How many plastic bags do I see carried off by the Manhattan wind, likely making their way into the Hudson River? I am not guilt-free; there has been more than one occasion where I’ve forgotten my reusable water bottle, and have bought a plastic one instead. Until I am able to hold myself 100% accountable, how can I expect to hold others accountable? Perhaps it is the instantaneous result that I get from focusing my attention on my own behavior that makes it so appealing. I can decide tomorrow that I will never again buy a plastic, one-time-use water bottle. That change that I make can start immediately. It also seems to be the most natural course of action as a result of svadhyaya; we study ourselves, we study our behaviors, and we learn to recognize our habits. Only from this place of self-awareness can we honestly assess our own accountability, and then decide from there the best course of action.

    Long story short, I’m taking action this semester by bringing my own water bottle with me wherever I go, and bringing my own mug when I’m planning on tea or coffee. I’m going to shorten my showers, turn off the air, and start using vinegar mixtures to clean, rather than toxic chemicals. But is this enough? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this question of activism v. self-action (I also don’t think it has to be one or the other, but sometimes this seems to be the case).

  3. Marissa says:

    This is something I’ve been pondering a lot within the past six months-year or so. I’m in a huge transitional period in my life where I feel like I’m starting to become an “adult” (whatever that means). I’ve noticed recently with all of these things happening in the world that I have many opinions on what’s been happening. More opinions than I’ve noticed in the past. But how and when and where do I act upon those opinions? What am I supposed to do? I want to change the world but obviously that’s impossible to do right now. I think I’ll move forward from this moment on with your ideas in mind! Taking things one step at a time and acting upon what I genuinely think is right and true. Lovely post!

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  1. […] a particularly interesting quote when read in relationship to Liz’s Sunday post, Taking Action, Actively, which challenged us to take our principles, concepts, ideals, and visions  into action. For […]

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