Forget What You Think You Know About Changing the World

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Photo by Diana Waldron | View of Huayna Picchu from Machu Picchu in Peru

Today I walked into one of my classes to find a woman I had never seen before standing at the front of the room. She was talking with my professor, and the level of her voice told me that she had something to say. Something she wasn’t afraid to say. Her confidence was apparent within moments of entering the room. She had the piercing presence that effortlessly attracted the attention of everyone around.

When everyone (all six of us) came into the classroom, my professor introduced her as the founder of a project known as “Rainforest Flow.” We had watched a video about this project during the previous class.

Her name is Nancy. An older woman from Connecticut. A fashion photographer in LA and New York City.

She’s photographed Tyra Banks. Cameron Diaz. Anthony Hopkins.

She began talking about how in her late-thirties, after becoming a successful photographer, she wanted something more out of life. She wanted to search for inner truth. She came to Peru to find a shaman deep within the rainforest. Along her journey there, she talked with the local indigenous people. She asked them what they wanted most in their communities, and the response that was repeated again and again was WATER. Clean water.

She was inspired to help the indigenous people learn about santiation and hygiene and to help make clean water accessbile to those who asked for help.

She was a very empowering speaker. She mentioned all of the opposition she faced when creating this organization. People told her it would fail—that she was crazy for even thinking she could help. She only had a 2-year Art School degree and everyone else around her—the ethnobotanists, the medical anthropologists—all had PH.Ds.

After living in the rainforest for over a week, and being in Peru for three months, she came back to the States and created “The House of Children.” Within 45 days, it was registered as a non-government organization.

What she said during that hour was only secondary to how she made everyone around me, including myself, feel.

Something inside this woman knows. Listening to her talk, I felt the fog clear and a mountain appear through the mist—revealing the question . . .

What are you going to do to help the world?

This question always seems so vague and lofty, and really, I don’t think there’s any one answer. Yes, throwing away your gum wrapper will in some way help the world. But there is something deeper beyond it—it’s a daunting question. Our insecurities and feelings of unworthiness rise to the surface. When we think of it, most of our shoulders cringe and shrivel up—hearts caving inward. We feel like we have to do a hundred things to make the world a better place. Me? What am I gonna do to change the world? How can I possibly help? I’m only one person. (We like to think that the more we do, the better the world will be.)

Yes, you ARE one person. Isn’t that beautiful? Now you can either stop there, and sit with your arms folded and think how you aren’t “good enough” to change the world, how you don’t “know enough”, or maybe you don’t “have enough” to give the world, OR you can decide to walk straight into the fears holding you inside your own guilt.

I personally don’t “know” how I am going to help the world, but I can say, after hearing this woman speak, that something shifted in me today. My journey to Peru has just reached a new level. One quote that Nancy said that resonated with me:

“The only sustainable thing we have is human relationship.”

“Trying” to change the world just to “get somewhere” couldn’t be any more egocentric. Our minds would like things to be the way we think they should be—that is rarely, if ever, the case. Everything is always changing, and it’s frustrating to know that you may be of little help. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of an open heart, an open mind, or an open ear. Listening, feeling, talking, laughing, being in the present moment. These are just a few things that every person enjoys. Who doesn’t like to feel like they belong somewhere? Ultimately for any change to really occur, we have to dissolve and rise above the barriers between ourselves and others that our minds have created out of fear and a fierce need for individuality.

We are all scared, lost, and confused in some way or another. The most valuable thing we can give the world is our openness—our willingness to surrender and come down from the dark castle of our mind and into the warmth of a smile.

P.S. Here is the link to Nancy’s Project:

Diana Waldron is a writer and a sitarist.

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