Paramhansa Yogananda liked to say, "Environment is stronger than will power," and advised his students to be aware of how they spent their time. The company we keep, the books we read, the television and movies we watch, the news we consume - all of these work together to influence our behavior, thoughts, and moods. When we surround ourselves with people who are gossipy ("If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me!"), we ourselves become more inclined to pick people apart and cast judgement freely. If we regularly engage with those who enjoy expressing gratitude, we observe the world around us with a hue of thankfulness. We are certainly influenced by what we take in around us.
This was recently illustrated to me "out in the wild" of everyday life, when I was volunteering at an event for my children's school. It was their sports day, where the school had all sorts of sporting games set up for the different classes to participate in throughout the day. I was helping with an event that involved a huge, light ball being volleyed between two classes, and the class who got the ball past the other class and over a line won a point. I worked with about a dozen classes on the game, and each of them had the same unaccounted for challenge: the wind. It was a cloudy, windy day, and the ball was so big and light that it was easily redirected by the wind. There was definitely an advantage to the team with their back to the wind. We volunteers realized this quickly and would have the teams switch sides every few goals.
What was interesting was watching how the various classes handled the extra obstacle of the wind. Most classes commented at some point about the wind and that it wasn't fair, and some of them would let the issue go after we said they would get an extra point for the disadvantage (although we weren't really keeping track of scoring anyway) or when we said they would get to switch sides soon. Other classes, though, got very upset about the disadvantage and held on to the "injustice" like a dog with a bone. One class in particular began complaining about the wind, and then they talked about a downward slope of the grass going against them, and then they even started saying that the referee was biased against their team because his son was on the other team! Their complaints must have started with one or two people primarily, but it was amazing how quickly they spread amongst their classmates. I would hear a complaint about the wind, and then immediately there would be 4 or 5 other voices echoing, "Yeah, the wind is pushing the ball, it's not fair!" Then someone would say something about this mysterious slope to the ground, and right away other voices would verify, "Yeah, it slopes downward and it's harder for us to move than the other team!" And then someone decided the ref was biased, and others chimed in their agreements about that. The complaints spread like wildfire, burning up their potential for a fun, casual game as they went.
I am sure you've had similar experiences, where you have a neutral or no opinion about something (or even a positive one), and someone shares their negative take on it and your view changes as well. I certainly have been prone to this. I saw a quote recently in this regard which I loved: Never judge someone on the opinion of others. Judging someone based on other's opinions can be easy to do and hard to resist, but in our attempts to transform and reach our highest potential it does us well to heed this advice. If the kids in the example of the sports game could have resisted being influenced by the loud nay-sayer, they would have enjoyed things a lot more. I could see the proof of this in the classes who just noticed the wind was carrying the ball but got on with things and didn't clutch on to their sense of indignation that natural events could influence the outcome of the game.
I hope it goes without saying that there are, of course, circumstances which require us to act and not sit idly by accepting what is going on around us. I am typing this on Memorial Day, which is a holiday in America where we reflect on those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country. This makes me think of World War II, which is a perfect example of when it was important not to sit by and simply accept what was happening in an effort to keep inner harmony. But, putting aside those real injustices it definitely is worthwhile to stay aware of the environment we are subjecting ourselves to and making sure it is serving our highest purposes. When we are around our friends, do we bond over things that help us keep reaching higher, or are we bonding over what we dislike and picking people apart unfairly? Is what we watch on TV helping our hearts expand or do we feel angry or restless with our media diet? Are we spending our time reading books which challenge us to keep getting better, to think about things in a different way and encourage our inner growth, or are we going for strictly entertainment, letting that time pass idly by?
Paramhansa Yogananda said, "The minutes are more important than the years." It is important to remember that our lives are the culmination of moments. Strive to make good choices in each moment, and enjoy what you grow into as a result. Do your best, and be kind to yourself on your journey.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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