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Book Excerpt: 30 Days to Change Your Life By Mark Harrison

Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back – a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.

~ Chinese proverb

The essence of life is change. The French philosopher Henri Bergsen wrote, ‘To exist is to change,’ and nearly 2,500 years earlier, the Greek philosopher Herclitus made the same observation when he wrote, ‘You cannot step twice into the same river, for other waters are continually flowing.’ Ancient Chinese thought also emphasized the constancy of change, the feminine and passive Yin naturally and inevitably transforming into the masculine and active Yang. For the ancient Taoists, life was constantly changing, and no sense could be made of the world without a deep appreciation of the cycles which were encountered all around – day and night, winter and summer, birth and death.

Change, it seems, is the only constant, and the oldest traditions have always recognized this. It is surprising, then, that we have a tendency to resist change. The reasons for this resistance may be to do with our basic biological instincts – we are alive in our current situation, and perhaps on some primitive level, we fear that any change might reduce our chances of survival. Our ego, in its relentless fight for survival, may also fear change for similar reasons.  But we’ve all seen the fruits of this resistance – people who are living in the past or unable to move on. To resist change is to become stuck and it seems clear that, if we are to be happy and successful, if we are to keep growing, experiencing the kind of life we desire, then we need to embrace change, welcome it and live creatively with it.

Like all things, we are always moving – either in the direction of growth or the direction of decay.  Buddha’s core insight into the nature of reality is that nothing is permanent, and that to cling to anything, whether something tangible, like money or a person, or something more abstract like an idea or belief, is the cause of all suffering. Change is bound to happen in one form or another, so rather than looking for stability and permanence, success and happiness depends on seeking to work appropriately with it.

Change is the stuff of life, and we naturally develop preference about the variety and vibrancy that it entails. This is the raw material with which we work to create our experience of life. When you work with the natural flow of the universe, you can become anything you want and experience anything you choose. This idea of the enormous creative power of the individual is a central theme of this book, and one to which we shall return again and again.

Since change happens continually and gives us an endlessly shifting material with which to work, we need to understand it, respect it and, like a surfer riding a great wave, learn how to use the endless movement and energy to our own ends. We cannot change the waves – they are far too powerful – but, with skill, we can navigate through, tapping into their power, allowing them to carry us, becoming one with the great stream of life and, in the end, orchestrate a deeply satisfying experience. But here is the key – only you can do this. Out on the crest of the wave you are alone, and you are responsible for yourself. Whether you are submerged and dragged under, or stay resolutely in charge – it’s all down to you.

There is a famous painting by William Holman Hunt which I have always loved. It is called The Light of the World, and depicts Jesus standing at a wooden door, holding a lantern, and knocking with his right hand. There are many interesting features about the painting, but two are especially striking. First, the door is half obscured by weeds and creeping vines, and has obviously not been opened for a long time. The other is that the door has no handle or door knob and so cannot be opened from the outside. This is a wonderful illustration that nobody can be changed by another person or outside event – the only way anyone can change is by making a conscious decision to do so.

There is only one way to change your life, and reading a book (however entertaining or well written!) will not do it. Only you can do it. A book can help you – it can give you ideas and support you; it can give you things to think about and send you off down new avenues. But it can only help if you are ready and willing to change. If you are not prepared to open the door from the inside, then it will remain closed. Eventually, so many weeds will grow up against the door that it will become almost impossible to open, and soon nobody will come and knock. Many, many people live in this condition. Perhaps you are comfortable where you are, and maybe the knocking disturbs you. In the painting, the figure of Jesus is turned slightly away from the door as if he is about to walk away. It seems that this may be a last chance. Soon, it will be too late.

This book contains thirty short chapters. It is short because it is supposed to be practical and easy to fit into your day. You can read the whole book from cover to cover in a few sittings, just as you would a novel, but this isn’t the best way to approach it. The best thing is to read one chapter per day for a month. You can read the chapters in any order, but it’s best to read them in the order presented since there is something of narrative throughout the text. There is a sequence, and later chapters sometimes refer to the material covered in earlier ones. Read slowly and let the contents sink in. You might like to make a short summary of each chapter as you go. The more interactive you can make the experience of reading, the better.

There are a few core ideas which permeate the whole book, and there is some repetition – the same ideas are explored in several chapters. This is a deliberate decision on my part – in order to sink in, ideas need to be presented many times. I recommend that you re-read the book several times over a period of some months to really engage with the ideas. Let the ideas percolate – mull them over, think about them, let them sink in. You might like to make a short summary of each chapter as you go. The more interactive you can make the experience of reading, the better. Think about the ideas, but don’t over analyze; some of the ideas might be new and startling – give them a chance, test them out and, above all, remember Buddha’s exhortation to his monks:

‘Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.’

I claim no credit for the originality of these ideas – they have been around for millennia – and they have had a profound influence on a great many people. This book does not contain the answers to all your questions – only you can provide them – but it does offer a powerful set of ideas which, if embraced, could make an enormous difference to you. They have made all the difference in my own life.

Buddha also said, ‘A jug fills drop by drop,’ and I have always subscribed to this ‘dripping tap’ approach to self-change. Just a little each day and, in a surprisingly short time, you will have changed a great deal. As Charlie Brown so wisely said, ‘Nothing seems to change much from day to day, but pretty soon everything’s different.’

Finally, before you set out on this exciting adventure of change and deliberate creation, I want to share something I came across recently. It was a little notice, just simple black text on a white sheet of A4 paper, and it seemed to capture the essence of what self-improvement is all about. It simply said, ‘In a year from now, you may wish that you had started today.’

So why not start today? It’s the only day you have.


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3 Responses to “Book Excerpt: 30 Days to Change Your Life By Mark Harrison”

  1. Eric says:

    You see life turns to cripple every individual who is trying to make a change in his/or their lives just because of this CHANGE.The practical approach of this writing by Mark has left a challenge to me as a change follower-quite challenging.Mark you are also one of those great writers.Keep the candle of change burning to this world until me and others embrace that change that should change the world.

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  2. Leila says:

    I really like the quote from Charlie Brown. Thanks for the article.

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  3. iana says:

    Thank you!!

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