Natural Goodness

Our mind is often very self-critical. and replays the faults and shortcomings of our life, over and over again, like a broken record.  To work with this, some meditation traditions emphasize that we focus instead on our deep underlying goodness – our true nature –  and this focus allows a practical confidence to grow, which counteracts the critical voice. We can see this approach – which shifts the orientation in our life –  in the following quotation from the great Zen teacher, Dogen. It helps balance the suggestion that our life would be better if only this or that happened, or indeed, if this or that had not happened to us.  It also recalls what is said in the first week of the MBSR programme: No matter where you are in you life, or what difficulties you are going through, there is more right with you than wrong. It is grounded in the belief that everyone, in their very essence, is in one sense fully complete. There is a gentle confidence in this perspective – no one will fall short and all things will come together to achieve that. The practice is to come to know this deeply, by direct experience.

No creature ever falls short of its own completion.

Wherever it stands it does not fail to cover the ground


Some practical advice for living

All the different wisdom traditions have the same message. And yet sometimes when we read these texts we see them as eternal laws, impacting sometime in the future, without realizing that they are giving practical guidelines about happiness, and how to live right now, moment by moment.  The conditions for real contentment are fully present in our life now, if we can just notice.  We have such a strong desire to control, and our fears about not being in control are so strong, that we frequently  fall into the trap of believing that we will gain security by  thinking excessively about situations. Texts like this remind us of a different strategy towards happiness.  These simple flowers that I saw in in the field today remind me. There is a rhythm deep down in nature. We can trust and let go.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Luke 12:25f

When you think you are not “good enough”

The goalposts for what counts as “good enough”  always seem to be out of reach. No matter how well we do, someone else always seems to be doing it better. The result of this line of thinking is sobering: Millions of people who need to take pharmaceuticals every day just to cope with daily life. Insecurity, anxiety, and depression are incredibly common in our society, and much of this is due to self-judgment, to beating ourselves up when we feel we aren’t winning in the game of life.

So what’s the answer? To stop judging and evaluating ourselves altogether. To stop trying to label ourselves as “good” or “bad” and simply accept ourselves with an open heart. To treat ourselves with the same kindness, caring, and compassion we would show to a good friend — or even a stranger,  for that matter. Self-compassion provides an island of calm, a refuge from the stormy seas of endless positive and negative self-judgment, so that we can finally stop asking, “Am I as good as they are? Am I good enough?” By tapping into our inner wellsprings of kindness, acknowledging the shared nature of our imperfect human condition, we can start to feel more secure, accepted, and alive.

It does take work to break the self-criticizing habits of a lifetime, but at the end of the day, you are only being asked to relax, allow life to be as it is, and open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.

Kristan Neff, Why Self-Compassion trumps Self-Esteem

Surviving life, with its ups and downs

We just need to remember to practice relaxing into our life, in all its joys and sorrows, and to relinquish the need to know what’s going to happen next. The third element of patience is acceptance of the truth, meaning that we accept our experience as it is – with all its suffering – rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is. This acceptance of  “things as they are” requires profound wisdom and compassion, which takes a long time to evolve; we must therefore develop a long-enduring mind that will enable us to understand time from a radically new perspective.

Michele McDonald, Finding patience

Focus on the cultivation of your heart

Be gentle and patient both with yourself and with others, no matter what comes along. In this way, waiting becomes a fulfilling, very meaningful experience. If you live gently, honorably, focusing on the cultivation of your heart, good things are sure to follow. Try to live as purely and as simply and as gently as you can. Relax. Be flexible. Be forgiving. Be creative. Be loving.  Those who cross your path may need you.

Robert Lax, The Way of the Dreamcatcher.