The Basics of Goodness

What do Buddhists believe? When I’m asked that question there’s a flood of answers I could give ranging from 5 seconds (“We don’t believe, we practice.”) to 4 hours (“There was a man named Siddhartha…”).  The answer I give most of the time is this:

We believe that every being has basic goodness.

Basic goodness is the understanding that we all (yes, all) have a core of goodness as the central feature of our being.  This enrichment of good is the spark of life that takes hold before our first breath and will remain luminous after our body returns to dust. It is something we can connect with, reach into, and rely upon. Meditation is the park where we encounter it, walk with it, play on its swings, and learn at its feet.

The world may pull some of us away from this goodness. Emotional damage can drown out its voice. Our own confusion about who we are or what will make us happy builds walls around it and disconnects us. Yet, it remains – shiny and steady – until we return to it again. And again. And again.  Understanding that we as beings are basically good is the key to a happy life and a better world to live it in.  Want world peace? Basic goodness, baby.  The only problem is – sometimes it’s hard to believe.

Oh my goodness!

It’s easy to grasp the concept that each human being has a core that is basically good when you’re meditating on a cushion with a fully belly, a good job, shelter, and health insurance.  It’s tough to believe it when your memory becomes a slide-show of every cruel thought and action you’ve ever done – the harmful words, the vindictive plans, the lies, the apathy, the jealousy, the letting go, the pushing away. Although you realize many of those acts were reactions or driven by a personal need you did not fully understand, it’s still a stretch sometimes to know that good is the basis of all you are.  Let’s face it, we’re a mess.

Confirming our good nature as a species is even harder when you watch parents publically shame their children on Facebook to get enough “likes” to satisfy their ego. It’s a challenge when greed and corruption invade the government pervasively and the people who need an honest government the most are the ones used and lied to on a daily basis. It’s impossible when a young man kills 20 children and 7 other people at an elementary school, or a father murders his offspring so his ex-wife can’t get custody, or when terrorists fly planes full of innocent people into buildings filled with more innocent people – killing whole worlds in a moment.  Where was basic goodness during the Holocaust? Where was basic goodness when people with AIDS were told it was “God’s punishment” and denied care or compassion? Where was it when a Syrian child washed up on shore?

Where?

Where?

Where?

Where?

You’re going to need some courage to make this first important step to a happy, mindful life. It takes bravery to embrace your outrage, heal your self-inflicted bullet holes, and still stand in the world with an open heart and compassionate soul. Many of us are raised with messages of inadequacy, shame, or destruction coming from parents, teachers, or peers. Clipping those wires won’t happen overnight. Some people require therapeutic intervention just to point out which wires are the bad ones and help trace the power source. With time and intention, you can re-route your consciousness to see your beauty, your inherent value, and your goodness. The first step is to be willing to believe in your inherent worth. Then you can stand for those who cannot and should not stand alone.

There is a part of you that no abuse, no violation, no decision, no oppression, or no ambition can take away. It is indelible and indestructible. When you can’t see it, you’ll have to trust it’s there.  Trust is critical to reconnecting with your compassionate core. When you look for evidence of goodness in the world, and you trust you’ll find it, the picture comes into focus with a myriad of lenses.

Follow the waters of life

Follow the babbling brook that branches off the blood creeks of history and you’ll notice water finding its way over, around, or through the rocks. You’ll see:

The people who rise up and call out when it is in their best interest to sit down and look away.

The parents who shield children not their own.

The survivors. The lovers. The quiet reformers.

The men and women who did not survive but lived a stalwart story of their faith, their passion, and their dignity to the last moment.

The ones who would not give in.

The lights that did not go out.

The books that would not burn.

The dams that would not break.

When you look with clear eyes you will see unparalleled good outnumbering horrific evil exponentially. First, you have to believe there’s something worth seeing. Stopping and seeing is another way of saying “be mindful.”

Our potential to be delighted, to be generous, to be compassionate, and to be enlightened all point to the core of good that is our base state. As individuals we have an amazing capacity to change, learn, give and forgive. We get confused by hurts, needs, or cultural messages and we lose touch with the notion of all that is good within us.  But with a little courage and trust, we can reconnect with our primal, compassionate, good state of being.  We can make choices that come from kindness. We can stop questioning ourselves, and affirming our light in a still dark world. We can have confidence. We can have peace.

—–  The Bottom Line —–

  1. If you have trouble seeing the goodness in others, stop looking at them. Focus on your heart, your soul, your being. We won’t see in others until we believe it of ourselves.
  2. You don’t have to believe in basic goodness to have it or experience it. It isn’t going anywhere. It will wait for you.
  3. You’re good. Trust me on that.

 

The Introvert in Me Honors the Shut Up in You

Life used to be pretty sweet. I could go about my business happily enjoying alone time, Star Trek, and computer games while the people who loved me just said, “Oh, she’s not very social” and sent me nice notes about events I was invited to, but not expected to attend.  Then it happened.  Author Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was released. And the world didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly everyone was an introvert or knew an introvert and was compelled to talk to me about how they respected my need for solitude (often interrupting me while I was working, just to show me they understood I didn’t like to be disturbed).  My normally placid Facebook page was flooded with cutesy comics of “10 Ways to Love an Introvert,” along with notes saying “This is just like you!” And then, like that horror-filled scene in Jurassic Park where they look at the broken fences and realize velociraptors are freely roaming the island, playing chess and plotting to eat the children, a new animal emerged: the “extroverted introvert.”

Extroverted introverts are those wonderful folks full of energy, light, loud voices (and the willingness to use them) who think they might be introverted because they would rather “Netflix and chill (really just chill)” than join a flash mob singing “Thriller” at a Burger King.  They are so sure of their introversion they will talk to you in never-ending sentences about how much stress they feel out of their bubble, and that while they have the need to be constantly seen and surrounded by people, they are really very quiet in spirit. Just not in practice.

Personally, I think those of us who are actual introverts should sue Susan Cain for unwarranted exposure, defamation of quiet time, and disabling our pursuit of happiness. But, that would involve talking to lawyers, leaving the house, possible press coverage, and sitting in a room with people we don’t know. So, Susan Cain, please just go stand in a corner and think about what you did.

The Power of Shut Up

The problem isn’t that people aren’t as introverted as they want to be. It’s that most people can’t stand to be quiet when they are in a room (real or virtual) with another person. Learning to resist the urge for “pleasant conversation” or its horrible hillbilly cousin, “uncomfortable opinion spouting,” takes time and discipline. This is the information age where we reward talkers, typers, and those social “lean in” kind of people. How do those of us embedded in a system of constant communication learn to stop the chatter? By taking a spiritual adventure through the power of “shut up.”

Language is all around us. We don’t have to go to a party full of alcohol enhanced strangers to be talked up.  We don’t even have to leave the safe confines of our recliner. All we have to do was turn on a laptop, iPad or smartphone and…so much talking. Some of it from us.

In an era filled with free-falling verbiage, most of it untrue and damaging, my life became an epic journey in the jungle of other people’s communication. I devoured comment section weevils who eat the truth with alternative facts. I slayed fake news dragons, won reply wars, and laid down my weapons at the feet of “agree to disagree.” In short, like so many of us typing the good fight, I was exhausted.

I realized I needed to stop. I was going to hurt myself – or someone else – if I kept responding to all the people shouting around me.  I put down the phone, turned off the computer, and sat back to take a deep cleansing breath. I opened my eyes to discover the spell of silence. It was far more powerful than anything Harry Potter could conjure, and it filled me like cool spring water from the river of life. I wrapped my mind around the simple truth hidden in plain sight.

Personal peace doesn’t happen when other people stop talking. It happens when you do.

At first I was afraid. What would I do if I wasn’t communicating? Wouldn’t I cease to exist if I didn’t immediately add my voice to the fray? In our hectic 24-hour news cycle, if I listened to others and waited to form an intelligent, considered opinion – the topic would be over by the time I was ready to speak. What a loss! Still, I decided to give it a try. Stepping back to look and listen, I discovered there are some wonderful reasons to be iQuiet:

It lets you feel. Listening to what others have to say without thinking of what you want to say in response is one of the bravest, most revolutionary, things you can do. If you aren’t measuring their thoughts on the scale of right/wrong or looking for the weak link to break their logic, you will experience actual feelings about what they are telling you. The topic may make you sad or sentimental. The way they say it may bring up anger or happiness. There’s so much emotion going on in the silence. Feel it.

I know, I know…feelings? Sounds horrible. But once they start – even the unpleasant ones – you begin to change the way you see people and people begin to change the way you see. It’s worth it. I promise.

It makes you think. Most highly communicative folks like to believe they think a lot. The truth is – thinking isn’t the act of pondering something in your head while constantly re-confirming your own opinion. Thinking is taking in new data and adding or subtracting it from your mindset, leaving room for change and discovery along the way.Listening to someone else’s experience or ideas gives you building blocks for the castles of thought you want to live in.

I know, I know…that’s so much effort. Your new ability to understand, re-imagine, create and infuse your life with the world around you will give you wondrous insight.

It connects you. Buddhists believe that we have all the wisdom and knowledge of the world already inside of us. Thus when we encounter or hear something externally, the inner knowledge connects with its outer counterpart. That’s how we have those “ah-ha!” moments where we hear something new but we know instantly it is the truth – or at least – our truth.

I know, I know…other people, ew.  Yet, that is the basis of Namaste – the divine in me honors the divine in you. We are connected.

I can’t say I spend loads of time in the practice of “shut up.” But my rest here – listening to others, reading news from international perspectives, checking in with my own heart – before joining the commenting world – has been of benefit. Maybe, if I’m lucky, some of you will join me. Before we call out, speak truth, dialogue justice, and cry havoc – we can all sit down and shut up, together.

—– The Bottom Line —–

  1. You don’t have to reach the point of no return to begin to take care of yourself. Give yourself the gift of quiet sanity before you reach the end of the line. Unplug regularly.
  2. What you have to say is important, but what you have to learn should always take precedence.
  3. There is only one way to love an introvert. Love them (and, quietly pushing an occasional chocolate bar under their door is okay too).