These last weeks I find myself suffering mightily over all the pain in our world, the scary and heart-rending situation in the Ukraine and so much else that is alarming and upsetting. So, I want to share with you something that might offer an antidote, respite and well-being in these stormy times: the radical notion of basic goodness and how we can cultivate it in our lives and world.
In Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s classic book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, he offers an inspiring vision and a practical, non-sectarian path of how to uplift yourself, live a good life, and help create an enlightened society. I’ve lost count of how many times I have read this book. I read it slowly, savoring a page or two at a time, right before meditation.
At the start of the book, the author introduces the idea of basic goodness. Basic goodness, he explains, is the ground of our being, the ground of all being. It is the understanding that we are inherently good, whole, and valuable, and that life is inherently good.
These days, that can feel like a stretch. So much isolation and hardship. So much corruption and greed and violence. But, he’s right, isn’t he? Because the hard stuff has always been around. Yet, underneath it, isn’t there something fundamentally good about life?
“Every saint who has penetrated to the core of Reality has testified that a divine universal plan exits and that it is beautiful and full of joy.”—Paramahansa Yogananda
I want to remember this. And not just remember it, but touch it every day. As often as I can.
Appreciating Basic Goodness in the Little Things
Trungpa Rinpoche encourages his readers to appreciate the basic goodness in a flower or in the freshness of the air or in a beautiful sound, in our own bodies and hearts, to notice and appreciate the goodness all around and within us, no matter our circumstances. That feels like a good place to start. With the little things.
Today I gave thanks for the fluffiness of the new bath towels we got. And for the sunlight streaming in the window. For running water and how it feels on my skin. He says that through this simple practice we can begin to see that the ground of being is essentially good, non-harming, beautiful.
This is such a helpful balm in dire times in our world and in hard times in one’s own life. So often the media would have us believe there is only violence, hatred, and impending crisis. Or we get tunnel vision around our own problems, seeing only what is wrong, difficult, or lacking in our lives.
Be the Change
In 1974 an inner city high school teacher, named Arleen Lorrance had a kind of awakening. She saw that she had spent the past seven years at the school in a trance of negativity. “I complained, cried, accepted hopelessness, put down the rest of the faculty for all the things they didn’t do, and devoted all my energies to trying to change others and the system.” She realized that she needed to change herself, her approach, and in doing so, it radically changed her life and the school environment. Lorrance was the originator of the now well-known quote, “Be the change you want to see happen.”
I decided at the start of this year that one of the habits I want to work on in myself is the habit of being critical or complaining. I want to be more positive. To notice the good and be appreciative and encouraging. To praise. In my teaching this comes easily to me. I love to watch how others blossom in the environment of praise. So now I want to bring it into more of my day.
Like everything, it’s a practice. And it takes practice and awareness.
At the same time, I don’t want to be a Pollyanna, ignoring what is wrong or not working. Or being saccharine about how great everything is. As a poet, I cultivate discernment about how I can make my poems better, cutting this line, making a more striking metaphor. As world-changers, we need to acknowledge the systems that are broken. Anger and grief, when expressed well, can be powerful fuel for change.
But I want to start with what’s good and amplify that. We have to hold onto and amplify this goodness, if we wish to help create a world that is founded on goodness, on peace and kindness, on justice and abundance for all.
What You Appreciate Appreciates
We can do this, despite how hopeless things may seem. But we have to choose consciously to see, hear, feel and live from that basic goodness. To pause throughout the day to acknowledge the goodness. And to uphold the goodness in our lives and our visions for our world.
We do this for our own sake and for the sake of all beings, for the sake of our world. We can do this through our art, while still giving voice to the pain as well. We do this as an act of love and kindness and as a healthy way to live. We do this as an act of creativity, our part in bringing forth the values we cherish and creating the world in which we wish to live.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”—Mahatma Gandhi
Will you do this with me? Appreciate and amplify your basic goodness and the goodness and beauty all around you. Remember it, acknowledge it, and water it with your love. Call it forth in our world. Show it in your art. Be the change you wish to see.