Your Essential Goodness
Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something that needs our love. – Rainer Maria Rilke
It’s often around this time of January each year that our Solstice intentions or New Year’s Resolutions start to unravel, and we find ourselves plunged into old feelings of letdown, inadequacy, or unworthiness. Discouragement and negative self-talk creep in, with familiar refrains of ‘I knew I couldn’t do it’, ‘It’s always like this’, or ‘Maybe later, it’s too hard right now.’ Winter doldrums don’t help matters; while for those of us in the northern hemisphere the Solstice marked the return of the light, it’s pretty slow in coming, and the cold in most places is in full swing. A heaviness and weight can settle over us, and a sense that we can’t prevail.
Even if you aren’t feeling this way right now, I’m sure you can relate to these feelings, and to the self-doubt and unworthiness that are often at the heart of our deepest emotional wounds. Unworthiness is really at the heart of so much of our pain. If I could grant everyone in the world one thing, it would be an innate sense of their own self-worth – a sense of worthiness as a birthright, not something that has to be earned in the eyes of the world.
But alas, this isn’t the way it is for most of us, and instead our sense of worthiness is linked to so many different things – accomplishments, appearance, relationships, financial status, religion, nationality, race, gender – all of the aspects humans have come to judge others by, and so we come to judge ourselves by. Our sense of lack or failure in any one of these areas is often what causes us pain, or if not lack then the stress and anxiety of attaining or maintaining that which we’ve gained. Either way we are trapped in a constant cycle of up and down, feeling good when that which our own self-worth is based upon is going well for us, and feeling bad when it’s not.
The only way to break this cycle is to unlink our sense of self-worth from the worldly attributes it’s usually linked to. For this, we often turn to personal development and spirituality. We hope to heal that part of ourself that is dependent on these measures of worth. And yet unfortunately, what often happens is that we just adopt a new yardstick to measure ourselves by – now we want to be a ‘good’ person. We want to be more compassionate, more faith-filled, more generous, more patient, more mindful, more aware, more ethical, more disciplined. These are wonderful goals! The world certainly needs more of these qualities manifested. Yet too often what happens is that we simply carry over our old patterns of self-judgement, while changing our goals. We may be judging ourselves against a different standard, but we are still judging, still succeeding and failing, and still linking our sense of self-worth to how we do.
This focus on changing ourselves presupposes there is something wrong with us, something that needs to be fixed or destroyed. It assumes there is a ‘good’ part of us and a ‘bad’ part, and that the good part is fighting the good fight, trying to overcome our worst qualities – whether this is anger, greed, jealousy, laziness, or whatever. When our good part wins, we feel good. When it loses, we feel bad. The battle rages on and on, and our sense of worthiness goes up and down with it.
To really liberate ourselves from feelings of unworthiness, we need to unhook our worthiness from this cycle entirely. We need to recognize our natural worthiness – our essential, innate goodness – and heal from there. This is 100% more powerful than change. When our assumption is that we are naturally good, our entire worldview changes. We see mistakes as mistakes, not as signs that we are failures or terrible people. We see successes as cause for joy, not arrogance, because we don’t need to feel superior to others in order to compensate for insecurity. We can truly be present for our lives, riding the ups and downs of experience, without being consumed by any of it, because we have our solid foundation within.
So whatever change you have been focused on, take a moment right now to truly feel and own your innate goodness. You might try some self-talk along these lines:
I am innately good. In my heart, my intentions are pure, and all the goodness present in the world is also present in me.
This is a pretty seismic shift really. From a cultural and spiritual perspective, the idea of ‘original sin’ is embedded pretty deeply in the Western psyche. We are conditioned to think of spiritual growth as an atoning or overcoming of our naturally sinful nature. Part of the reason I was originally drawn to Eastern spiritual paths is that they are based on the opposite assumption – that we are innately enlightened, that we are all composed of Buddha nature, reflections of the same Source. But in these traditions too, it is easy to be pulled into the self-judgment cycle – “I’m not meditating enough”, “I’m still eating meat (or caffeine, or sugar)”, “I’m still getting angry (or impatient, or jealous, or depressed.)” Our path can become just another internal mechanism for judging ourselves ‘not good enough.’
I was recently reminded of how subtly this can function when at a yoga class, listening to two women talk about the cleanses they were about to embark upon. These were two slender, beautiful, healthy yoginis. Yet their discussions of cleanses were filled with self-criticism – “I ate soooo much sugar over the holidays, it was disgusting”, “I know, I can’t believe how many carbs I absorbed, I completely lost it.” Of course, cleanses can be a wonderful, healing practice, and too much sugar and carbs isn’t good for us. But in this instance what I really felt coming off of these two women was shame. They felt ashamed of having indulged, and their talk about their cleanses was filled with a desire for self-punishment.
Although there are plenty of men walking around struggling with self-worth, women often have an even bigger problem with it, because of the cultural devaluation of girls, and feminine energy. And within all of the world’s dominant spiritual paths (Eastern included) women and their sexual energy have often been portrayed as shameful, or even dangerous. We absorb these cultural messages when growing up, even if we ourselves had a functional childhood. If our childhood was less than functional, if it involved abuse or assault, as it does for so many children, and especially if it involved sexual abuse or assault, we may so deeply internalize shame that it is difficult to feel any sense of self-worth at all. We can never be ‘clean’ enough, or good enough.
It’s for these reasons that working to own our innate goodness, and cultivating a sense of natural self-worth, is the single best thing we can do for ourself, and the single best thing we can do to help us attain our goals too. Having goals and striving to change ourself and our life are good things when we don’t build our sense of self-worth upon them. When we are free of the up and down worthiness cycle, our fear and anxiety naturally subside, and we are able to act with more freedom, more power. We don’t spin into downward spirals of discouragement and despair when we make a mistake. We just move on.
Affirmations such as that above can help, and meditating on your heart chakra too. Gently let go of the habit of judging yourself as good and bad in every moment. Send that part of you you feel is ‘bad’ some love. Send the part of you judging some love! Take a deep breath and send every part of you unconditional love. Let go of the past. Own your goodness – it’s your birthright.
May all beings recognize their essential goodness in 2015.