December 17, 2015

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly—Remembering Goodness.

Chase Elliot Clark/Flickr

A few days ago it finally hit me what a tough few months it has been.

After months of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and the rise of a megalomaniac presidential candidate—the unrequited anger, sadness, anxiety, and disgust finally took its toll. I read a story, about two Lincoln Nebraska cops who befriended a refugee Syrian family, that was so sweet, I started crying uncontrollably.

A few minutes later I read the story and saw the video of the first Syrian refugees arriving in Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau welcoming them and I totally lost it—again.

The floodgates were open and I couldn’t stop crying. The tears flowed non-stop for several minutes. And I realized that the bad and the ugly had taken up residence in the fiber of my being, to the detriment of my understanding and belief in goodness.

My tears were literally flooding my heart with love and reminding me to remember goodness. I needed a goodness reset. As psychologist and author of Buddha’s Brain, Dr.Rick Hansen says, we have to practice taking in the good.

According to Dr. Hansen, the brain has a built-in negativity bias that scans for negative or scary things, hones in on them and attaches to them like Velcro. Positive things, on the other hand, slip through the brain like Teflon. Now, he has a very scientific explanation for all of this, but we all know from experience how true this is.

After my flood of tears I sat for meditation, and instead of my normal silent meditation I decided what I needed was a guided meditation. I chose a short twelve-minute one called Dissolving Into the Boundless Heart. And voilà! I felt my heart soften and open.

Given everything that’s going on in the world right now—gun violence, terrorism, xenophobia—the emotional roller coaster of negative feelings is not surprising. Although anger is a negative emotion in traditional Buddhist thought, the Dalai Lama says that anger is essential to achieving social justice.

“There are two types of anger. One type arises out of compassion; that kind of anger is useful. Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice, and does not seek to harm the other person, is a good anger that is worth having… If we act when our inner motivation is hatred toward another person, then that hatred expressed as anger will lead to destructive action. This is negative action.”

So the goal then becomes to balance and manage the justifiable outrage at the things that seem so wrong in our world right now, while remembering and taking in the good. James Baraz, co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, says in his December 10th dharma talk called Mainlining Goodness,

“Sometimes when the news gets heavy we can overlook all the goodness around us. When things seem overwhelming, it’s important at times to balance out the 10,000 sorrows by tuning into the 10,000 joys and remembering it’s not all one way or the other.”

One thing I have done is change of the focus of my social media postings. I’m tuned into the social and political issues of the day—Black Lives Matter, gun violence, the presidential race and the environmental movement. I tend to post a lot of the bad news as a result of my own personal outrage.

But I am making a point of only posting news that shows the positive side of these issues. And there is good news—lots of it. This small gesture helps me to take in the good.

The realization that I had gone so far down the rabbit hole of negativity was profound for me. After my crying jag, I examined some of my other behavior over the last few weeks and months and saw how much I had internalized and how much goodness I was blocking.

We all need to find something that helps us to take in the good. Honestly, I think many troubling political and social issues are going to get worse before they get better. And we will all be affected by the ensuing vitriol as they unfold. So we will need to be vigilant and cultivate the skills of compassion, gratitude, love and taking in the good.

I have really honed my awareness during my asana practice to feel whether my physical body is holding onto anxiety, anger or fear. This helps me to go into my day, free from this kind of physical tension. I have also been only doing “loving kindness” or “metta” meditations. Not only to I send loving kindness to myself, someone I love, someone who I don’t know, and all beings, I also pick the people I find most reprehensible in the political/justice world and send them loving kindness too.

Thus, my true Self immerges, compassion opens and softens my heart, and I can mainline goodness.


Author: Gayle Fleming

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Chase Elliot Clark/Flickr


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