Discovering, and fully knowing, Basic Goodness has been the most fundamental transformation I’ve gone through.
If you can discover this inside and around you, it will change everything about how you experience yourself and your world; it is that powerful.
“Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences. We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive — which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires.”– Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Basic Goodness is a way of knowing the world, yourself, and all other beings. It is a fundamental philosophy of how things are. But it is not just a philosophy; it is entirely experiential. It is something that you feel, something you experience.
The words point the way, but you must feel it to know it.
But, let’s begin by explaining what it means, and then see how we can experience it.
The word Basic here means fundamental, or primordial. It means that it is the real underlying nature of everything. It is primordial in the sense that it is and was always here. It is unconditional.
And Goodness here does not mean good in the sense of good versus bad or evil. It is not in opposition to anything. It is in the sense of just existing, having the full right to exist, with nothing to prove to anyone, and nothing that needs to hide from anyone.
Putting these two together, we see that Basic Goodness refers to a fundamental quality that all beings have. Each one of us has the full right to exist in this world, no matter what we do or say or think. Nothing can change this fundamental fact. Just because we’re here, we’re alive, that is enough. There is nothing more needed.
Now, this is not what most of us think most of the time. We have adopted a belief along the way that says that we must do “good” things all the time; otherwise, we are fundamentally bad people. We must meditate, or we must exercise, or we must do a good job, or we must diet – we must, we must, we must, we should, we should, we should.
Indeed, for many of us, we believe deep down that we are basically bad, not basically good. This is conditional thinking, rather than unconditional. We look outside ourselves for instructions on what to do, what to think, and what to believe, because we don’t trust our own fundamental nature.
We can often get an experience of Basic Goodness when we look at nature. For example, imagine you were out walking through a field in the summertime and sat down on the grass. There in front of you, you noticed a daisy. Looking at this daisy, you would see it in all its glory. It is just there, in the field, being a daisy. We delight in its daisy-ness, enjoying the white petals arranged around the yellow center, and the way it’s growing out of the ground at a jaunty angle, surrounded and sheltered by the blades of green grass. We’re not thinking, “Man, I wish this daisy would buck up and turn itself into an oak tree already, because oak trees are so much better than silly little daisies. Can’t it see that we need more oak trees these days? The earth is dying, and all it can do is sit there being a daisy?”
Sitting there in the grass, we’re not thinking those thoughts. We simply enjoy the unconditional perfection of the daisy, without needing it to be any other way than how it is.
This is us having a direct experience of Basic Goodness of Daisy.
But when it comes to ourselves, or others – for example, when we think of some politicians that we disagree with – then we can have a tough time connecting to our or their Basic Goodness. However, just like the daisy, we all have that same fundamental nature.
We have a layer of confusion that covers our Basic Goodness, which can make it hard for us to connect with in our daily lives.
But with some practice, we can absolutely begin to melt & dissipate this confusion, and we can get more and more in touch with the Basic Goodness that underlies everything.
And when we do, then there is a profoundly joyous, wondrous experience to be had everywhere you look.
This morning, here are some ways I saw Basic Goodness all around me:
- In the brightness of the sunlight, illuminating the mountains all around Boulder, Colorado, the bright white peaks are so crisply visible against the blue sky. In this high contrast cold sun I can see so many details – the pine trees, the rock faces, it fills me with wonder at such abundance.
- In the Starbucks this morning, there was an elderly gentleman, wearing leggings for the cold. Hunched over, shuffling slowly to the counter, getting a spinach wrap. A young woman was serving him. There was probably a 60-year gap in their ages, an entire lifetime. I just delighted in the interaction, each living perhaps quite different experiences at their points in life, but interacting together at this one point in time and space. I found great delight in the human experience in observing them conduct the transaction together.
- When I opened my car window, a clump of snow fell inside right onto my arm. I looked at the crystals, each displaying their beauty to whoever stops to observe, lined up like a row of townhomes, packed close together, yet each individual, forming a dense snowy neighborhood an inch high on my arm. The wet coldness was shockingly beautiful. And then I felt them with all my senses as they melted into water and began to run, now forming into perfect drop-shaped drops. Are they still snow? The perfection of the entire system is mind-boggling.
- In answering customer service emails from participants in the programs I run, I delight in getting a tiny glimpse into somebody’s world, as they share a struggle they have, and create an opportunity for me to help in one small way. Waves of appreciation flow over me, right now tears are welling up, as I think of when I’m able to help someone get onto our online community so they can communicate with other like-minded people, or get support with what they are out to do in life, or simply answer a question they have. Perhaps they are angry, and I can simply let them be angry, feeling into the genuine sadness, yet also help contribute to solving what lies beneath the anger, and in so doing help dissipate, just a little bit, our collective confusion.
And on the other side, when this connection to our Basic Goodness is covered over, we might find ourselves in situations like these:
- We go to sit down to do our meaningful work in the morning, but we get distracted. We end up doing something else instead, maybe scrolling or reading through our emails. Then when we see that we didn’t do what we wanted to, a feeling of self-hatred comes up; we believe we’re terrible, that we’re a failure because we didn’t do our meaningful work.
- Or, maybe when we sit down to do some work for ourselves, a message comes in, and someone else asks us for something. We do that thing instead, for them, rather than what we were going to do, our own meaningful work.
- We’re always keeping ourselves busy. We’re too busy to meditate, or too busy to spend time with friends, too busy to do our meaningful work because there are a lot of essential things we feel that we must do. We do a lot, but it feels like there is always more to do, that we are never getting through our list.
- We go out to meet someone, maybe for a coffee, or a meeting. We feel an attraction to the other person. We feel a little rush of delight when we think that perhaps this other person likes us too. But then they say something that shows that they’re not, and immediately we start to go into a shame spiral. We begin to say to ourselves, “of course, this other person would never be interested in us, who would ever be, we’re a loser.” The shame spiral deepens, and we go home and hide ourselves away for the rest of the day or the week.
- We read the news or click through articles posted on social media, and it makes us mad – the stupidity of the politicians, or of this or that group of people. We cannot understand why they would do what they are doing. We share the story with our friends. It’s hard to work much after that because we’re so angry.
You may recognize some of these scenarios, and there are lots of similar examples we encounter. Each of these is one where it is difficult for us to handle the fear or uncertainty that comes up, and each is also an example of this fear and uncertainty being caused by not being connected to our own Basic Goodness or the Basic Goodness of the entire situation. And each has consequences for us, and for our loved ones, and society at large.
When we deeply feel and know our Basic Goodness, we see that each scenario would play out quite differently. We know that there is nothing that we need to do to prove ourselves to anyone, and so things become simpler:
- Just because we didn’t do our meaningful work this morning does not make us bad. In fact, it says absolutely nothing about our fundamental nature.
- When someone asks us to do something, but we are working on something for ourselves, we know that saying no does not change anything about who we truly are and that we can say no without regret, because we are already working on something meaningful to us.
- We would slow down and decrease our busyness, since none of the things we are doing affect how we love ourselves. We don’t have to do anything for anyone else in order to be good or to be lovable. Then we can truly make choices based on what is important to our loved ones and us rather than on what we think we should be doing.
- If someone says no to us, then we can rejoice in all the infinite choices there are in life. It says nothing about who we are; it’s merely a choice someone else is making.
- When things that other people do don’t define whether they are fundamentally good or bad, and we don’t need to prove to anyone which side we’re on, then we can be more directly involved with the life that is already around us, that we can reach out and touch, smell, taste, see and hear, each day, here and now.
So, in a practical way, how do we connect to the Basic Goodness of reality?
It is always there, it is unconditional, but it gets covered over by a layer of our confusion.
In a very tactical, practical way, what we do is develop our eyes to see it. Make a practice from noticing all the little moments of Basic Goodness around you all the time. We all get glimpses of Basic Goodness:
- how you feel as you stand with the water cascading over your head in the shower;
- the way it feels when you stop and notice the sun coming through the window;
- a gentle breeze fluttering across your face; or
- caress your forearm, and reflect on how amazing your skin is that has protected you all these years.
I urge you to let these soak into you! Stick your arms out, roll around in them!
Extend that experience of the Basic Goodness of daisy, and connect with it in your real lives. The one you’re actually living: in your home, your office, your streets, with your loved ones. Not the imaginary lives on which we expend so much energy:
- somewhere else in time, like ruminating over the past or planning and replanning an imaginary future;
- somewhere else in space, like in the virtual world, especially the virtual Washington DC; and
- in somebody else’s life, like a celebrity or TV actor or politician’s life.
Often we are so elsewhere that we miss connecting to the Basic Goodness of the world that is right around us, within the reach of our arms. Let’s change that!
Share with me your moments of connection to Basic Goodness!