Basic Goodness

Basic Goodness

Come clean with a child heart
Laugh as peaches in the summer wind
Let rain on a house roof be a song
Let the writing on your face
be a smell of apple orchards on late June.

-Carl Sandburg Honey & Salt

Dear Marilyn,

I’m writing to you about basic goodness because today has been proclaimed Basic Goodness Day by the teacher of my meditation group, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

I don’t know if there was encouragement in your time to see your goodness. For me, it’s just in the last five years or so that I have peeked underneath my confusion and discovered something wise, tender and brave. In the Shambhala tradition this is called basic goodness. It is available to us at all times because it is our inherent nature. No one is exempt, no matter what. Not even me.

Like you, I grew up suspecting that I might be bad because bad things happened and people were unhappy and I couldn’t fix it. I learned to hide this anxiety by eating, drinking and making sure I didn’t do anything to displease anyone. Sometimes I ran away. Sometimes I escaped through fantasy of finding a better life, becoming famous or moving to a new city. I was never enough for myself. I knew that if I was successful as an actor, married the right man, had a child and bought a house I would finally be okay.

I know now that these things may be wonderful but they don’t fix the bad inside feeling. So what is the answer? I found myself facing this question after completing grad school with honors and finally becoming engaged to a wonderful man. My life was headed in the right direction. Oddly enough (you might understand this) the closer I got to all this “success” the worse I felt. I was in constant danger of being exposed as crazy, angry, depressed, jealous, greedy and not enough.

In my constant and feverish search through self-help books I stumbled upon a book called Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. The first chapter is called “No Escape, No Problem” and the first two lines are:

We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.

This was like a long cool glass of water after 75 days in the desert.

there’s more…

All these trips that we lay on ourselves – the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.

A couple of years later, I experienced my basic goodness on a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center. After meditating for 3 days we were told to go out and walk around the rugged Colorado land. Fat tears dripped off my chin as I walked around the land; so huge was my feeling of worthiness and belonging to this planet. It was such a relief to finally see that I am not really bad or wrong. Did you ever have a feeling like this? It was so sharp that it took my breath away. I called my father from a payphone later that day. “I love you Pa and I think about you all the time.” “You do?” he said. Then we talked about nothing much. I remember this experience sometimes when I start grasping for the next thing that will fix it. Which I still do all the time.

I find that I need daily reminders to open up instead of shut down. This is why I meditate with a community of practitioners. We constantly remind each other not to put too much stock in the clouds. And we make each other crazy sometimes. Just like marriage, a spiritual community is not really the answer. But it helps a lot.

Basic goodness is in all of us all the time. It’s in Carl Sandburg’s peaches and your sparkle glove photo shoot. It’s in this moment when I can feel my open heart and the next when I get afraid again. Knowing that it’s there allows me to make mistakes and still be kind to myself and others. And when the markers of success fall away I will still belong to this earth. Just like you did and still do.

Much love to you today.



Photo (c) Bert Stern

Things Fall Apart


There’s this…

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” – MM

And this…

“When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” – Pema Chodron

Hair, Make-Up & Fear

Barris_hairdresser_Agnes 1962

“We have to make a relationship with our emotional energy. Usually, when we speak of expressing our energies, we are more concerned with the expression than with the energy itself, which seems to be rushing too fast. We are afraid the energy will overwhelm us, so we try to get rid of it through action. However, once you develop a harmonious relationship with your energy, then you can actually express it, and the style of expression becomes very sane, right to the point.” – Chogyam Trungpa

I spent the day today with my hair & make-up whiz Rachelle. It means a lot to me that Rachelle has jumped on board with this wild idea of slowly transforming my hair to the “ultimate blonde” (as she calls it).

So far, each time I get a little blonder I encounter a period of total self-doubt. I wonder WHAT AM I DOING? The physical commitment of changing my hair color pushes me farther along the path and the self-doubt that arises with that forward movement can feel really bad. I long to attach the sensation of fear in my belly, the trembling in my heart and the tension in my shoulders with a PROBLEM, so that I can just fix it and be done with it.  But my teachers & friends tell me that I cannot just escape the feelings by making a plan to better myself.

Pema Chodron encourages me to let go of that whole fix-it story and touch the feelings underneath. Today, underneath the story of not being (insert anything here) enough is a tender vulnerability that feels surprisingly like love. It feels much less rigid than all those grasping thoughts about fixing the problem. I’m grateful that today I remembered that this is an option: let go of the story and sink down into it. I’m grateful I meditated today too because I think that gave me a tiny bit of practice in letting go. I’m grateful that I am surrounded by friends and teachers who remind me that it is now that matters, not some perfect future.

There will always be room for improvement and what is really important is this moment (because who knows how long we have). And while I am planning a better me I miss the greatest opportunity I have. That opportunity is to be a human being, to engage with the fear of being passionate about something, to feel sad, to feel lost, to allow my friends to comfort me, encourage me. I miss my chance to connect with others which is all I really want in the end anyway.