“I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold.”
As a psychologist for the last 35 years, it has been my honor to sit with my fellow humans as they struggle to make sense of the puzzles that plague them. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Why is it so difficult to achieve and maintain peace? Why can’t we just be happy? And why is it so hard to help others find their own bliss or joy? Why are our relationships so difficult?
One of the reasons might be the two channels in our minds. One is set on understanding and acceptance while the other is all about judgment and blame. When someone we care about has been hurt by someone else, we find it easy to operate from a place of compassion and kindness.
However, what happens when we are the person they believe hurt them? Suddenly, it is not so easy to channel love. Instead, we find ourselves defending what we said or did or denying our loved one’s reality. The more we feel unfairly accused, judged and criticized, the more we defend and blame.
It is as if these channels change external reality like a pair of tinted glasses. If we feel attacked, our emotions rise up to “color” our world. We can only see truth from our perspective. Like a radio station that has been knocked off the air, we no longer empathize with or tune into the pain of our loved one.
And while we can blame and judge others, our special gift is our ability to beat up on ourselves. Who knows more about our flaws than us? In his book, The Reality Slap, Russ Harris boils this down to three words: Not Good Enough (NGE). Instead of accepting reality as it is at the moment, our minds amplify the negative until it’s all we know.
Wearing the NGE glasses means we are frequently dissatisfied with ourselves and sometimes others. We seldom measure up. And if we choose, we can run the movie in our minds about how others often let us down.
We all walk around thinking we know who we are. We know our names, our histories and our plans. We know all about our wins and losses, our pleasures and pain. We are deeply acquainted with our talents, skills and abilities. But it is our inadequacies and shortcomings we exaggerate and obsess over.
As long as we look at ourselves and others through these worth-reducing lenses, we will suffer. But what happens when we notice we are wearing glasses that distort reality? What happens when we see our stories as just that: stories?
What happens when we see these thoughts of blame and judgment as just words? Can we see reality and our judgments about reality as entirely separate? Can we take off the glasses and see the world without our indictments? Can we see the essential good in ourselves and others? Can we recognize the heart of gold within each of us? Can we operate from that deep, accepting awareness?
Harris suggests that when we feel badly, we can pause, breathe, notice and name. We can be curious. We can look for and find the judgments. We can identify the NGE thoughts. When we slow down and mind our minds, we can take a deep breath and observe. And as we step back from our process, we can notice our mind’s game and name it. Harris tells us that when we “name the story,” we “see it for what it is: a chain of words and pictures.”
We don’t have to destroy the glasses. In fact, we can’t. Our minds have an unlimited supply. However, the more we step back from and notice them, the less power they have to paint reality with pain, sorrow and shame.
Once we notice the glasses, we can thank our mind for its thoughts. We can ask ourselves how it works to see ourselves and others as NGE. We can let these judgmental thoughts on the bus with us but refuse to let them drive. Once again, we can see reality as separate from the story we tell about it and the filter through which we take it in.
As we practice mindfulness, we can experience the world – including our thoughts and feelings about the world – with curious, attentive and present-minded acceptance.
In books like Emptiness Dancing and True Meditation, Adyashanti goes deeper into this process as he reminds us that we are much more than our bodies, thoughts, feelings, personality and ego. Beyond this dream we call life we find a fundamental reality, a powerful awareness or spirit that is who we truly are.
Instead of relying on schemes and agendas that seek advantage, what if there was a better way? What if we could live “in…reality instead of living out the programmed ideas, beliefs and impulses of (our) dreaming mind?”
Adyashanti suggests that if we are willing to slow down enough to “really look at ourselves clearly and carefully (without judgment or blame),” we will be astounded by “how completely we humans define ourselves by the content of our minds, feeling and history.”
I am awareness. You are awareness. Everyone is awareness. That changeless, ageless and essential quality of our being is what we all have in common. It is what makes us one.
From birth to death, it’s who we are. When we identify with our thinking minds, our fluctuating moods and our aging bodies, we define ourselves as separate, frightened and disconnected beings. When we see ourselves clearly as this underlying awareness, we realize “that what really runs and operates this life is love, and this same love is in everybody all the time.”
Adyashanti writes, “When it is working its way through your personal stuff, it gets dissipated, but it is still there. Nobody owns this love. Everybody is essentially the manifestation of this love.”
Steve Hayes tells us, “Love isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
At any moment, we can reset. We can pause, breathe, notice and name. We can notice how we feel and what we think about ourselves. We can practice a mindfulness exercise. We can get present and accept that the past is gone and the future is just a concept in the mind. When our thoughts assault us with worry and regret, we can ask it, “What can I do about that here and now?”
And we can remember to be kind. Don’t we love it when others are kind to us? Don’t others prefer that we are kind to them? Regardless of what we do with our lives, how long will we go on resisting being relentlessly kind to ourselves and others?
No matter what has happened, here we are. Now what? What do we choose? If we are conscious and aware, mindful and present, patient and observant, honest and sincere, we might realize it does not help to be unkind to anyone at any time for any reason (including ourselves).
As we accept and let go of what we cannot change, we can focus on what is truly important and what we deeply value. And then deliberately act with gentle kindness.
It’s through our values that we find our pain and through our pain we find our values. If we did not value anything, would life hurt this much? Our values are what we think, believe and regard as truly important. And because we cannot control what happens in the world, sometimes our values are threatened. We lose something valuable or we fail to achieve a cherished dream. Someone we love suffers or dies. We let someone down or a loved one disappoints us. Life hurts because we value life.
Hayes asks, “What would you have to not care about to not have this pain?” If you never loved anyone and no one loved you, would you be protected from the pain of loss? If you never had a dream, would you be protected from the pain of failure? If you never devoted yourself to the well-being of others, would you be protected from ingratitude?
Life is rich and wonderful for many reasons, the same realities that cause us to struggle and suffer. They go together. We can’t have the good stuff without the pain. Harris asks us to question what our pain reveals about our heart and then embrace them both.
Every moment allows us opportunities to practice kindness toward self and other. Breathe air. Notice beauty. Observe others and silently bless them in your mind. Celebrate your body. Thank it for what it does for you. Appreciate this moment. Notice what it offers you. Focus on what you can control and let all the rest go. Be willing to have all you have. Be willing to not have all that you do not have. Notice complaining without complaining.
See that which you have in common with humanity. We all suffer, each in our own way. Life is a school and we are all here to learn. Our reality slaps are our lessons. What are they teaching us? The more we are willing to have the slaps, the less they hurt and the more we understand. Within each of us beats a heart of golden, pure awareness. What happens when we take the time to mine that precious truth? Shall we find out?