The Cultivation of “Goodness”

germanchurchbrI recently read an article that inspired me to write about cultivating “goodness”. When I first learned that the author is someone known for his very politically “conservative” views, I noticed a sense of surprise emerge – my own habits and assumptions at work! After further consideration, I realized that this only reinforces the concept of a “universal knowing” – that everything, no matter how seemingly disparate, is made up of the same fundamental stuff and this is as it should be and it is enough. All that is required is already here, inherent in everything, and we only need to polish away obscurations, uncover our true nature, and awaken to it.

Many spiritual journeys include some sort of cultivation of goodness toward liberation or awakening. The Noble Eightfold Path in Buddhism involves the development of understanding, intention setting, maintaining awareness, as well as being mindful of what we say and do, how we make a living, and where we place our focus and effort. The Eight Limbs of yoga includes guidelines and observances for ethical living, in addition to instructions for training the body, breath, senses, and mind with devotion toward union with the “divine”. The steps along these paths are the skillful means that aid in the uncovering of “truth”, serving to dissolve delusion.

The focus of my own spiritual efforts – my intention for my personal practice and in my coaching practice – is this gradual uncovering of innate wisdom. I trust in the concept of universal knowing – an “inner voice” so to speak – that, in the Dalai Lama’s words is “very small” and easily overlooked:

..our voice is very small. Very small! The other is very shiny!” – the Dalai Lama, Emotional Awareness

If we are not still and objectively observant, we miss it. This voice of wisdom is drowned out by the myriad distractions of everyday life – the insistent pull of immediate gratification or the false promise of immunity from danger. Even when we hear it, we may lack the courage to heed it.

Listening to the inner voice is not an impulsive response to an immediate urge, but a gradual awakening resulting from devoted investigation over a long period of time. It may not be easy to distinguish impulse from true knowing. Habits and desires can be quite seductive and convincing. This is why long-term devotion to practice is needed:

Practice, when continued for a long time, without break, and with devotion, becomes firm in foundation. – Patanjali, Yoga Sutras 1.14

Opening to a deeper wisdom seems challenging and perhaps even frightening to us because it requires surrendering conditioned views, letting go of habitual responses, and releasing desires and aversions. It also requires an acknowledgment of the limits of our control, the impermanence of all things, and our fundamental interdependence. However, this process of letting go releases some of the unconscious tension and tightness we carry around with us produced by continual striving and holding on. A burden is lifted, a softening and a lightness spreads, and an emerging sense of spaciousness and freedom takes bloom.

You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness. ― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

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