[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher]
Hello, and welcome to another episode of Mindfulness+. I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening today. I mentioned last episode that I am back in the saddle, season five, really happy to be here. I neglected to mention that we have a new generous sponsor and collaborator, Skylight. And without their help and their inspiration and even their guidance and insight into how a season five could look, I would still be drowning in diaper changing and looking for a nanny and figuring out how to run my life as a new dad. So shout out to Skylight for, you know, really bringing Mindfulness+ back into circulation. So if you're joining from Skylight or if you're a previous Mindfulness Plusser, thanks for coming. We got another good episode for you today. I am gonna dive right in. One of my spiritual heroes is Father Thomas Keating. Father Thomas Keating, I won't say too much about, maybe we'll put him in some show notes or refer back to him. And there's actually, actually I'm remembering there's a previous episode dedicated specifically to Father Thomas Keating at the time of his death, which was a couple years ago now. At any rate I want to kind of draw from his classic. Father Thomas Keating wrote a book called "Open Mind, Open Heart". I don't know how many people on the planet have read this book. Many have, and you know, not enough though. This is one of my favorite resources for a mindfulness practice, for an awareness practice, for really learning how to pay attention to life, pay attention to ourselves in a way that brings us greater freedom and joy. In a sense that's what we're doing on Mindfulness+. And that's why I love this practice so much. My background is I have almost an equal amount of time in my lifetime in the Buddhist tradition and the Christian tradition. And I find the interplay between these two paths to be fascinating. Today I'm gonna give you a little bit more of a look at, you know, the gospel side of things the contemplative path of Christianity. And just read a simple line to you from Keating's great work, "Open Mind, Open Heart". He writes, "The fundamental goodness of human nature is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development, indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified." Let me read this again. "The fundamental goodness of human nature is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development, indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified." There's a lot to say about this. Let me say a few things about it first. You know, when we're in Buddhism, Buddhism is a nontheistic tradition and one I refer to a lot on Mindfulness+. Christianity, clearly a theistic tradition. It posits a God. And there I went and said the word God. And we have different understandings of this word, different relationships with what God means. For my purposes I'm talking about the God of your understanding. And the God of your understanding might mean the universe. It might mean nature. It might mean the higher self. When I'm talking about God, I'm honoring the insights, the wisdom of a particular tradition and have no expectations that you take on any particular worldview. Mindfulness+, if we're doing anything right, it's to offer really useful practices, insights, skills, that will complement any belief system you take to be true and precious to you, that's it. So let's like just kind of situate that, get it out of the way and get into some good stuff. Well, that's good stuff too. I don't want to just get it outta the way, it's important. I think because we're coming into a really different relationship with God, and the millennial generation, Gen Z, like we're really thinking about God in new ways and asking, is that still a helpful term? And you know, what are the connotations and denotations that come with the term? So more work to do on that. At any rate what I'm particularly interested in in this passage is what Keating talks about as our basic goodness. And actually, if you look at the Buddhist tradition they use this exact same language. Part of deepening in our mindfulness practice in the Eastern traditions is also to develop a basic trust in our goodness. Why is this difficult? This is what I want to talk about in this episode today. Then I want to get into some practice and like, really work with our basic goodness. Hopefully reconnect to our basic goodness a little bit. Let me start off with a little toddler talk. And I make a commitment in advance to not be an obnoxious new dad who only talks about my son. And hey, if I see you on the street I'm gonna stop you and show you photos on my phone. I'm trying to be strong and not be like that. But when I think about basic goodness, I thought about my son as I was, you know, reflecting on the show for this week. And this kid, like, I don't know how inappropriate this is on a podcast. I hope we'll still get our clean label when I tell this story. But there's, I don't know if all kids do this. This is my first kid. We'll be hanging out, his name's Joon. We're hanging out with Joon, my wife and I, and like, everything will stop and he'll get this intense look on his face. Like every muscle in his body is clenching and his face will change color. And he's red and his fists will clench. And the kid's pooping. Like it's just like, he's broadcasting, like I'm pooping right now. And there's no filter. There's no shame. There's no, like I'm gonna go in a corner and hide my, you know, hide my business. It's just like, right there is this force of nature pooping in front of you. And like my wife and I, when we realized that's what was happening, the first time we saw this, we could not stop laughing. We were dying. And we reflected like, how many layers of propriety, how many layers of socialization and rule following and obeying lie between us and that raw force of nature that we all have embedded in ourselves? We're all a toddler inside. We have these animal impulses that, you know, we could call them good or bad, but it's nature, baby. Like, that's what's happening. And when we talk about connecting to our basic goodness I mean, I could extend this metaphor, but I'm not gonna talk about pooping anymore in this episode. But the point being, there's this developmental process we go through where we're this force of nature. And then something shifts. In modern psychology we would call it something like socialization. And then if we went deeper into psychology, we would talk about the formation of neurotic structures, where we learned to repress unacceptable emotions, et cetera. We're complex, human beings. We're a complex creature. We get a lot of good things out of education, out of the socialization process. But the drawback is the moment we start to become socialized, we feel like we're divided among ourselves. Like there's a good part of me. I'm the good boy, I'm the good girl. And there's the bad part of me that I need to hide. So genuinely, I'm inspired by the little Zen Roshi in my house that's 17 months old and he's just happening. He's just this flow of nature. And he actually reminds me deeply of my own basic goodness. Just for fun while we're in the Christian tradition, I'm gonna queue up. We're in Genesis here and there's this same scene. I just gave you the modern parable version of it. But Adam and Eve in the garden of paradise, they eat the fruit and it reads, I'm reading from the New Living Tradition here, the New Living Translation of the Bible, Genesis three, six and seven. "Eve took some of the fruit and ate it. And she gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate it too. At that moment, their eyes were opened and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves." Their eyes were opened and felt shame. Whatever your beliefs about the cosmos and the origin of the world, I'm less concerned about for today. But what I want to say, and I really want to underscore, is that we all go through this process as human beings where our eyes are opened and we feel shame and we cover the parts of ourselves that are not considered to be decent. And this is not all bad news, right? Like the developmental process is a natural one, a helpful one, a healthy one, potentially we need to develop. We need to learn how to be in society together and follow rules so that we're not always stepping on each other. However, we need to do the opposite as well. We need to learn how to embrace that self before we became ashamed of ourselves and learn how to like, color inside of the lines and drive on the right side of the street and all this stuff we do to get along in complex societies. What about this basic goodness that does not need any fig leaf to hide its shame? This I believe is what Keating's talking to in a Judeo-Christian context, yes, in a developmental psychological process, yes. But in a very plain way, we all have basic goodness. And the temptation is when we hear this word good, we're so socialized, it's like, oh, how do I be good? We start to feel anxious like, oh yeah, my basic goodness. Goodness is when I perform. Goodness is when I say the right thing to the right person and obey the rules and get good grades in school and make money and look beautiful. It takes a moment to slow down and I'm gonna slow us down right here. Not being good, but being goodness. What does it feel like to be goodness? And I'm really asking you here to make a practice of this. Notice what comes up in the physical body when I ask you to trust your basic goodness. Do you clench? Do you resist? Do you deflect with humor? Do you get cynical? Or do you relax and open up to it? And feel like, yes, goodness, this is me. Or both. Is there like, this softening, this expansion, even as there's some resistance and some defense against this possibility that we just have basic goodness and that it's infinitely good and capable of infinite development. In the Christian tradition we would say this basic goodness has infinite potential for development and can even be deified as Christ. I quite like this language, but whether you take that language to be true or not, the fundamental practice remains the same. Can I really just come back to myself? This basic goodness. Let's do it, let's practice. So just relax here, breathe, do whatever you're doing. Sitting, standing, walking, lying, whatever you're doing in the world right now. And just feel the softness of the child in you, the little one, this force of nature. You eat and you sleep and you laugh and you cry and you play and you fall down and you get up again. Just this endless wonder, this boundless vitality. You haven't even begun to learn how to speak yet. There are no words for this goodness, this vibrancy. Let the breath drop down deep into the belly. Let the belly pooch out just like the little one. Just relax. And again, I want you to pay really close attention when I invite you to just love, accept, honor your basic goodness. What do you notice in the body? Any patterns of contraction? Any patterns of expansion? Any emotions that come up? Any images, thoughts in the mind? It's all good. There's no shame here. You're just getting information. You're seeing how much you can learn when you bring this attitude, this basic posture of a trust in your own basic goodness. What does the body mind tell you about your relationship to this goodness? Stay with it. Just hold this intention not to be good, but to be goodness. Developmentally this is something we did before. We even had words to describe it. We weren't taught to do it. We were just a seamless outbreath of creation when we were born, like a wave on the surface of an infinitely vast ocean, just an expression of nature, an expression of divine life. Treat this time right now as a coming home, a thawing to whatever extent you feel distant from this goodness, distant from your true self. Just appreciate the time and space you've given yourself right now to relax, slow down, make space to reconnect. If it's helpful in this practice I'd invite you to stay with this visualization like the body is one year old. This little toddler, belly pooched out, limbs are soft, limber, flexible, not a thought in the mind, no language in the mind. Accepting our basic goodness as akin to returning to innocence. Before we ate the apple, our eyes were opened and we felt shame. We're just in the garden of paradise. This practice reveals to us that the garden of paradise never went anywhere. It's we who've forgotten. Notice what happens in the body mind when I speak these words, could it be true? The garden of paradise right here. How is that possible? Am I really this good? A trick you can use in this practice of accepting your own basic goodness is to call forth the presence of any being, living or deceased, someone you knew in your lifetime or someone you loved, but never met. It could be God, it could be an angel. It could be a saint, it could be a sinner. But whoever it is that inspires this sense of goodness in you, like in their presence, you feel your own goodness. You feel their love for you, their regard for you. Sometimes we connect to our basic goodness primarily through another being. So if this is helpful, you can just call forth the presence of any beloved, any being who wakes you up on a deeper level to your basic goodness. Stay with it just another moment, appreciating that as an adult self it can sound too good to be true that I don't have to do anything to be good. I don't have to earn anything. I'm just goodness itself. Don't settle for a belief about your basic goodness. See if you can connect to goodness itself, as yourself. Even if it's just a teaspoon, it's enough. Even if you connect to your own basic goodness just a thimble-full, it's enough. Hm. Thank you. Of course, these practices aren't one off practices. We do them many times a day, many days, weeks, months, years. The more we do these practices the more effortless our realization becomes. In this case the more intuitive our own basic goodness becomes. And when we live from a place of an assurance in our basic goodness, what can I say? We cut ourselves a lot more slack. We cut others a lot more slack. And we don't only trust our own basic goodness, we begin to trust the basic goodness of life itself. Like life is fundamentally good and worth living and we have something unique to express in this world. Words of Father Thomas Keating, a little bit from the Old Testament there, the Christian tradition. Thank you wisdom teachers and masters. And thank you Mindfulness Plussers and newcomers from Skylight. Happy to have you. Thanks for listening, keep practicing, and we'll be back next week with more.