“When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.”
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu
How can we respond to the intensity of anger and polarization in our world today and remain in a place of courageous presence? Dissention seems to be all around us: in the news, on our social media, and in the streets. If we are not mindful, this intensity can heat our minds, harden our hearts, and close our eyes to the needs, feelings, and inherent goodness in others. Now more than ever, we need cool minds and warm hearts to respond to our collective crisis.
How do we cultivate our inner peace sanctuary so that we may act with compassion in a hurting world? With one of the most globally watched elections taking place soon, and a pandemic whose prevention may feel increasingly burdensome, how do we cross the chasm we may sense between ourselves and others? It begins by seeing the good in everyone. This is not a naïve choice, but a sober, practical and wise one, based on Nature herself.
Several years ago, a shy friend told me that she felt relaxed, alive, and connected when she looked at flowers, birds and trees, but not when she looked at people. She was unsure why she was afraid of eye contact.
Unlike the creatures that roam the natural world, humans have egos, that is, a sense of “me” and “mine” that perceives itself as separate from life. Over the course of our conversation, my friend realized that when she was with flowers, there was nothing for her to react to in their ease-filled presence. But with people, her ego was reacting to theirs. She would become anxious, judgmental of the other and of herself, and feel a growing, restless craving. Lost in her inner turmoil, she was unable to experience the beauty that was present in herself, in others and in her surroundings.
We can all struggle with this expression of disconnection from time to time. We lose sight of the goodness of the moment, which includes that of ourselves, of others and of our world. In short, we do not see clearly.
When I shared that thought with my friend, she protested that even when she feels lousy about herself, she can still see the goodness in certain people. But the truth is, when we are willing, there is no beauty or luminosity we can perceive in others that we cannot also discover within.
To cultivate a healthy self-esteem, we each need to reckon with the part of ourselves that wishes to find every excuse why we cannot embody the light we see in others. If you feel separate and “less than”, you are not seeing yourself or others as you or they truly are.
For the past several weeks, we have been exploring the importance of self-love, self-esteem, and self-confidence for a peaceful spirit. This week, let’s wrap up this exploration with a practice you can do to help you see your own natural goodness and, through that, begin to see it in others.
• Start by sitting quietly, in a relaxed environment, with your eyes closed. Focus on your breath. Simply feel the in and out rhythm of your breathing. Inhale as you silently say “in”. Then exhale as you inwardly say “out”. Do this for a few minutes. With awe and wonder, enjoy the gift of simply being able to breathe, the gift of life itself. Feel the presence of that fundamental goodness.
• Then open your eyes and get up. Walk over to a private mirror. Look into it and keep your mind open. The first impulse may be to see all the things you find wrong with yourself. Give that no energy. Instead, go deeper and look at the luminosity behind your skin and beyond your physical features. It is there. Open to it. Receive it. Allow it to come forward and shine through you. Now smile at it and feel that radiant goodness smiling back at you.
• Keep looking into your own eyes with softness. If your mind rebuts with “I can’t do this” or “this is stupid” or “I hate looking at myself”, just notice those thoughts for what they are: the chattering of your mind trying to control what is ultimately an opportunity to see beyond self-imposed limitations. It is an expression of your ego that is feeling anxious, resistant and in wanting, because you are about to discover it is not who you really are. When you give it no energy, it will dissolve, like an illusion that vanishes when you turn the lights on. Beyond all sorry stories and tricks your mind may play on you, there is a presence within you that is warm, courageous and unconditionally loving. Focus on that. Allow your body/being to expand and express that light. Breathe in and out deeply several times and be present for the goodness within and all around.
• Now walk away from the mirror and head outside. Be open to that same radiance coming through all things that you pass by along the way. Notice a light within mundane objects in your home.
• When you get outside, see a tree not just as bark, branches and leaves, but as part of the body of Nature and the light of the universe. See that luminosity within the whole tree.
• The same light exists within all things, even cars and buildings – and your own self. Open to it and welcome it into your field of experience.
• Look at people on the street. Even in those who are closed, in pain, or seem to be having a tough day, there is light, behind their sorry stories. These people also have that deep inner presence. That light is carrying them in every moment, even if they do not know it. As you choose to see your inner light, you can see the light within them. As you witness that luminosity, you can amplify it and mirror it back to them as a gift they can choose to receive. Just by being your natural, radiant self, you help heal the world.
• The light within everyone, all beings in Nature, and even in inanimate objects is love. It is divine. It is each person’s true nature, including yourself. It is the light of Nature itself that sustains and shines through matter. This light connects you with all things, beyond ego. The more you focus on that eternal luminosity of goodness and love, the more peace you bring to yourself and to all beings.
Today and every day, may you choose to see the goodness of your light and the light in all.
From my heart to yours,