How to Be Good

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Once, I was talking to my father about religion and faith and his conversion to Christianity, and he told me that he  believes what he believes because it’s the way to know he is doing right. He said, “Everybody thinks they’re a good person.” Being fundamentalist, for him, ensures he is good.

And I remember thinking, Is that true? Does everyone think they’re good inside? 

I don’t think it is. Sensitive people, people who have open, desperate hearts, often feel like they’re shit at life. People who have been abused don’t think they’re good, because they blame themselves for abuse. The church is really good at getting kids young and telling them how un-good they are so they don’t get prideful and have too much self-confidence, because self-confidence might cause them to start asking some hard questions that lead them away from an emotionally abusive church. (Not all churches are emotionally abusive, mind you. Just some.) Often, the people who are goodest feel like the baddest people alive.

I grew up with this stinky shadow always telling me how much I sucked. I don’t know how she got in there. A shaman I visited had some ideas. But yeah, all I wanted was to be good, and to do right, and this stinky ugly shadow of mine told me how much I missed the mark every frickin’ time, and kept me from being happy and living in wholeness.

I got cleansed of that bitch. I took action, I did a lot of prayer, I—if you want to know it, and you don’t turn away—gave it to my honeypie, Jesus, who did all kinds of healing magic ’cause you know he’s a Magic Man, that’s what he is, that’s the thing he does most of all in the Bible, is heal people of their ailments when they ask, and it’s the reason I started turning to him and asking for help. Because I couldn’t afford the Shamans in Arizona and all the other kinds of local healers who were supposed to help me, and a lot of people just put you on drugs that numb you out. Jesus is frickin’ free, and the Truest Being that ever lived, and he heals, but if you don’t want to believe that, well then just stay in your darkness.

But moving on.

We all want to be good, but we don’t always know how to recognize goodness, because we see a lot of bad, and some of us, who have been treated like crap a lot of our lives, don’t trust the good because what we thought was good didn’t really turn out to be so good.

So here are some ways to recognize goodness, if you’re after it, if you want to be in a place of trust and completeness rather than living in dark corners of your heart and mind.

  1. Safety.

When you are in the presence of someone good, she or he does not have an inner hostility they’re always whipping around to pull you down. This does not mean a safe person can’t get angry, honey. If you’re being an asshole, a safe person who is with you can get angry, and any good person with self-respect is going to put your ass in its place when it needs to stand back. But a safe person is a person you can turn to who won’t judge you, or berate you when you’re honest and vulnerable. This person listens. This person doesn’t give unsolicited advice. This person doesn’t say, “Well, you should have….” Or, “You should….” Oh my God, if you are in this situation, people, when someone comes to you with fear or woundedness or a deep questioning in their heart, and they just need a place to rest and someone to listen, and you start fucking throwing out the word should? You are not a safe person. Move the fuck out. Go away.

A safe person energetically holds you, but he or she cannot make you face all your fears, or save you from life or from being you.

A safe person doesn’t suffocate you, but gives you room to breathe. Not so much room you get lost, though.

A safe person is empathetic. Intuitive. Sensitive to your needs. Feeling and caring, but not so much that his or her emotions are taking over the whole room, and there is no space for your own.

 

2. Communication (WordPress really hates me trying to use bullet points. Forgive this ugly, asymmetrical sitcha-ation.)

Goodness comes across in communication. What’s in a person’s heart comes out in his or her words. 

I want to do some clarification here, because everything in this life is nuanced, and nothing is cut and dry. Or almost nothing is. I’m sure there is something cut and dry but I can’t think of it right now and my head isn’t yearning for a metaphor.

I curse like a fucking sailor on this blog. And there is a difference between words intended to hurt, and words intended to express. Let’s get clear on that. It is the intention behind the words that matters, not the actual words. So my kids are really up in arms about curse words, and I don’t curse around them, but hearing fucking Lizzo in the background curse or some other singer gets them really worked up because someone has told them cursing is wrong. So they can have a complete greasy asshole in front of them speaking in nice language, and then they can have a wildly alive vessel of God preaching about goodness and knowing yourself as a path to greater happiness, and they unfortunately, because they’ve had some bad teachers, think that the greasy asshole is the one to listen to. Maybe all assholes aren’t greasy. You see what I’m saying.

You can feel someone’s intention, and someone’s energy, by the way they speak. There is nothing wrong with passion and deep feeling, and a lot of cursing comes out, simply, when someone is passionate. What there is something wrong with, is an intention to harm or cut someone down. So regardless of what something looks like on the surface, what’s called “profanity,” or what’s called “Godly,” you know inside you what is what. You’re shrewd enough to see what game we’re playing. Trust in what you know and move past the surface of things.

And sometimes assholes don’t speak at all, and that’s a sign too of something you need to listen to.

3. Loyalty.

A person who is loyal, once you’ve established a relationship, does not turn his or her back on you. She does not jump ship as soon as you tell her something she doesn’t want to hear. She (or he) doesn’t have a set of rules about how exactly you should be, and when you don’t subscribe to the rules of how you should be, she’s like, Yeah, I’m out. She’s just there for you, in a really deep way. But this doesn’t mean she’s a punching bag, either, or the rug under your feet. The only person who’s going to respect you for being you is also someone who respects herself, and puts up boundaries when it’s necessary. If you’re being a dick, the loyal person isn’t saying, Hey, come over here, be a dick to me because I’m so loyal you can do whatever you want to me, say whatever you want to me! The loyal person is just there for you, and you gotta respect a person like that, and the way you respect that is with loyalty in return.

*

If you don’t trust anyone, or you’re really limited about who you can trust with simple things, and no one seems good to you, that means the devil has you, babe. Kick that motherfucker out of your life. He is such a motherfucker and really convincing as shit, the ultimate manipulative narcissist. So conjure up an image of the most manipulative narcissist you know and just start shouting at him and telling him who’s boss, and tell him to get the fuck out, and use the name of Jesus, because the devil hates the name of Jesus, and this will help you along in your path.

*

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which makes today very special.

Do you know that people who publicly proclaim the need for love and peace and unity, and get a wide following doing so, often end up being killed?

And so this is why a lot of people turn away from love and peace and truth, because they don’t want to be killed and isolated. It is much easier to turn toward what is popular and easy than what is true.

That does not mean we need to abide the bullshit. If you know deep down what is right, act from that place. Always, always, always, always, always, always, always.

Your right may not subscribe to someone else’s “right,” unfortunately. You may not agree. But we are not meant to agree, we are meant to love. And each person on this earth has brilliance and wisdom to share, or else we wouldn’t have been made, because no human is a waste of energy. My dear, you are so deeply intended to be here, how could you ever think otherwise? Give me a hug.

Stand in hope. Stand in fortitude. Stand in a yearning for something better, which will come, which is possible, which is happening all around you every day, when you look for it, when you learn how to see.

And that’s how to be good.

 

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

The Holy Spirit Is a Weaver

Curving back within myself, I create again and again –Bhagavad Gita

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes. –Walt Whitman

 

One issue with spiritual or prophetic writing is that the niggling mind will always find holes, will always look for exceptions. Situations where a statement doesn’t seem to work, or can’t be put into practice because of the reader’s/student’s personal life predicament.

Take heart. There is always a way.

What we need to do in life, as well as in our spiritual journeys, is live from a place of heart, not through the ego-brain. The ego, which subscribes to something called “dualism,” has a tendency to pick, pick, pick away at holistic truth. It  gnaws, gnaws, gnaws. It sorts. It categorizes. It divides. Our practice, then, each day, is to sink down into the heart, to rest there instead. And from that much deeper place, our hearts-merged-with-spirit, we can begin to flow with life, to recognize the intentions behind whatever comes to us rather than analyzing each individual word or outward appearance, and receive the glory that is our lives.

When we begin to live this way, we recognize that the Infinite is infinitely creative. She will work with you on every level, no matter where you are, who you are, how you are. If you reach out to her, she is going to meet your hand. She will always meet your hand. She is the grand yogi, the ultimate master of love, because in love, there is always more to give. It is like digging in the earth, recognizing there is always further to go, more and more grace, more and more beauty. That’s why God is God, and not some human—though humans can be the emblems.

So when something happens in your life that puts you off-center, the deepest, most open place inside you will call you to have faith. Not only faith in how the Holy Spirit can work through it to heal you, to make you whole, but also faith in your own understanding of how Life works, of spiritual law, of your place in the order of things.

What I am trying to say is that the Holy Spirit is a weaver. The tapestry is our lives. And the tapestry of your life is part of the tapestry of all lives. So when something seems as though it has been messed up, when there is a kink in the fabric, a knot in the yarn, do not underestimate the power of the divine to make that shit beautiful. Do not think you know how this tapestry is going to look at the end, because things change, people change, and your life is in the hands of something so much bigger than little old you, and yet little old you is a huge part of that beauty. That weaver is taking everything, all the bits and parts of who you are, and she’s weaving it into a greater whole. She can work with anything you send her. Her creativity knows no bounds. There is no end to this weaving. There is no end to the richness of that tapestry.

And one day, perhaps when your spirit moves out of your body, you’ll have the chance to step back and take a look at the awesomeness of that tapestry, the complexity, the layers. Those moments you danced in your living room with a lover. Those nights you painted your nails and listened to sad music, reading your horoscope. That day you drove home and saw the pink sunset, and felt like it was made it just for you. The time you squatted on a hospital room floor to birth your son. The worry you had about paying rent on time while you made peanut-butter toast. That time when you were 9 and you did handstands on the grass after dinner, the moisture of the earth seeping into the palms of your hands.

But you don’t have to wait until your life is over to begin to see those moments as what they are—the human being being. You can take moments each day for just that exercise. You can sit down and breathe and let the reality of who you are, which rests so much deeper than your divided mind, emerge from the depths of you up into consciousness. You can make a commitment to uncovering the deepest parts of yourself, healing from old wounds and living in a more awakened state, beyond fear and doubt and worry. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to do this perfectly, or be an expert, because no one is. What’s important to know is that the Weaver is with you, and she is moving you through her hands, and there was never a thread she couldn’t work with. All you have to do, as Mary Oliver says, is:

let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves.

Love, true love—the essence of which is kindness and forgiveness and compassion, and lives beyond the surface of things—is never, ever, wrong.

 

“Bobbins with coffee cup #tapestry”by Pomegranate02 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Being Free

sunset

Yesterday I took my daughters for a walk around our neighborhood after dinner. It’s only recently that I’ve allowed my four-year-old, the baby of the family, to walk instead of ride in her stroller. On this day, after holding my hand to cross the street, she ran up ahead on the sidewalk, spreading her arms wide and skipping as the breeze ruffled her dress and blew her ponytail.

She makes similar movements at home, holding her arms up high and swirling to whatever music is playing on the stereo, or singing in a high-pitched voice, making up her own words.

At what point do we lose that freedom? I wonder. If I, in my late-30’s, were to skip down the street or spin and make up words, I’d be seen as a crazy person. Wild happiness, joy, a lack of inhibition, is seen often as lunacy. But does it have to be? Why can’t we hold on to the free inner child within us at the same time as we take on adult responsibilities?

One of the things that attracted me to my ex-husband was his scorn for conventionality. In college, I’d go to the library to read his newspaper column each week (since I didn’t yet own a PC), and my heart swelled in agreement when he renounced the idea of graduating college, getting married, having the requisite 2.5 kids and the picket fence and garage, working at an office job that stifled a person’s creativity. In his words week after week, where he criticized the status quo, I recognized a kindred soul. I didn’t want to do the same thing as everyone else, either. I wanted, in some way, a life that was different, magical, passionate. And that’s, perhaps, a big part of what drew us together.

And yet we ended up following a life of conventionality anyway, I suppose, because the force of our society—the idea of a happy fairytale—was so strong. By the time I was 24, I was married. By 26, I owned a house. By 27, I had my first kid. Now, a decade later, I’m outside of convention as a divorcee, trying to figure life out on my own. I have to eschew what I thought my life would be and reinvent it from the ground up, after a few tumultuous years of feeling like I’d never again find the ground.

What would I choose, if, like my daughter, I walked down the street feeling buoyed by the current of the breeze, spinning to the music I created in my head, stopping to look at flowers that grew up from people’s lawns? What would I choose if I had no knowledge of the status quo, of wealth, of expectation?

What am I going to do now, to take a line from poet Mary Oliver, with my “one wild and precious life?”

Wild and precious though it may be, my reality is that practicality has to take precedence. Because of my work schedule, for instance, it’s not often I get to take a leisurely walk with my kids. We are out of the house by 7 a.m., and after work and dinner, I’m often too tired or too busy doing dishes or orchestrating baths or cleaning up to take an evening stroll. Choosing to live outside of convention means finding a balance between making a living and finding other areas of life for the kind of magic and passion I’ve always dreamed of. It’s why I write on my lunch breaks, or stop into my favorite café for coffee or tea, just to sniff the merest semblance of inspiration before I  head into work. It’s why I read novels and meet up with friends and learn about crystals or explore shamanism, grasping at things that reach beyond earthly realms.

But last night, while my older daughter took pictures of flowers and the leaves of trees, and my youngest daughter knelt down and pointed out mushrooms on the grass; while we swung hands and jumped over cracks in the sidewalks; while I looked in the windows of houses and made plans for my own future, one that’s individual and purely my own; while we went home and filled bowls of ice cream and sat on a blanket outside, together, I felt happy. I felt proud of what I’ve achieved, the ways I’ll continue to grow, the opportunity to show my kids a life that is rich and textured and full of love even though it’s different.

Sitting outside in our bare feet, watching the clouds turn pink on our little patch of grass, I felt free.

 

Image: “sunset” by Julie Missbutterflies via Flickr