A baby is born. You gaze upon the baby and see an angel’s face, impossibly smooth skin still flecked with gold, hair like spun silk, clear eyes, and then the smile that breaks your heart into a thousand pieces. You see the incarnation of goodness, the flesh definition of purity and light. You see love. Can you imagine seeing a newborn baby and not seeing goodness? It’s impossible. Like the transcendent love that shines through at a wedding and lifts every heart in attendance to new heights, so the presence of a baby ignites that place of goodness inside of you, where you feel the expansion of your heart and are offered a window into your own essence.
This baby is you. You were born with goodness and love emanating from your body. This baby is still you: your original goodness that can never be altered. So how is it that nearly every client that finds their way to me suffers from a running commentary that says, “You’re not good enough. You’re not pretty enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not worthy of love”? Where does the innate goodness and purity go? It doesn’t go anywhere, but when this goodness ceases to be reflected back to a young child, when she looks into her mother’s eyes and no longer sees the radiant adoration reflected back, when she watches her parents struggle with the stresses of life which sometimes result in arguments and anger, when she’s hurt at school or struggles fit in with peers, she inevitably wonders, “What’s wrong with me?” The break in connection is so devastating that the only way she can make sense of it and try to control it is to latch onto the belief that says, “If I’m better in some way – perfect, smarter, a good girl, a good student – the love and connection will return to what it once was.” This line of thinking never works, of course, and instead creates a belief system predicated on the false notion that she can control how others’ regard her if she’s only “perfect.” But it’s the only way she knows to manage the empathic break and the severance of her reflection of goodness.
As Jack Kornfield writes in The Wise Heart:
“Each of has encountered threatening situations which lead us to cover our innate nobility… We have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our Buddha nature. This is a first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.
“Robert Johnson, the noted Jungian analyst, acknowledges how difficult it is for many of us to believe in our goodness. We more easily take our worst fears and thoughts to be who we are, the unacknowledged traits called our shadow by Jung. ‘Curiously,’ writes Johnson, ‘people resist that noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously than they hide their dark sides. It is more disrupting to find that you have a profound nobility of character than to find out you are a bum.'”
You are still good. You’re good to the bone. Your essence, the you that was you when you born, lives inside of you. You are good and pure and light. Your heart is radiant and warm. Your joy is contagious. It brings you joy to give to others. You’re probably highly sensitive, which means you have a special connection to animals, you have a high emotional intelligence, you’re compassionate, and you’re loving. How do I know this? Because when I’m sitting with my clients, this is what I see. I see their essence. I see who they are beneath the anxiety, the self-hatred, the worry, the struggle with the intrusive thoughts, and the self-doubt. Part of the reason why I love my work so much is because I come into contact with some of the wisest, most open-hearted, kind, and loving people I’ve ever known. What a blessing it is.
And, at the core of my counseling work, is this reflection that is communicated through the relationship. Often I receive a vision during a session of my client in her or his highest self, of who I know she’ll become and who she already is. It’s this vision that guides me. There are many therapists and counselors who look for what’s wrong with their clients and subscribe to adhering to a DSM-IV diagnosis. Westerners are trained, in fact, to look for what’s wrong and start from there. I look for what’s right and use that vision of rightness as a springboard that guides our work together.
I try to hold this vision with my kids as well. With my three year old, it’s usually easy to see his essential goodness shine through as he still has one pudgy foot in the angel realm. But when my eight year old crossed over from adorable little boyness to a real person in a real relationship with me, it sometimes became more difficult to see his light. It’s not that his light was any dimmer but that, in my triggered states, my heart closed and my vision became clouded. A closed heart cannot see another’s essence. My work as a mother is to nourish myself and commit to my practices so that I can hold an unwavering line of love for my children, which often means reflecting their essential goodness no matter what undesirable behaviors they’re displaying. My kids are my teachers and this path of parenting is my spiritual practice: the practice of keeping my heart soft, pliable, and open to giving and receiving love.
In the upstairs bathroom of my childhood house – the bathroom that my parents’ (both psychotherapists working from home) clients used – hung a poem by Emmet Fox. As a child and then a teenager, I used to stand in the bathroom and read the poem over and over again. I had it memorized, but that didn’t stop me from reading it, as it spoke to something deep inside me and I hungered to see it in its printed word. This is the poem:
There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer;
No disease that enough love will not heal;
No door that enough love will not open;
No gulf that enough love will not bridge;
No wall that enough love will not throw down;
No sin that enough love will not redeem. . .
It makes no difference how deeply seated may be the trouble, how hopeless the outlook, how muddled the tangle, how great the mistake–a sufficient realization of love will dissolve it all. . . if only you could love enough, you would be the happiest and most powerful being in the world.
Notice how he wrote, “If only you could love enough…” not “If only you could be loved enough…” It’s not in the getting love that we find happiness and true power, but in the giving.
So that is my task, as mother, as wife, as friend, as guide: to love. Sometimes loving is through action: showing up for my husband even when I don’t “feel” like it; making my kids’ three healthy meals a day even when I’m exhausted. But quite often the loving is in the seeing of someone’s essence and holding that vision of essential goodness up like a mirror, one that says,
“I see you in your highest self.
I see who you are even when you’re falling apart.
I see your wholeness even when you feel broken.
I see your pure heart even when you feel
I see your fullness even when you feel empty.
I see your inviolable goodness even when you feel like there’s something fundamentally wrong with you.
I see you in your highest self,
like a bride sees her groom,
like a mother sees her baby,
like you see yourself when you’re stripped down to your essence and you know exactly who you are.”