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.”
Sheryl, I am very touched by this article.
What is also very interesting is that I bought a book by Jack Kornfield last week. I had never heard of him before, was browsing aimlessly in a second hand bookstore and his book ‘A Path With Heart’ found its way into my hands. I figured I’d give it a try. It is so beautiful and so completely relevant to my past struggles and how life is starting to make sense to me. I’ve already marked many passages for sharing with my friends on the forum. I thought I was on to something new but I see you have already heard of him! It is even clearer to me now that there was good reason for me to have found that book.
I first found your website in January when I was going through my engagement anxiety. My husband and I just got married in June and it was the greatest day! My months leading up to it were probably the toughest I have every experienced! But the morning of my wedding I did yoga and made a promise to myself that regardless of what the previous six months were I was going to be in the moment throughout that entire day and I was. I was relaxed and truly enjoyed myself. Since then my anxiety has got better. I still have anxiety/nervousness but I think I have learned so much about myself and about being a highly sentative person. Each week I look forward to your blog and every time I read about your son I think of myself when I was younger. I was always very emotional and sentative to things I would see/hear and my parents did not always know how to deal with my sentativity and would sometimes get very frustrated with me. I love them very much and now know they did the best they could but I would have loved to have someone that was more sentative to my way of thinking and feeling. You are a great mother for always trying to understand your children and for teaching them how to manage their feelings. We do not have children yet but that is my number one goal as a mother.
I’m delighted that you had a wonderful wedding day, Stephanie! I can’t say that I always know how to deal with my son’s sensitivities and I certainly feel frustrated at times, but I do my best to see his essential goodness and hold him in a space of love. It helps to have guides along the way, which is what my meditation teacher has become for me. She reminds me of my deepest truths which allows me to truly see my son. We’re not meant to parent alone!
Thank you, Scottish Bride. I’m so glad you serendipitously found your way to Jack Kornfield; he’s a treasure. I found “The Path With Heart” when I was 22 and struggling with my own panic and anxiety, and it was enormously helpful. I look forward to hearing more about what you learn as you delve deeper into the book.
It is interesting how our lives seem to parallel each other so much of the time! Thank you for this beautifully written piece. While it resonated with me as a mom I also was searching for some positive guidance to share with the athletes I coach. Kornfield’s remarks definitely seem to connect with the demons some of them face and how easily they (as we all do) slip into that world of, “it’s easier to doubt myself rather than believe in my higher purpose.” I look forward to reading more from his book!
Thank you, Leisha. The book is quite beautiful (I’m actually listening to it an audio at night) and I’m sure you’ll harness many gems from it to share with your students.
This is so beautiful, thank you so much! Tears again! I seem to be unable to read your articles without crying 🙂 My perfectionist feels so understood by you, and I feel that she becomes soft reading your words. your empathy for this part of me heals already, and I hope to be able to bring that empathy through on my own!
I am sure you little boys are so happy to have you as a mother, and I admire you so much for all your effort and work you put in their education and in yourself, bringing your love trhough to them.
Thanks for being such a light for so many poeple!
Thank you, dear Bettina : ).
Sheryl, thank you. This entry is so tender; so reassuring. It reminds me that my sensitivity is not a disease. It is not a mass of symptoms needing a cure. It is a personality trait that should be honored and loved. It’s funny… the past few days, my wounded self has been very critical of my emotions as I embark on the next transition of life, a change in season, as well as working through current family dynamics. This post gives strength by positively reflecting back, as you say, my innate goodness. xo!
Bravo! Sensitivity is certainly NOT a disease to be cured, much as our culture would like to convince us otherwise!
I cannot begin to tell you how much I needed to read these words today as a mother. I have such anxiety that my toddler son may have something “wrong” with him. I am constantly marking his milestones and dissecting his behavior when he is perfect and healthy just the way he is. He is pure goodness. This post reminded me to only look at his goodness and to reflect love back to him. Thank you. This post was an answer to my prayer today. love!
And I cannot begin to tell you how happy it makes me that my words have helped you bring some compassion to the journey of motherhood, especially during these times where it seems that no matter how you slice it, the message is that your parenting is never quite good enough.
Yes! That is certainly the message I have felt since the minute I had Chloe. I have so many things to say on that topic!
I know it’s been years since you wrote this, but I am going through this right now and have been for the last five years since my son was born … Always thinking there’s something “wrong” with him 🙁 the anxiety is excruciating and it makes me so sad. If you would be willing to share with me how you dealt with these feelings, I’d be so grateful. Thank you.
Thank you Sheryl from someone who is trying to accept her sensitivity and try to look at it as a gift and not a burden! I hope to one day see myself as others do and start believing the nice things they say about me. The journey is long and hard but your articles make the transition more bearable.
Katg: Your devotion to your healing is evident and I have no doubt that you will find your way to seeing yourself clearly through the lens of self-love.
I am so touched by your writing. Brought a lot of tears of joy and release to my heart and eyes. Thank you. <3 I see the goodness of humanity and our shared struggle to experience the Love that is our birthright and our heritage.
I have been reading these posts for awhile now and they have been helping me navigate through my newlywed anxiety. This is unrelated to the post, but I came across this great article about relationships that I thought would be helpful to some of your readers.
Great article, Erika. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
I’m 1/4 way through the article with half an ear listening for my sleeping toddler to wake up. Your work inspired a great moment she and I had earlier today. We needed to head home for nap (she’s a great nap resister) and she didn’t want to wear shoes or go in the sling or stroller. This wasn’t the first time in the last hour we had an impasse. She was running back and forth the halls of my sister’s apartment building. Instead of feeling frustrated and futile I decided to just watch her and relish her being and take her in (knowing full well how fast she is growing up). Just changing my focus opened my heart so much. I was moved to tell her how grateful I am that she chose to come to the planet and be with us. After I said that she ran up to me and gave me a big hug and wanted to go in the sling! I find as a SAHM I often am exhausted and trying to at the very least keep her teeth brushed, belly full and get a nap in. I’m ultra focused on that that all of the toddler shenanigans get me down. I realized I just need to let go of trying to control it all/and her and try to “be” with her more.
Vanessa: Your comment brought a big smile to my face and tears to my eyes. This is IT: “I realized I just need to let go of trying to control it all/and her and try to “be” with her more.” When we receive these moments of surrender and clarity, they give us the energy to go on. You’ll likely forget and remember a thousand times (I know I do) but each time you remember to let go, the knowing seeps in on a deeper level. Amazing how quickly the little ones respond to the surrender, isn’t it?!
What you say about our innate goodness not being reflected back to us as children, not being “good enough” or as being “too much” in the eyes of others, are you referring to insecure attachment styles with our caregivers? I’ve been reading your work for many years now as well as your book and am signed up for a course waiting list. I would like some clarity on this as it is something my anxiety is triggered by. I can’t bear to think that I may have an insecure attachment with my mom, who was basically a good mom overall. I hate to think that my marriage is based on (possibly) an insecure attachment and even worse, that my five year old son is insecurely attached to ME! I am trying to understand your blogs and am tearful the more I read about being a good Inner Parent to your scared Inner Child and if it means that all people with these types of anxieties you deal with are also dealing with insecure attachment styles. If you could clarify about attachment, I’d be grateful. Thanks.