Albert Einstein asked, “Is the world a friendly place?” Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach unpacked that question in a recent talk that made me think about my own journey as a person with brain injury. After a few frustrating years, I learned to think the world was full of people who hated me. Deep inside, I knew I was a nice person, but things just were not turning out the way I expected! I only wanted to be loved, but no one liked me.
Thankfully, I learned about mindfulness and meditation. Finally, I see the world as a friendly place. Funny thing too: I no longer think people are against me. I turned this around when I learned to mindfully attend to what is really me and to pause before reacting defensively or emotionally, thinking I am misunderstood.
Tara’s point is that the world can be a friendly place, but sometimes we listen to the voices in our heads that tell us we are not good enough, that we are not lovable. That’s certainly the way I felt after a few years of bumbling through a strange brain-injured life – making mistakes, saying stupid things, getting mad at everyone.
Am I a good person? Yes. Yes, I am. I want others to know I am a good person. I deep-down know and reason this! But how can I get others to see my goodness when I can’t? I let defensiveness, anger, and emotion rule the day. Aha! I can pause and be mindful. I learned to mindfully attend to my own pre-frontal cortex reasonable self, and tamp down on my limbic system emotional self.
In “Trusting Our Hearts” Tara cautions us to turn on our pre-frontal cortex and attend to our own true, deep self. Through the practice of mindful meditation, we learn to listen to our heart and turn on the part of our brain that makes us human. As we do, we contribute to the evolution of a more empathetic and friendly world.
We do that especially when we take the next step, which is to focus our attention on other people. We see that even those we have marginalize are suffering from the weight of their own inner voices that tell them they are no good. Defensiveness and anger are brought about by the internalized belief that they are no good, bad, or unworthy. If we can look past the defense and see that, like us, they just want to be loved unconditionally, then our hearts can soften. We can look at others with warmth and loving-kindness.
Trust in your own goodness. Then trust in the goodness of others. Brach asks us to imagine: What if we felt that essential goodness was at the heart of all beings? How would our relationships change?
This is something powerful to ponder, especially in the turbulent world we live in and in this contentious political season.
But it’s something that I truly believe will and is making the world a more friendly place. Proactively focusing on our inner goodness, resting in that rather than our habits of mind. Rewiring our brains to pause. Don’t let the emotional response arise unquestioned. Pause and be mindful. Shift from defense to offense, from fight-or-flight to reason. Shift to the pre-frontal cortex and know the truth. Purposefully focus on goodness. Learn to trust your heart and pass it on.