The way we view life is through a series of lenses. What we think of as reality is merely a story of what has been handed down to us from our ancestors. Our beliefs shape the world, and what we believe about good and bad may be destroying us.
I’m not sure about many of you, but I grew up trained to be a “good girl.” A thought that kept me so tightly bound, fearing my own impulses and inner desires. I tried to be as “good” as possible. I wanted to stay safe, I didn’t want to invite in any trouble. I stayed small, quiet, hidden. I did as I was told and I achieved everything we were told to achieve.
As children, we aren’t meant to interpret the whole of reality at once. Ideally, our caretakers should help us navigate more and more of life’s complexity as we grow more and more capable. What we typically get instead is a Puritanical version of the world; a concept easily understood by children but doesn’t actually help us deal with the world as it is. Here we are taught that “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.” All you have to do to have a good life, is be good. Easy, right?
Yet, what does “good” actually mean?
It seems, that good is just as amorphous as a cloud. A concept ready to shift with the cultural norm. Something that many of us learn as soon as we are exposed to a culture or clan other than our own.
I remember being in India and confronted with this while waiting in line to enter the temple at Bodh Gaya. It was the end of rainy season, the air still thick with moisture so dense that my clothes and hair stuck to my wet skin. The lines were long to enter the temple premises and I was dutifully waiting, packed body to hot body.
Out of nowhere a woman pushed her way through the line, past me and every other person who had been waiting there, to then enter the gates at the front of the line with ease. I remember feeling an acute sense of injustice, how I was being “good” for waiting there and while she just skipped the whole line! It was such a specific feeling I could sense acutely in my body. However, no one around me seemed to bat an eye. Just a normal occurrence of people moving their bodies in ways that are familiar and good for them.
That moment made me realize how deeply ingrained specific actions had become with this concept of good that was placed on me so long ago. Even after years of study and releasing myself from cultural ideals that did not seem to make sense to me, there were still so many subtle beliefs tied up in how I conduct myself in the world. Stress that I put on myself to perform in certain ways.
I also want to point out here, that while in India I noticed multiple people drinking from water bottles but never pressed the bottle to their lips. The water would pour into their mouths while hovering the bottle an inch from their face. While at dinner with my friend Chandan, I noticed he did the same thing. I asked him if it was just a coincidence or a cultural norm.
He told me, “In India, we are always aware that someone we meet might need help. So if someone were to want some water, we want to be able to freely share.”
These are just a few examples of how our concepts of “good” and “bad” can change from culture to culture, but we also know they change from generation to generation or even family to family. It seems that the time between the Baby Boomer Gen to Gen Z has completely changed the way we view mental health. We have also changed the ways we think about psychedelic substances. Or how we view the relationship between two romantically committed individuals.
So now, I am curious. How many of your actions are tied up in whether you are doing what is “good” or “bad”? Do you have a relationship with yourself or the divine that implies you must be “good” to receive good? Do you punish yourself or think you deserve punishment if you have done something “bad”? Do you ever feel defeated because you wonder why it seems good things happen to “bad” people?
I posit that it is our obsession with the concept of good vs. bad that gets in the way of us being any semblance of what might actually be good. In this version of good, what I mean is wholesome. What I mean is life-giving. What I mean is fulfillment.
When I look around, I observe the places where I gain energy versus where I lose energy. I record what was happening when I was really happy versus what made me terribly miserable. I notice where people tend to light up and feel more free. I watch the seasons and observe nature and her cycles. None of it seems to be correlated to specific cultural norms.
The mind is an interesting thing. When we confine our awareness merely to our thinking minds, the whole world becomes topsy-turvy. It can be quite confusing. The thinking mind prioritizes what it has been taught is important. It can only see what it has been told to see. Therefore, any additional information is suppressed or ignored.
But this is where the majority of our sacred information lies. This is why our spiritual and energetic practices can help to heal us, make us happier and more powerful.
We start to open our awareness beyond the concepts. We start to tune into our bodies and into nature. We start to observe the world and notice the patterns that emerge.
The reason why good things happen to “bad” people is the same reason why bad things happen to “good” people — things happen to people. It’s the systems that we set up which decide who reaps the most benefit or reward. It has nothing to do with some sort of mystical force that prioritizes a limited set of actions over others.
Instead, we are the mystical force which we seek. We are the creators of our realities. I don’t mean this in a purely metaphysical way, although those forces are at play too. What I mean, is that when we cultivate our awareness and release the stories we have been told we can start to see what is really happening and then do something about it.
Look at your life, really look at it. But step back from the limited self who has been told they need to have a “big” impact on the world and do something “great” to be worth something. Step back from the size requirements and beauty standards that have been handed down to you.
Step so far back that you are sitting on your death bed. Or perhaps even further back, at the level of the universe. What do you see?
Were you happy? Were you healthy? Did you have beautiful connections with others? Did you do something that made you come alive? How did you handle the hardships? (And we all have them no matter what the Instagram grids say.) From this vantage point, what do you wish you would have cultivated instead?
Each moment is an opportunity to be with what really is. We do not have to be beholden to a set of rules and structures as an ultimate template to deal with the situations of our everyday lives. Instead, we can treat each moment individually and authentically, listening to our bodies and watching the outcomes.
As my teachers would say, “Stop should-ing all over yourself.”
A tongue-in-cheek way to help us release the grasping of the mind. The sweet helper that it is can get a little caught up in its own importance. It has been told that these “shoulds” are what will keep you safe — but will they? Have they?
The best way to know is by observing the results of your own life. Determine for yourself what your values are and what is important to you. Compare that against what is currently happening. Where do they line up and where do they need to come into alignment?
Our lives are living, breathing, dynamic, creative expressions of the universe. They are not static, dull repetitions of the same cookie-cutter template. Life itself requires attention and care, a willingness to be wrong sometimes and to change.
You are not good nor are you bad. You are just as deserving of everything good on the planet as everyone and everything else. You will experience hardship and pain just like everyone and everything else. You are infinitely more powerful and magnificent than you have been taught to believe. You are beyond concepts.
The more we release ourselves from these limiting beliefs, the more we are free.
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