For decades, a prayer has circulated in the background of my daily life: May I trust my own goodness. May I see the goodness in others. That goodness, the “gold” of your true nature, can get buried beneath fear, uncertainty, and confusion. But the more you trust this loving presence as the truth of who you are, the more fully you will call it forth in yourself and in all those you touch. As you read each of the stories below, pause, reflect, and allow your own wisdom and understanding to awaken.
Stop resisting the demons
We are often at war with painful emotions and bad habits—the unwanted shadow parts of ourselves. We try denying them and pushing them away; we attempt to hide them, fix them, or condemn them. It’s typically a losing fight.
Milarepa, a 12th-century Tibetan yogi, found himself in such a battle. After many years of living in solitude in his mountain retreat, he found his cave filled with demons one evening. He understood that they were just projections of his own mind, yet that didn’t make them any less threatening. But how was he to get rid of them?
First, he thought teaching them spiritual truths might help. They just ignored him. Angry and frustrated, he ran at them, trying to push them out of the cave. Far stronger than he, they laughed at him. At last Milarepa gave up, sat down on the floor and said, “I’m not leaving, and it looks like you are not either, so let us just live here together.” To Milarepa’s surprise, when he stopped resisting, the demons left the cave. All but one. Milarepa realized that the only thing he could do was deepen his surrender. He put his head in the demon’s mouth, and the last demon vanished.
I have found that it is only when I stop resisting entirely—stop judging, stop trying to control, stop tensing against, stop avoiding—that I arrive in an open, tender, and healing presence. In that open tenderness, there’s nowhere for the painful shadow energies to root. With true surrender of all strategies of self-protection, the demons lose their power. When the resistance is gone, so are the demons.
What is your worst demon? Is it fear? Shame? Hatred? Loneliness? What would it mean to surrender resistance and directly feel your feelings when this demon next arises?
On one of my first meditation retreats, I was sick with a sinus infection and struggling with the guilt and fear over my recent separation from my husband. I was swimming in negativity. Seeing how entrenched I was in resisting my experience, I decided to whisper “yes” to whatever I was feeling.
At first, the “yes” was mechanical. But after a few hours, I started noticing more space in my mind around whatever was arising. Slowly, that space began to fill with tenderness. Aversion and reactivity arose and passed on their own.
By saying yes, I don’t mean condoning anyone’s harmful behaviors or accepting and believing the contents of your own negative thoughts (like “I’m a failure”). Rather, saying yes is an honest and courageous acknowledgment of what you are actually experiencing. This liberating attitude opens you into presence, and it allows you to respond to the present moment with your full intelligence and compassion.
Each time you say yes to what’s arising inside, you deepen trust in the gold of your intrinsically openhearted awareness. You strengthen your confidence that you can meet whatever arises. This is inner freedom: Rather than tensing against whatever may be next, you can open the gates and let the 10,000 joys and sorrows move through you.
Is there something challenging or difficult going on in your life right now? You might ask yourself, “What is the worst part of this situation? And what am I believing about it?” Bring your attention to the sensations in your body and to your feelings. Say yes to whatever arises—hurt, anger, fear. Say yes to the reality of your experience. Notice what happens during these moments of truthful acknowledgment and of courageous, openhearted presence.
See behind the mask
The word “person” is derived from the ancient Greek term persona, which referred to the masks actors wore to represent certain humans, animals, or gods. In our daily lives, we habitually put on our own personas to suit particular situations. But unlike the ancient Greeks, who knew these were masks to be removed after the performance, we often come to believe that these personas are who we really are.
If you move through life trapped behind these masks, you miss out on connection and intimacy with your world. You forget the awareness and love that animates your true being. In the stillness and clarity of presence, you see your masks for what they are: temporary (and sometimes useful) personas but not your essential Being. And with presence, you see past the masks of others to the consciousness looking out through their eyes, the tenderness residing in their hearts.
Bring to mind a persona you most consistently assume. Notice the thoughts and feelings associated with that mask. Now bring yourself back to this moment and notice the changing flow of your experience right now: sounds, thoughts, feelings, sensations. Ask yourself: “Who or what is aware of all that is happening?” Let yourself dwell in this presence, the openhearted awareness beyond any persona you might put on. What would your life be like if you could hold your personas lightly, remembering that they are not who you really are? How might this change the way you relate to others?
Tara Brach, PhD, is the founder and senior meditation teacher of the Insight Community of Washington and the author of several books. This excerpt is adapted from Trusting the Gold: Uncovering Your Natural Goodness by Tara Brach. Copyright © 2021 by Tara Brach. Published by Sounds True in June 2021.