The tantric concept of “seeing the good” takes the premise that all of creation, including us human, originate from one source of energy and that this energy is essentially good.
This doesn’t mean that there is no right or wrong in our world, no pain and suffering or grave injustices. We live in a dualistic world in which we experience the relative concepts of contrasts and opposites in everything we see, think, do and feel.
What intrinsic goodness means is that at the core of everything, there is a pulsation of the same life force or energy that is beyond our relative definition of good. It is Absolute Goodness.
This can be a hard concept to take in. Believe me, I have struggled with it in the past and still have difficulty accepting and applying this in my daily life. But even so, it has made a huge impact on my thinking and my way of looking at life and the world.
Applying this as a yoga teacher
When I first learned about this concept, it was nothing short of revolutionary to me as a yoga teacher. I had enjoyed a good and solid yoga teacher training that put an emphasis on teaching asana (poses) in a safe way, that had anatomically sound alignment. As a teacher, it meant that in my classes, I was looking at my students to see what they were doing “wrong” and to correct their poses, so they would do it “right.”
With this new concept of seeing the good, it meant that I would now, instead of observing what my students did “wrong,” look for the things in their postures that look beautiful and good. The poses performed are an outward expression of that inner life force. From that viewpoint, it is my job as a teacher to help students enhance their poses so the goodness is reflected more clearly.
The poses performed are an outward expression of that inner life force
This enhancing proved a bit more difficult in my own practice and I started realising how hard I tend to be on myself (let me just emphasise that most people who know me would say I’m a reasonably well adjusted, happy and balanced person). One of the first things I became aware of was that my mind has a subtle yet constant, tireless tendency to see the world and myself in a negative way.
Easier said than done at home
It was quite a bizarre and startling discovery to see how the(my) mind tends towards the bad side of virtually everything. And not even when things just aren’t going my way either. It is like a default setting in my brain that will turn on when I am not looking. It happens when I speak to a neighbour (and complain about the weather), meeting new people (and immediately judging them on outer appearances), talking to intelligent and inspiring people (and thinking myself to be stupid). It seemed to me, nothing was excluded from my negative viewpoint.
Even as I was applying this concept to myself, my yoga practice and teaching, the thing that really brought it home to me was in my connection with the people closest to me. At that time my oldest daughter was entering adolescence with the usual “symptoms” that are part of this phase of life. I struggled with her typical adolescent behaviour and I found myself more and more estranged from her because of it. Without knowing this consciously, I took it personally and grew more frustrated every day. And finally, I came to the point where I just didn’t like her anymore. By now, all she got from me was criticism and my disgruntled energy.
Slowly but surely, I started to realise I was teaching this concept of seeing the good to my students and I was trying to see it in myself - but not in my own daughter. It was a sobering conclusion that made me feel somewhat of a fraud to call myself a yoga teacher/yogini. It seemed to me that as I was struggling to apply this in my yoga practice and teaching, I forgot the practice off the mat. A positive spark inside me ignited and I felt that it was something that could be changed. This practice invites us to step into the conversation at any moment.
Seeing the good is not a sugar coated way of looking at someone nor does it mean we accept someones bad behavior or circumstances passively. It just means that we can see beyond skin deep, beyond the outer appearances and attitudes.
From this moment on, I practised. And it was hard. I made a vow to find and tell my daughter something I liked about her every single day. And, it had to be truthful, I had to mean it. There were days where I was having such a difficult time with this, that sometimes the only thing I could say was that she was wearing nice earrings! Nothing earthshaking, but I practised staying kind and truthful (two observances of the Yamas of the 8 limbs yoga system: Ahimsa and Satya). And guess what, it worked. No, it did not change my daughter’s behaviour in any huge or profoundly dramatic way. She was still an adolescent and not Super Girl. The biggest, most radical change was in myself. And it is still working its magic.
By disciplining myself to practise seeing the good in her, I was able to see beyond her behaviour and outer appearances. I was able to connect to the deepest part of her and with that, of myself, that is Absolutely Good, to bind myself to the love I feel for her. Even in times of deep despair, I try to follow my way back to this simple teaching, so that I will find that connection and am able to see what lies beyond.
This is such a simple and profound teaching. We don’t have to be superhumans to do this practice, we just need to try. And when we fail, that’s ok, that’s why it’s called a practice. Because when we make this part of our lives, we gain so much ourselves, we allow more light to come in, instead of focusing on the shadows. Yes, we sometimes lose our way, we make plenty mistakes (my family can attest to mine). We can use those experiences as a way to move back into a more light-enhancing way of viewing ourselves and each other. I choose to look for Goodness. This is my practice, on and off the mat.
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This article was originally posted 28th March 2012 and was updated 27th April 2015