Being a Mirror of Goodness: An Intention for the New Year
Adapted from: Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN
Tara Brach, PhD
The medicine for our hurting world is love, and our loving becomes deeply healing when we see and reflect back the innate goodness of other beings. Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello taught that the finest act of love you can offer is an act of seeing: “When you serve people, you help, support, comfort, alleviate pain. When you see people in their inner beauty and goodness, you transform and create.”
The Power to Transform
Being a mirror of goodness can help someone undo a lifetime of self-aversion or alienation. It can call forth their natural intelligence, creativity, courage and love. It can reveal our shared belonging with those of different races, religions and classes. And, beyond the transformative impact on us as individuals, our capacity for seeing the goodness is what will allow us to evolve our species consciousness in a way that serves a truly compassionate, just world.
We all need to be reminded of our intrinsic worth. Yet because we are so conditioned to judge or try to fix others, or to view them in a habitual way that assumes what they are like, we often don’t remember to take in their goodness. And when we do register the brightness and tenderness of their heart, we rarely let them know.
Three Essential Trainings
Being a mirror of goodness requires training in three key practices: learning to see beyond another person’s protective conditioning, attuning to how the sacred lives through them, and expressing our appreciation and love. We can start to break our patterning with those close to us (as well as those we don’t know well) by purposefully looking at them with a curious, receptive and fresh attention. One trick that works for me is to begin by looking into someone’s eyes with the intention of noticing what color they are. I then begin to wonder about who is looking through those eyes: Can I sense the light of awareness that is there? What does this person care about most deeply? What suffering does their heart bear? If they were gone, what about their living spirit would I remember and cherish?
Again, from Anthony de Mello:
Look for things in them that you might have missed because of familiarity, for familiarity breeds staleness, blindness, and boredom. You cannot love what you cannot see afresh. You cannot love what you are not constantly discovering anew.
In our personal relationships, being a mirror of goodness means letting others know what we most appreciate or love about them. It’s an intimate offering, one that can bring up self-consciousness, discomfort and/or the fear that what is shared won’t be welcome. Maybe we think we aren’t a significant figure in the other person’s life and that what we are noticing won’t really matter. Or perhaps it’s simply that we are shy, and it’s not our habit. Yet, expressing our appreciation has the power to transform lives.
Author and physician Rachel Naomi Remen tells a story about her grandfather, a rabbi, who called her Neshume-le, which means “little beloved soul.” His words gave her great comfort and trust in her place in the world. After he died, Rachel told her mother how much these blessings had meant to her. Her mother responded, “Rachel, I’ve blessed you every day of your life. I just never had the wisdom to do it out loud.”
Saying it out loud matters: Love becomes fully alive in the moments it is expressed. When you tell a dear one “I love you” with presence and sincerity, the energy of those words will soften and open and awaken the person’s heart. And as you speak, your own heart will also become more tender, vast and free.
What You Practice Grows Stronger
Loving kindness meditations can be a powerful ground for actively mirroring goodness. My own experimenting with this practice led to a reflection that I continue to this day. During supper one evening toward the end of a month-long silent retreat, I was touched by the gentleness and kindliness that emanated from an elderly man sitting nearby. I suddenly imagined that I was standing in front of him and we were looking into each other’s eyes; then he closed his eyes, and I kissed him lightly on the brow. That image brought an upwelling of tenderness, a sense of soul connection.
Since then, I’ve done this inner practice for dear ones, for people I don’t know well, and for those I’ve never met. I pause to see their goodness and then imagine offering some gesture of care—a kiss on the brow or sometimes a soft touch on their face or a gentle hug. Often I’ll include a phrase of well-wishing, sometimes silent, sometimes whispered. Always, I feel more connected.
This loving kindness practice reminds me to offer my blessings out loud. When I’m with a person I’ve been reflecting on, there’s a more immediate sense of intimacy. I’m more inclined to take in their basic goodness and, in some way, let them know.
Widening the Circles of Compassion
Being a mirror of goodness is not only the greatest gift we can offer to others, it has the power to awaken more understanding and compassion in our world. As we cultivate our seeing, we realize that the loving awareness we cherish shines through all beings everywhere—humans, non-human animals, this living earth. On a societal level, learning to see past the masks of those who are different from ourselves is the core ingredient for undoing the racial and other caste systems that are responsible for horrific violence and suffering.
These times of division and mistrust are calling on us to see basic goodness and to nourish the currents of love that can help heal our world. The place to start is right now, with someone close by—seeing what you love and sharing what you see, heart to heart. Your practice will evolve as you intentionally widen the circles of care to include those of difference, and all those you engage with. You can trust that by mirroring goodness, your loving will ripple out endlessly in a powerful, beautiful and mysterious way.
REFLECTION: BEING A MIRROR OF GOODNESS
Take a few minutes to sit still, relax your body, and quiet your mind. When you feel present, bring to mind someone dear to you. Remind yourself of what you appreciate and love about them—perhaps recalling an affectionate look in their eyes, their brightness, humor, generosity, honesty. Feel the warmth of your appreciation in your body.
Now imagine being with them in person and telling them some of the specific ways you experience their goodness. How do they receive your mirroring? How do you feel, having offered it? How does this sharing affect your feelings of connection?
End by taking some moments to feel your intention to be a mirror of goodness for this being, and then more broadly, for others in your life.