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Trusting Our Basic Goodness

Tara Brach

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Trusting Our Basic Goodness

Tara explores what it means to trust our innate purity, our gold, and how this basic goodness can never be tarnished.

So maybe just a word about my process

in this happening of this book is that

it was really an unintended pregnancy.

You know, over years, I, I've been

asked by many, many people listening to

talks and so on for favorite quotes and

stories that I share, personal stories.

And so Christy and Janet and Barb were

assisting me and just plucking them out.

And so we just figured we'd put

together a kind of compilation

and it was pretty informal.

And I just published Radical Compassion.

And I really thought that was it.

I, I just had no juice for writing

a whole other book, but something

shifted and it's that the theme

of this got clearer and clearer.

What does it really mean to

trust our basic goodness.

Just how incredibly

transformational that is.

I mean, just consider for a moment

if you really trust, you know, the

purity of your heart, the awareness

that's here and see it in each other.

It's profound.

And so that became just very, very much

alive for me and equally compelling.

Seeing the suffering around us.

I don't know if we've ever witnessed

such dangerous levels of mistrust.

And I know, you know what I mean.

In our society and the

violence that comes from it.

So it just felt like, okay, this, this

is we're going to move forward with this.

And Sounds True has been a great publisher

and they found this awesome illustrator.

And those of you that have the book

know, Vicky Alvarez, a deep bow to Vicky.

So it came forth as, as a gift book.

And I wanted to share with you, and

I don't know if I've said this out

loud, that the title alone is really

a part of my day that I, when I am in

some way stuck, when I feel like I've

shrunk, you know, I'm small minded,

sometimes I'll just mutter to myself,

you know, trust the gold, trust the gold.

Because it's it's, my smallness

is coming from some sense

of, you know, not enoughness.

In those moments that I say it, I start

feeling the sincerity that's underneath

and they, my heart gets softer.

It cuts through the trance.

And of course I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I'm going to slow it down.

But I did want to share with you

about the title because it's

like a bit of a mantra for me.

So the organizing story in Trusting

the Gold is one that's captured

my attention over the years

and I've shared it with others.

So many of you are familiar.

Well, I'll review it a little

right now because we'll use the

image of it in our reflections.

And this is the story of an enormous clay

Buddha in, a statue, in Thailand that was

not really handsome or refined looking,

but it had just survived the centuries.

Great storms and changes of government

and invading armies and so on.

And so in the fifties, so

I can't remember what year.

I think it was 56, it started to crack.

And one of the monks was able to look

inside one of these big cracks and

what shined back was the gleam of gold.

And so they took off what

turned out to be clay coverings.

It was not just a clay statue.

And realized it was the largest, most

luminous, gold Buddha in, in the whole,

that whole area of Southeast Asia.

People visit it from all over now.

Many friends of mine have.

So the monks believed that this golden

Buddha had been covered with plaster

and clay to protect it during difficult

years, conflicts and unrest and invading

armies and so on, much in the way that

we humans cover our innate purity.

And we do it so much so, we

cover over to protect ourselves.

The suffering is that when we do, we

forget the gold, we forget our essential

nature, the divine that's shining through.

You know, our tendencies to fixate on

the coverings, on our armoring of defense

and judgment and fear and anger, the ego.

And then we think that's what we are.

And so if the ego is not the problem, it's

we get identified with the ego, like with

a set of waves and forget we're the ocean.

So I love this story, you know.

I love it because it shows us both our

suffering, how we forget who we are.

We go into a trance of just

believing limited stories about

ourselves and each other, of course.

And the potential, that as those

coverings become more transparent

through meditation and through

presence, the gold shines through.

Okay.

So here's the thing that

suffering wouldn't be suffering

if it weren't really strong.

If there weren't some very deep, pervasive

ways that the coverings were sticky,

that we got stuck on them, that we got

stuck feeling that something's wrong.

You know, I've talked for years about

that, that sense of, that pervasive sense

of falling short, of being unworthy,

unlovable, flawed, really mistrust.

And I've shared, you know, my

own personal story of how stuck

I've been in, in the coverings.

You know, striving to improve

myself and judging myself and so on.

And Radical Acceptance, actually,

my first book was really

about recognizing that trance.

And I'll never forget being on book

tour, cause I'm thinking of it now.

Virtual book tours are so much easier.

I get to stay home and still speak

to people in London and LA and so on.

So I remember the first book tour

and I was in Colorado at Naropa.

It's a Buddhist college there.

They a huge poster of me announcing

my Radical Acceptance book and my

workshop that I was doing there.

And they had a big picture of me.

And the caption at the bottom

was, "something is wrong with me."

And, you know, because that was the

theme I was talking about so much.

It was just an interesting way to be

welcomed to a new community, you know.

But I've seen in myself

and this is decades ago.

I've seen in myself and in other

long-term practitioners, and in so many

of us how deep the conditioning is.

So that even now, even on a day,

today, I can catch the thoughts

and the feelings that have some

undercurrent of falling short.

Something's wrong.

Forgetting the gold.

I would say one description of

spiritual life is we still forget.

We still remember,

forget, remember, forget.

There's less lag time.

We catch ourselves faster, which

saves precious moments, of course.

Okay.

So the shift from believing

limiting stories about ourselves

and others to trust in the gold

really is the shift to freedom.

It's a shift to true happiness.

And the question I get over and over

again is through, through the decades,

is how come the mistrust is so pervasive?

You know, how come so many of

us feel unlovable or unworthy

or like we're falling short?

And so just to speak for a

little bit about the grounds of

mistrust and you might reflect

as I speak just to your own life.

Just sensing the forces that might have

shaped for you that kind of prison,

where you get caught in not okay.

Or you get caught in, in being

fixated on others not being okay.

So the ground level of mistrust is

really in our universal psycho biology.

It's built in because every

organism emerges with a perception

of being separate and then it

organizes around self-defense.

So the primal mood of the

separate self is fear.

Now there's, if you're moving through life

and you have some sense of I'm separate

and others are out there, there's going

to be fear that somethings can go wrong.

Because when we don't feel

connected, we feel fearful.

And our survival brains, all creatures

have this, have a negativity bias.

In other words, our attention

fixates on what can go wrong.

And that means that every creature

you encounter, you know, the next

person, tree, a dog, a squirrel,

frog, they have the equipment

that's alerting them the threats.

And that's that's primo.

And so with humans, because we're, we have

so much, you know, these sophisticated

cognition and we're self-aware, we go

from something's wrong or something's

going to go wrong to I am wrong.

Something's wrong with me.

Or you're wrong.

Something's wrong with you.

In other words, we have attribution.

I hope that makes sense cause that's

a really important piece that we're

all rigged to sense that fear around,

what's around the corner, you know,

something's going to go wrong.

But with humans, it tends to

land on ourselves and others.

We feel flawed.

And you can see this basic sense

of flawedness or badness in

our Western creation mythology.

It's like blatant, you know.

We got kicked out of Eden.

We were impure.

I ran across recently a

cartoon from way, way back.

A monk is in a monastery and

he's writing affirmations.

He's writing the same

thing over a hundred times.

And what he's writing is,

celibacy is not so bad.

Celibacy is not so bad.

And here we are, you know.

We're, we come from our creation

myths saying we're impure

and we've got to watch out.

So building on that, in our individual

lives, you know, our degree of mistrust

of ourselves will depend on how our

caregivers attune to and met our basic

needs, to be understood, to be loved,

to be taken care of, to be safe.

So if these needs were not

met, there's a sense of severed

belonging, like the world's a

undependable, untrustworthy place.

And then as we grow, it's because

of me, something's wrong with me.

And you see it again and again in

children that were sexually abused.

That even though it was an adult

abusing them, there's a deep,

deep belief that I'm flawed.

It happened because

something is wrong with me.

It's very sad that that's the way

our minds go, but that's how it is.

So through our childhood, caregivers

communicated the conditions we needed

to meet, to be accepted and loved.

And of course, there were some parents

that are more unconditionally loving, but

many of us had standards we had to meet.

And what it may meant was we couldn't

trust our natural selves because

we had to meet those standards.

And if you want to understand better,

well, what were those, what were you

kind of trying to meet and how did

mistrust happen, just start reflecting.

Maybe you can do for a few moments

now and even write it down.

You know, what were you rewarded for?

You know, what was the message?

Be like this ___. How did your

caregivers, parents wants you to be?

How did they want your behavior to be?

How did they want you to look?

How did they want you to

move through the world?

What did they want from

you in terms of success?

And you can also ask,

what was I judged for?

What were, how were they looking

at me through eyes that, you know,

that didn't like what I was doing?

What did I get punished for?

Don't be like this.

For so many, don't be so loud or you're

too sensitive or you're too needy

or you're too anxious or you're in

my way or you're not doing enough.

You know, you don't look the way I

want you to look that reflects how I

want my, my expression of self to be

in my extended expression of self.

You're not achieving the

way I had hoped, you know.

So what are the messages.

And of course we know the more criticism,

the more neglect, the more abuse,

the more mistrust of self and other.

So again, what we're doing is just

looking at the forces that lock us into

not trusting ourselves, our goodness.

And then of course, it's

amplified and shaped in the

biggest way by our societies.

I love this phrase that you don't

think your own thoughts, your,

your thinking society's thoughts.

That all of our ideas about how our

bodies should be, how our look should

be, how our emotions should be, what

success looks like, our basic worth

and value, it's been fed to us.

These are standards that have been

fed to us and they're fed to us by

society every day in many, many ways.

And our societies don't offer

a natural way of belonging.

It's not like you just, it's not like a

free pass that you belong to community.

We don't have easy belonging to the earth.

So we have to meet those standards.

It's a big deal.

So this is, this is Dave Barry on

it because some of the standards

have to do with gender and how we

should be in our supposed gender.

And for him, male, be a certain way.

And he describes, he says this,

he says being puny all his

life is painful for a male.

He said, I totally missed

the boat to puberty island.

I was this little hairless dweeb

with a voice in the Pinocchio range.

One day, my mom, bless her

heart, had a talk with me.

She told me the girls were not

interested only in looks, that

the qualities that really mattered

were brains and a sense of humor.

That little talk was long ago,

but it taught me an invaluable

life lesson I've never forgotten.

Moms lie when they have to.

Now he goes on, he talks about the,

the suffering of not meeting the

kind of machismo standard for males.

And he just says, I'll

just share one more piece.

He says, men, you know how,

when your wife can't open a

pickle jar, she gives it to you.

And you're supposed to smile

in a manly, patronizing way as

you effortlessly twist it open.

That's not what happened in our house.

What happens is after a grim struggle

lasting several minutes, I wind up lying

on the kitchen floor, exhausted and

whimpering while the pickle jar, unopened

laughs and flirts boldly with my wife.

So it's fun.

And we know the suffering that comes

from a society that reinforces and

rewards, in this case, expressions

of male dominance and aggression.

We also know the horrific suffering

that comes from a society that turns

women's bodies, men's too, but women's

bodies into objects that need to meet

certain criteria for attractiveness.

And I was looking at

some of the statistics.

I just want to share a few because

they kind of oh, they really got me.

This one is that by age 13, 53%

of American girls are unhappy

with their bodies and it grows to

78% by the time girls reach 17.

78% of our female teens

don't like their bodies.

Now I know for myself, I

started dieting at age 12.

You know, Twiggy was the rage.

And I remember drinking

strawberry Carnation Slender

breakfast drinks, you know.

And I just read an, in the statistics,

another one, a survey of ages nine to

ten now, 40% are trying to lose weight.

Of our nine to ten year olds.

There's huge suffering around body shame.

We're talking about mistrust and not

liking who we are and how the society

shapes that in such a painful way.

And then of course, it

shapes it with intelligence.

I, I so often think about, we

have these rigid standards.

Children are supposed to have

this left brain intelligence.

And, you know, I feel such sense

of sorrow at the numbers of bright,

creative, young people that just have

a different kind of intelligence,

but go through our schools feeling

they're flawed, they're not smart.

And, you know, cause the different

kind of intelligence is being rewarded.

The most toxic fuel for

distrusting self and other comes

from our dominance hierarchies.

Okay.

These are the way our societies

have caste systems based on race,

on classism, you know, sexism.

And these casts systems, these

hierarchies separate us, and you cannot

see the gold when you feel different.

When you feel above or below,

you can't see the goal.

And the message of inferiority when

that for the non-dominant populations

and endangerment, it creates a mistrust

of self and a mistrust of the world.

And it also creates separation,

insecurity for the higher, for the

higher ranked because then they're

driven to maintain their position.

And that's what we're watching with the

violence of white supremacy right now.

You have to terrorize blacks to keep

them down is the, the notion, you know.

So here we are.

And it's the probably the most

polarized times I can imagine

that, at least in my lifetime.

And fear disconnects us from the heart.

We're unable to see the intrinsic

value in fellow beings when we really

disagree and when we're so polarized,

there's mistrust and fear on all sides.

So we're coming down to the central

theme again, that we've never so

desperately needed pathways to

building trust, to remembering, you

know, the fundamental value of all

beings, including our own being.

So this is our work, friends.

This is our work.

You know, that namaste, that the more

of us that can intentionally be looking

towards the goodness in ourselves and

each other and start waking up that

trust, the more healing for our world.

You know, I'm thinking about Einstein.

You know, another mystic scientist

and one of the questions, I mean, one

of his statements that he made that

I come back to over and over again

is that he said that I think the most

important question facing humanity

is, is the universe a friendly place?

This is the first and most basic question

people must answer for themselves.

Many of, you know, this quote.

So powerful.

You know, Einstein believed there's a

fundamental benevolence in our universe.

And his, he claimed in his writings

that if we trust that, it'll give

rise to activity that actually serves

our collective understanding and

peace and wellbeing, if we trust it.

So you might just ask yourself

right now, you know, we know all the

ignorance and cruelty and horrors.

Do you sense a fundamental benevolence?

Love or goodness in the universe

underneath a gold that's, that

can permeate the coverings that

sometimes gets shadowed by them.

You can think on that.

You know, I remember I was giving

a talk on this, this very question.

The first time I think I brought it up,

my, it was during a time when my mother

was living with my husband and me and

she'd drive back and forth to class

with me on Wednesday night and be there.

Then, you know, I'd give a talk and

then on the way home we'd discuss it.

So I was talking about this, how

in many spiritual traditions and in

my own experience, there is a basic

goodness that lives through all of us.

And that meditation helps

us contact it and trust it.

Even when it's covered over

the gold is here, you know?

So this is, this is what

I was talking about.

So on the ride home, my mom was a

Barnard student, a philosophy major,

and she really loved challenging me.

So she just launches right in

as soon as we get in the car.

So where's the base of goodness in

racism and in capital punishment

and humans destroying our earth?

You know what makes good

this more basic than badness?

That was her.

That was her question.

And maybe some of you are wondering that.

It's a natural thing to ask, you know.

Why is goodness, more fundamental?

So, you know, we tussled a bit as

we did, but I completely agree.

There's, there's no conceptual proof.

And I did say that in my life, and

increasingly, there was a direct

experience that I could see the coverings.

I could see all the ways that we humans

get scared and act out in horrible ways

and really sense to underneath whatever

coverings that there is a goodness.

There's life, loving life.

There's a sentience.

There is a divine that can shine through.

And I also share something with her

that I hadn't named out loud before.

That even when I'm not directly

experiencing that, and even when I'm

kind of caught up, it's still a choice.

It's a choice and an intention to live

as if loving awareness or the gold

is our deepest essence, to assume it.

In my experience, and I'm really

pragmatic, you know, I, I figure, well,

if assuming something helps me, then

I'm going to assume it as much as I can.

Turning towards that, assuming it,

now looking towards the goodness.

It always, it ends up feeling

like a homecoming, like then

it actually calls it forth.

And I do feel then that kind of

resonance, like this really is true.

So I shared that with her, that even

if there's no conceptual proof that

there's a basic goodness and love in

this universe, it's my perception.

And assuming it really helps in my life.

And I just want to share with you that

for all her sparring, and believe me,

if she was in her grave right now,

she'd say, yeah, but what if, you know.

During her final years, she lived

in that spirit of trusting the gold.

And I'll just never forget at

her memorial, how much everybody

said, you know, being around

her, I felt better about myself.

Her listening and her

acceptance and kindness.

It helped other people trust their

goodness, which was something that

was actually true throughout her life.

But it became even more kind

of purified as she got older.

So she was living as if too.

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