Life is always one step ahead of us.
It seems that once we figure one thing out, another problem always pops up. We get good at one thing, and then realise we are completely inept at something else. We pick up one skill, and then realise we have lost sight of another. Nothing is ever settled. Nothing is ever lastingly resolved. It all exists in a perpetual state of chaotic flux—a dynamic field of everlasting change—and the absence of certainty and stability oftentimes leaves us feeling confused and wanting more.
To me, the human experience could be described as an endless pursuit of the unattainable. There is something within us that calls for the attainment of higher knowledge, but at the same time the universe is far too complicated to ever really be known or understood. There is something beautifully futile about being a person. We are all merely children in the face of the great mystery of existence.
All of this being said, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a complete person. Of course, there is no such thing as a “complete person” because we are always a work in progress, but I do believe there are principles that help us along the path of being the best we could possibly be.
If someone asked me what I want to be in this life, the answer would be this: I want to be good.
I want to be a good person, a good son, a good friend, a good father, a good citizen, and perhaps do something good for society at large. I want to create more positive energy in my life than negative energy. I want to cover all of my bases and be secure in myself. That’s it. Everything else is just play, in my opinion.
Someone might say that “good” is a subjective term and there is really no such thing. I would tell that person to bugger off. Goodness is a feeling. We all know when we are acting in the name of the good. We all know when we are doing right by the people in our life. We all know when we are living with love.
So, the question is: how can we allow goodness to flourish in our lives?
A dear friend of mine recently gave me a book entitled The Boundless Heart, by Christina Feldman, which I finally have found the time to open. It speaks of the brahma viharas (aka The Four Immeasurables), the four qualities of being that help us cultivate the boundless heart. These are kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. She describes these qualities in the very first passage of the book:
“There is no greater love than the friendliness that can embrace all beings, all events, and all experiences with unshakeable kindness. There is no compassion greater than the fearless heart that can turn toward suffering and pain, tremble with empathy, and live with the commitment to end the causes of anguish. There is no greater happiness than inwardly generated joy and peace. There is no equanimity more unshakable than the profound poise of the liberated heart that can meet the world of ungraspable conditions and events without being shattered.”
I believe these qualities are essential to living a truly good life.
We need kindness to keep equanimity from becoming apathy. Compassion allows our kindness to be expressed to the world. Joy maintains compassion by preventing it from being overcome by the sorrow of suffering. Equanimity keeps us strong in the face of fear. Each quality helps balance out the other. Each one is necessary in maintaining the other.
If we are without one of the brahma viharas—the others fall away. The conscious practising of each one of these qualities in our daily lives is necessary in the cultivation of the boundless heart and the flourishing of goodness.
I have been asking myself lately, “What area do I need to work on today?”
Kindness implies kinship with strangers. Compassion means having empathy for others. Joy constitutes inner-happiness. Equanimity entails a deep composure and calmness.
If I feel neurotic and impulsive, I bring my attention to the practice of equanimity. If I feel bitter and negative, I practice unconditional kindness. When I feel unhappy, I focus on being joyous and feeling gratitude. When I am feeling ignorant of the suffering of others, I practice compassion by attempting to put myself in the shoes of other people. I bring attention where attention is needed.
I don’t know that I could ever be perfectly balanced and connected, and if I somehow achieved this, I don’t think it would last long. What I do know is that I can try. I can try to be kind, compassionate, joyous, and equanimous. I can try to have good relations with the people in my life. I can try to be my brother’s keeper. I can try to transform suffering into love, and at the end of it all I think this is the most that could be asked of us.
As Feldman says in her aforementioned book:
“The cultivation of the brahma viharas is a training in intentionally inclining the heart toward emotional and psychological maturity and freedom, inclining the heart toward befriending the moment, cultivating compassion, remembering joy, and placing our heart upon the steady ground of equanimity. Intention is the forerunner of our thoughts, words, and acts and all the ways we interface with the world.”
There is no such thing as a complete person. That would defeat the purpose of being a person. We thrive on our incompleteness. We find solace in our imperfection. We are motivated by the friction between what is and what should be. This is what defines us. We are the blemishes of the eternal.
I say, let’s accept our imperfections while always striving for better ways of living.