Words can be dead or alive. My big, fat Webster’s dictionary devotes a full page to the word good, yet conveys almost nothing. Definitions range from “making a favorable impression in terms of moral character” to “wholesome” or “noble and respectable.” Words – nothing but lexical connections.
Yet words can also be alive when they resonate with what we know to be true. Years ago at an AA meeting, for instance, I heard these: “Love from the heart is a one-way street. It goes out.” The guy saying this gestured from his chest into the room, his hand unfolding from from fist to open. I knew the truth of what he was saying. I’d never heard it so succinctly put.
Goodness. What is it? Most of us know it when we’re feeling it. If we’re around a good person, something emanates from them. A work of art or beauty can evoke the same feeling. It’s a warmth, a light, a glow – maybe an aura. But of what?
Love. Goodness is the product of love. When that inmost heart of ours, the font of our being, our life energy, reaches out to connect with something in the world, the energy around that connection is goodness. Love has a direction, a flow along the one-way street, while goodness is the product of that connection. It shows up in any act or effort of integrity and honor that is untainted by selfishness.
A friend of mine experienced a Near Death Experience far more protracted and detailed than mine. Hers occurred in the seconds before a head-on car crash, which for her expanded to hours of interaction with spirits. She was a teen at the time, verging on a dark turn of acting out from pain in her past. An ugly, squat demon at her feet in the passenger’s seat invited her to join him, promising her a chance to “get even” with everyone who’d ever wronged her. But she declined, and found herself suddenly pulled up out of the car, rushing into the sky with her very serious, earnest guardian angel whom she realized she’d known all her life. Among the things she was shown was a whirlwind tour of the globe, zooming in on all the pies being made right then. Yes, pies. She saw countless homemade pies, all different styles and types, until finally her guide showed her the very best pie on earth at that point in time.
It was a cherry pie made by an older woman somewhere in Europe. The pie was just coming out of the oven, perfectly browned with woven crust and beveled edges. The woman loved the pie. Into it she had poured everything she knew about pie-making, every skill acquired in years of baking – not to impress anyone, but purely to manifest the best of her abilities. The guide flashed into my friend’s awareness that the same can be true for anything we do in life. When we care enough to learn something, when we respect the skills involved enough to apply them with dedication, we can bring into the world a work of goodness – even when tremendous faith and courage are needed to do so.
Any time our efforts are powered by such love, they become acts of goodness – an emblem of the plenty we’ve received from god. They are, in essence, acts of gratitude: “Life is God’s gift to you; what you make of your life is your gift to God.”
Conversely, when they’re powered by the desire to get, which is actually rooted in a sense of lack and the driving fear behind it, which is ultimately a distrust of god, our efforts become acts of aggression. They devolve to a way of “showing” and outstripping others, of getting even with those we feel have wronged us. The recognition is all for me.
For these reasons, addiction cuts us off from goodness entirely. Compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, etc., or the codependent urge to steer another’s life – all these keep us constantly in the mode of wanting. We try to suck from the world whatever we think will fill the gaping hole in our guts. This time, we’ll get what we need to feel good about ourselves. We’ll score it from the people we impress, from the places and things that infuse us with status, lend us power.
What we have in addiction is wrong-way traffic. As long as I’m trying to suck up whatever addiction promises will fix me, I’m incapable of even recognizing goodness. I’m numb to it entirely. In fact, as told in my addiction memoir, by the time I neared hitting bottom, I’d quit believing goodness even existed! It seemed a sickly sweet delusion manufactured by conformists, when the hard core truth was that I had to grab whatever I could from a mean, barren world.
But goodness not only exists, it’s the ultimate expression of living. It can emanate from any relationship founded in sincerity – in creativity and playfulness, in compassion and affection. Whenever I reach to connect my spirit to yours without seeking to get something from the deal, the energy from my heart streams toward you, and I become a channel for god – which is love – to flow through. God is the source of all beauty, and as soon as we give ourselves over to expressing it, that flow simplifies life radically down to being present in gratitude. We are complete. In fact, we have a surplus, because the wellspring of our life-force is constantly flowing, flowing. So we can try to give it shape, to bring goodness into the world.
That’s why I wrote this, from me to you.