*Disclaimer: this is a PG-13 post, so please be aware. Also, this is the beginning of a conversation for me and not my life-long dissertation on the nature of good and evil, so please be respectful and kind if you have any comments to share. I realize I may be opening a can of worms by sharing my unrefined thoughts, but I just could not keep them in any longer. I am open to hearing other thoughts on the matter, but not if those thoughts involve conceited, demeaning or insulting insinuations.
Recently, I read this in a post by Leo Babauta entitled “The Elements of Living Lightly” at zenhabits.net:
“think of nothing that happens as either good or bad. Stop judging, and stop expecting.
It’s a tiny change — all you have to do is say, ‘That wasn’t good or bad, it just happened, it just is.’ It’s tiny, but it takes practice, and amazingly, it can knock you on your ass.”
He goes on to say,
“You will no longer expect good things to happen (or bad things), but will just take things as they come, and be content with whatever comes.”
When I first read this, I rejected the notion for several reasons. The first being that the title of our blog is DIYtheGoodLife, which means that I have to defend to the death the use of the label “Good.” Okay, not really, but I was not prepared to let go of it without some sort of mental wrestling. What of those situations in which someone displays undeniably bad behavior? Of course, good and bad exist. It seemed rather naive to me to throw them out altogether. My mind quickly jumped to one of the worst scenarios I can fathom: a woman being raped. Typically, the first step in the healing process is for her to establish in her mind that this was wrong, that she did not deserve it or ask for it, and that he should not have done what he did. This, to me, is the definition of labeling something “bad.” I also recognized that these statements are derived from a Buddhist tradition. In some ways, I see how Buddhist teachings such as these have been used to keep the status-quo, allowing those in power to stay in power and those without to feel obligated to support the system. From my Western, democratic, individualistic mind, I feel frustration over this phenomenon, another reason I did not want to support the idea that one aught to be content with whatever hand they are dealt and not expect anything different.
Despite these protests, I found myself applying the principal in my daily interactions. To my surprise, I found it helping. Our laptop died because it could not hack the humidity…it’s not good or bad, it just is…Mike comes along while I am cooking and turns down the burner on one of my pans…it’s not good or bad, it just is…the kids are screaming and crying and fighting with each other…it’s not good or bad, it just is…the outdoor kitchen is inundated by red ants and I get to do the ant dance while frying rice…it’s not good or bad, it just is…you get the picture. The removal of the good or bad label really did help me to move on and and just deal with the reality unfolding before me.
This lead me to revisit my initial misgivings. Tackling the biggest critique first, I started thinking about the rape scenario. I remembered that sometimes these “bad” interactions result in pregnancy, and then in a baby. Actually, among the most vulnerable of women, the migrant, the refugee, the poor, living in transient situations, with questionable citizenship, and in fear of losing their only chance of employment, this happens more than we who are privileged with a dwelling, a citizenship, and employment may realize. How does the woman then label that encounter? It was a terrible experience, yet it was also the event that brought them their son or daughter, whom they now love despite their beginning. In this situation, the removal of the good or bad label may actually be freeing, and leave room for the victim to move on and enjoy the life before her. Now, I am not advocating that we start counseling rape victims that their ordeal was “neither good or bad, it just was.” Maybe we just are not very good judges of what is good or bad. Maybe Good and Bad exist, but we are not very good at recognizing them as such.
For me, this begs the question, who then is qualified to use these labels? The response that I hear whispering in the midst of all this mental wrestling is, I Am. There is an I Am, who is Good and who promises goodness to His people. What I have spent many, many, many years learning is that the goodness is often not what I expected, often not what I have wanted. And yet, it has been good, so very good. I am not saying that the I Am has sent the bad stuff or caused the bad stuff. That’s a completely different discussion. But my fear, when we came to Thailand, was that when faced with so many stories of suffering, pain, and violence, I would once again begin shaking my fist at God. However, this discussion has reminded me that when the stuff that I labeled as “bad” happened to me, it was the I Am who brought the Good back, who brought abundance more than I could ask or imagine. That is the message that I have to share with those we meet who have suffered so much. It is also the message that those who have suffered so much have to teach me.