But when the music stops and the storm comes as it has, and so much of that which we relied upon has fallen out from beneath our feet, we are left with what we have cultivated inside our own heart, inside our own being. This time teaches us how important it is to gradually grow the good inside oneself.
We do this for other people as well as for ourselves. As much as individuals are now facing the results of not having invested in their own practice or in self-development over time, we’re also recognizing that there has been a 40-year sustained attack on the common good—a politicized and relentless eroding of the rule of law, the social safety net, respect for science, expertise, and truth telling; and the playing of people against each other. Now, we are inheriting the consequences of that attack and that lack of investment in the common good.
When inevitably something happens, like the pandemic, it shows that our resource capability as a nation, particularly at the federal level, has been really hollowed out. We’ve been living in a house that looked all shiny and pretty from the outside with some good paint on it, but which had been hollowed out by highly motivated, politicized termites. And now a great storm is pounding on our house, and we are seeing the results.
This time calls on us to practice, as both individuals and communities, like we’ve never practiced before.
Contribution to the greater social good
JS: But how does each of us pursuing our own enlightened way of being really contribute to the greater social good?
RH: I think there’s a false dichotomy between the personal and the political. We can see all around us people who develop themselves, in terms of mindfulness, compassion, confidence, grit, and commitment to helping others. As we cultivate these over time, we become more able to be helpful to people around us and to take effective action for the greater good.
People who develop a core of resilient well-being, so that they’re not so preoccupied or distracted by a lot of suffering or psychological issues, also develop strengths that make them more effective in the world. Dacher [Keltner] and other researchers have shown that when people feel more whole and have a sense of self-worth, and as they cultivate a greater sense of compassion, they’re more inclined to be prosocial.
It’s when people feel desperate and empty inside that they’re less likely to be prosocial. And, in the process of helping the common good, we have many opportunities for experiences of fulfillment and well-being. The two are intertwined—the personal and the political.
Power of personal practice and the possibility of profound personal development
JS: What would you most like people to take away from your book?
RH: The power of personal practice and the possibility of profound personal development. I think every person is longing for more—not as craving or a world-denying dismissal of ordinary life, but as a longing for deep peace, love, and contentment, and a release from always grasping for more. It could include a longing for something that feels deeper or different than ordinary reality. These are important longings to honor.
I think there are a lot of people who meditate a little here, practice a little gratitude there, and it’s good. It’s way better than the alternative. But they have hit a kind of plateau, where it’s comfortable, it’s pleasant. But, if a person is interested in the next steps, whatever those might be, I want to encourage them to take those next steps. Your personal path of awakening honors that deep longing for more.
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Written by: Jill Suttie This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.“ Republished with permission.