Basic Goodness & Brave Befriending

A note from Erin:

Hello, beautiful human!

Today I’m thinking about Basic Goodness, a phrase and perspective that fundamentally changed my life when I began to learn about it in my late teens – thanks to Pema Chodron and my many other teachers in the Buddhist tradition. It’s amazing to me, (perhaps tragic is a more accurate word), for how many years I carried around a sense of basic badness at my core – an inner shame and embarrassing sense of wrongness. I thought that if anyone saw the *real* me, they would run away or at least turn their nose up in disgust. After working with thousands of adults over the years, I’ve seen how common this tragic view is in so many of us.

What huge changes unfold when we begin to befriend ourselves – to witness and be present to our inner multitudes – our awkwardness, our longings, our creativity, our anxiety, our weird habits, our adorable quirks, our regrets, our unique genius. When faith in our own innately good and tender heart-mind grows, paradoxically it can allow us to welcome suffering – our own and others – more wholeheartedly and courageously, without needing to defend against it because it doesn’t threaten us at our core.

As Pema writes, “When you come from the view that you’re fundamentally good rather than fundamentally flawed, as you see yourself speak or act out, as you see yourself repress, you will have a growing understanding that you’re not a bad person who needs to shape up but a good person with temporary, malleable habits that are causing you a lot of suffering. And then, in that spirit, you can become very familiar with these temporary but strongly embedded habits. We all carry around trunk loads of old habits, but very fortunately for us, they’re removable.” They’re workable. This is also the approach we take in the brilliant Feldenkrais Method to working with our not-so-helpful habits of movement and posture. My experience of diving deeply into Feldenkrais both in my own body-mind and with thousands of clients and students; revisiting the style of learning familiar to all of us as infants –pre-language, pre-inner critic – that innate organic curious feeling intelligence in every cell of our sentient bodies, the natural inclination to follow the path of least resistance and greatest pleasure in our every movement – it’s a deep kind of mindfulness and befriending that is underneath even our ideas about it. Trusting the soft animal of your body to love what it loves is also a confirmation of your basic goodness and your innate, uncontrived, natural intelligence. It’s so important to refresh this perspective and this way of being as adults!

Is it true? Basic goodness? Basic badness? We’ll never know what is ultimately true – the philosophers have argued it out for centuries – but we can certainly notice the repercussions of our chosen (or unconscious) viewpoint in our own lives.

We’ve all witnessed (or been) those people who feel unloved and somehow wrong, and so grow twisted by compensation strategies attempting to convince others of their worthiness. It’s a hustle, and it’s exhausting. What if we could look in the mirror, and see ourselves, wrinkles, scars, pimples, beauty, and all, as an ordinary extraordinary human being, doing our best, innately worthy of compassion and kindness? I recall years ago one teacher suggesting the possibility of looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Erin, you’re lovable.’ I almost choked. I think tears shot out of my eyes. I’m sure I wasn’t breathing. I couldn’t imagine it! I thought there was just so much wrong with me. Now I have so much tender compassion for that one… It took practice, but now I can indeed look myself in the mirror, generous with forgiveness, acceptance, and humor, and say “Erin, you’re lovable.” It took staying with myself through what felt like spasms in my consciousness. And I had to spend some weeks saying “I forgive you,” before I could authentically say, “I love you.” Years later, my mirror practice began to include, “I won’t abandon you.” (This was after a few years of having painfully abandoned my own self-respect and inner compass by trying to contort myself in a number of ways to gain the respect of someone else, a spiritual teacher who wasn’t givin’ it.)

More from Pema: “If you touch the fear instead of running from it, you find tenderness, vulnerability, and sometimes a sense of sadness. This tender-heartedness happens naturally when you start to be brave enough to stay present, because instead of armoring yourself, instead of turning to anger, self-denigration, and iron-heartedness, you keep your eyes open and you begin, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, to see the blueness of an iris, the wetness of water, the movement of the wind. Becoming more in touch with ourselves gives birth to enormous appreciation for the world and for other people. It can sound corny, but you feel grateful for the beauty of the world. It’s a very special way to live. Your heart is filled with gratitude, appreciation, compassion, and caring for other people. And it all comes from touching that shakiness within and being willing to be present with it.”

I believe it’s the biggest, wisest part of you who knows that they are here to befriend you, and there is absolutely no part of you that is unworthy of such friendship. No part at all. All of you is welcome. If we don’t welcome the yucky stuff it’s hard to get the medicine where the wound is.

Have you made bad decisions in the past?
Of course.
Have you declared bankruptcy, broken someone’s heart, struggled with addiction, taken something that didn’t belong to you?
You’re worthy of lovingkindness.
Do you have cellulite, injuries, scars, unwanted hairs, bad habits or life situations you hide from others?
You sweet thing.
Have you started things and never completed them, made messes, lost focus, done things less well than you’d have liked?
Of course you have!
Have you ever screwed up big time, hurt another’s feelings, dropped balls, forgotten to return a borrowed item, or said the wrong thing?
Welcome to the human race.
Humanity, humility, maybe even good humor…

I love the Zen teaching that says, “Enlightenment is one mistake after another.” (Thank you, Dogen, for that generous and humane perspective!)
I also love this quote from Ralph Nader who said, “My best teacher is my last mistake.”  Holding that kind of growth mindset, we can learn from whatever unfolds without getting stuck in the rut of self-judgment.

I have a super helpful practice that I work with a lot.
In basic sitting meditation part of the practice is often called “dis-identification.” Welcoming thoughts, feelings, sensations without fusing with them or being swept away. Letting them come, letting them go.
In Ann Weiser Cornell’s way of teaching Focusing, she calls it “Getting bigger than what’s bugging you.”
It’s sometimes called presencing” though I really love a word I heard from my mentor and dear friend, Russell Delman. He calls it “with-nessing.” It’s not just witnessing what’s happening in our hearts and minds with cold distance. It’s witnessing it while keeping caring company with our inner life. Being with it with warmth and kindness. Thus the word “with-nessing.”

In my local community of students, it’s also come to be known by the shorthand, “Hello, sweetheart,” because that’s the language I frequently use with my own inner life, and many others have found it helpful too.

Here’s the deal.
You can discover that what is consistent in your experience is not the emotional ups and downs, but the presence and openness in which all of the highs and lows and vast in-betweens of our lives happen.  (Meditation practice is great for growing this experience.)

With practice, in any moment, you’ll discover that you can make the brave move to relocate your sense of “I” to that bigger space. To awareness. And from there, we can welcome what is happening. Not suppress it, bypass it, or even fix it. Be with it, with kind awareness.

A few days ago in the early morning as I sat with my son, I was moving my jaw around gently. My son said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Oh, I think I’ve been clenching my teeth at night.” He laughed so long and loud – as if it was the most preposterous thing he’d ever heard. He said, ‘You mean you were asleep and just going “nang nang nang?” (his sound for gnashing teeth.) I said, “Yes, I think I was.” His utter hilarity helped me to bring some lighthearted, good-humored compassion to the stress that was showing itself in my sleep.

Pema Chodron says it simply, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” I bet that skylike self also has a damn good sense of humor.

This skylike “I” can be the part of you that is noticing the shame, the sadness, the whatever is alive in your experience, and say, perhaps with a hand on your heart, “Hello, sweetheart. I’m with you. I hear you. I wish you well. I can tell you’re very stressed out about that. That really hurts. Yes, yes, I’m with you. That must be very hard.” Not in a patronizing way, in the way we’d do with a dear friend.
You can always take a step back from your current state into the part of you that is larger and kinder and more magnanimous and meet life from there.
Your essential nature has the spaciousness of the sky and the warmth of the sun.
And from that place, you can befriend even the most challenging states.
The whole world will benefit as more of us grow this capacity and skill. (I love the way angel kyodo williams speaks to the importance of this kind of practice in her recently rebroadcast OnBeing interview.)

This is exactly what we’ll be working with in my upcoming course Bearing Witness: Digesting 2020 with Embodied Listening & Compassion Practice with specific caring attention for the feelings we’re carrying in our body-minds these days. I still have room for you in the course! It’s going to be so good. We meet live on zoom on Mondays – I have a morning and evening (mountain time) sessions available. I am SO looking forward to deepening this practice myself and to learning along with the wonderful community of folks who are already signed up to join. Would you like to join us? Just click here – read all the details – choose morning or evening and jump in. (I’ve got a few evening spots left and more morning spaces available.) The suggested tuition is $300 but you’re welcome to pay what you can afford. Sometimes folks who could greatly benefit can’t afford the class – and that’s not cool.

As Matt Licata writes so insightfully, “You want to give joy, happiness, peace, and hope to others. It is so natural to want to uplift those around you. Perhaps the greatest gift you can give to another, however, is your willingness to provide sanctuary for the unwanted within you. For when you are in open, warm contact with your own grief, sadness, loneliness, heartbreak, and confusion, a holding field emerges in the space between, granting cosmic permission for the other to embrace and practice kindness toward those unresolved qualities in themselves.”

Here’s a poem from our friend across the centuries, Rumi. Today, it occurs to me that he might just be talking about basic goodness. Let’s put our hands on that oar together. 


If you put your hands on this oar with me,
they will never harm another, and they will come to find
they hold everything you want.

If you put your hands on this oar with me, they would no longer
lift anything to your
mouth that might wound your precious land-
that sacred earth that is
your body.

If you put your soul against this oar with me,
the power that made the universe will enter your sinew
from a source not outside your limbs, but from a holy realm
that lives in us.

Exuberant is existence, time a husk.

When the moment cracks open, ecstasy leaps out and devours space;
love goes mad with the blessings, like my words give.

Why lay yourself on the torturer’s rack of the past and future?

The mind that tries to shape tomorrow beyond its capacities
will find no rest.

Be kind to yourself, dear- to our innocent follies.

Forget any sounds or touch you knew that did not help you dance.

You will come to see that all evolves us.

If you put your heart against the earth with me, in serving
every creature, our Beloved will enter you from our sacred realm
and we will be, we will be
so happy.

– Rumi, From ‘Love Poems From God’ by Daniel Ladinsky.

Thanks for reading, friends, and thanks for making the world more embodied and more kind.
May the way you live be of benefit to all those whose lives you touch.

A few upcoming events we want you to know about: 

My beloved Carl is part of a stellar lineup of 1000 incredible presenters for the free online Embodiment Conference.  Sign up to join in! Even if you only tune into an hour or two of thousands, you’re bound to find nourishing inspiration!

My new fall course Bearing Witness: Digesting 2020 with Embodied Listening and Compassion Practice will meet online on Mondays 10/19-12/7. Registration is now open.

Need some skillful, safe, liberating and healing touch? Carl is seeing clients in person in SLC with covid-safe cleaning and masks. Contact him to set up your session or series.

We have a weekend retreat coming up October 24-25 online: Grounded & Spacious: A Retreat in Movement & Stillness.  We’re so looking forward to it!

I’m offering a short community grief-tending event later this month. I’ll be gathering folks on Zoom while my grief-tending sister Kinde will be hosting a live event on the shores of Great Salt Lake simultaneously. Details are here. 

And we would love to invite you to join us in our beloved Embodiment Lab! It’s soooo good! After years of teaching in person, we’re thrilled to say that after one year of teaching the Embodiment Lab online, it works just as powerfully as when we’re together in person! We begin on Monday our exploration of Youthening Movements. Who doesn’t need that? We have some spectacular lessons to share.  The Lab includes weekly 30-minute Feldenkrais lessons along with a weekly 30-minute video lesson exploring embodiment practice in our lives. The community of folks in the lab is simply stellar(!) and the learning is so profound!! Join our wonderful learning community. $50/month, cancel anytime.

Here’s a taste:
Click here to experience Carl teaching a lesson that explores softening rigidity through the breath. It’s a good one. Also at this link:


p.s. Here are a few links just for fun. (These are not affiliate links, just good stuff.) 

Carl got together with several presenters from the Embodiment Conference for a nourishing podcast conversation here.

I adore Lara Vesta’s work. She was one of our first podcast guests and I so deeply appreciate her way in the world.

Michael Meade continues to offer wonderful talks and courses – both his podcast and his Friday evening courses have been a sustaining source of wisdom and inspiration during these confounding times.

Jericho Brown interviewed on OnBeing was so wonderful.

I’m thrilled to be able to listen to this book in his own voice.

Carl and I just keep crying over this song as we did 4 years ago.

I came across a video I made of myself reading 4 poems on a day when my heart was heavy with the weight of the world. I still love them.

I’m looking forward to joining Sharon Blackie for a winter solstice gathering, Dancing In The Dark: Navigating the Place Between Stories.

Poetry Lovers!
We have a great event coming up for the Jung Society of Utah on whose program team I’m happy to volunteer. Due to covid, it will be online so you can attend from anywhere! Poet Lisa Starr wowed us when she came to Salt Lake City with Coleman Barks, famous translator of Rumi. Both had been present with beloved poet Mary Oliver the month prior as she left her body – they certainly carried the fragrance of her spirit that night. What a potent evening it was! Lisa is a gifted poet in her own right – and a very affable woman.  I’m excited she’s made herself available in this way. She’s giving a Friday night talk on 10/22 and then a Saturday workshop 10/23. Carl and I will be teaching our Grounded & Spacious Meditation & Movement retreat Oct.23-24, so I’ll miss the workshop, but am looking forward to her talk. I hope you’ll consider joining in on this evening of beauty and soul.

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.