The Goodness We Hold

A field of bluebonnets with towering trees at the back.

Posted on April 20, 2023 by Jenn Zatopek

I ended March in a luxurious way–working our tiny bit earth in our front-yard garden. I poured old potting soil over the narrow garden patch, taking dead plants from clay pots and cutting them into small bits for our compost bins. Afterwards, I swept our wrap-around porch and visited the nearby garden store, unsure of which plants to buy but trusting the unfolding process anyway.

When I arrived, I walked around the garden center, gazing at all the riotous spring color, golden petunias, rosy impatiens, fiery marigolds, and newly green herbs. I was drawn to two kinds of flowers, a tall yellowy-orange variety and stunning violet petunias, but only after I sauntered around with appreciation and something akin to awe. On that day, everyone was cheerful, the shopkeepers greeted us gaily, and a few of us customers exchanged smiles and sighs of pleasure as we bathed in beauty. A wondrous communion of joy. 

Once at home, I began the hard and pleasurable work of gardening. Arranging the flowers on our tiny bit of earth, I dug up the soil about a foot and pulled the flowers gently out of their plastic containers, placing them in their new home. Over and over I labored amid clouds and wind and sky, listening to beloved tunes by Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Van Morrison, Ani de Franco, and more, their familiar beats putting me into a state of flow. After planting and a delicious lunch, I visited another garden store and bought more flowers, even embracing myself for forgetting my purse and driving all the way back home again. Gardening that afternoon was like prayer and meditation: I allowed whatever happened to arise with warm acceptance.

Gardening metaphors abound in the sacred texts of spiritual traditions, and their wisdom holds true today, perhaps even more so since many of us live separated from the natural world, not necessarily of our own making. As I consider how to rise with resilience during a stunning Texas spring, I look to the rich abundance of the good earth, how she grows astonishing beauty for all of us to enjoy. 

But don’t we often discount our own experiences of growth and beauty with vicious self-criticism? What would life be like if we ceased judging ourselves so harshly? What would it be like if we did the opposite and cultivated kindness in our hearts? As I look to the earth for wisdom, I find goodness not only in wondrous creation but also in the most unexpected place of all: me. One of Walt Whitman’s poems comes to mind, number five from “Song of the Open Road.” Read it and pause after, letting yourself rest in the truth:

From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine. 

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness. 

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me. 

Isn’t it marvelous to know that we hold so much goodness within ourselves? As I continue my practice of rising to my own belovedness, I can’t help but consider all the myriad blessings my heart holds, memories of countless days spent outside in wondrous nature, times with beloved people, ways that I’ve succeeded when I thought all was lost, the embrace of children, snuggles with pets, travels to faraway lands. What about times of feeling safe and protected? And times of being loved too? All of these moments and more lie within you and me and are waiting to be enjoyed and held in love.

The process of taking in what’s beautiful is really quite simple, and it’s a bit like gardening: we can water the seeds of goodness within our hearts and watch them grow, shading our inner landscape with more peace and joy. This process known as savoring involves holding within our minds and bodies the tiny moments of goodness we experience, whether it’s a smile from a stranger, a lovely sunset, holding your partner’s hand, or embracing a beloved child. Any experience that feels good can be taken in by holding it in the mind and feeling it in your body for at least 10-20 seconds or more, which allows the positive experience imprints in our memory banks, making it easier to recall when we are having a tough day.

When we allow ourselves to take in the good we experience, we create new neural patterns of ease within. Perhaps even more stunning, we engage in resurrection and come back to life, fully participating in the wondrous dance of the divine who longs for all of us to awaken, grow, and heal. And following Whitman’s example, when we witness the goodness we carry within ourselves, we can’t help but celebrate the goodness we witness within others.

If we cannot see our own goodness, if we deny our own beauty, how then will we be able see the inherent goodness in others and in our beautiful world?

As spring celebrations continue all over the world through beautiful festivals of remembrance from Easter and Passover, to Ramadan and Earth Day, let’s participate in our own resurrections, honoring the stirrings of spring within, celebrating all this wondrous life has to offer us. Perhaps you might sit in stillness now, basking in whatever blessings that arise in your mind’s eye. Whatever the practice, my hope for all of us is this: that we would all do the work of joy for ourselves so we can spread that goodness to others, touching Love in our midst. 

Image: Bluebonnets in North Texas; Jenn Zatopek

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  • Reply Laura

    That was a lovely way to start my day. Thank you!

    April 21, 2023 at 3:36 am
    • Reply Jenn Zatopek

      Thank you, Laura, for your wonderful feedback! You’re so welcome!

      July 2, 2023 at 9:47 am
  • Reply Claire

    How I wish English schools taught more about American poets… Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson have become favourite soul-companions these post 35 years, since I met and married an American 🙂

    July 30, 2023 at 2:38 am
    • Reply Jenn Zatopek

      Oh wow! I’m so glad to hear you like Whitman and Dickinson! Thank you for reading and for sharing that with me!

      July 30, 2023 at 2:17 pm

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