People might wonder, what does it mean to "recover" from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Most seem to believe that emotional sensitivity and other tendencies will always be present, but the symptoms can definitely be managed and decreased significantly. It takes determination, self-advocacy, a valuable support network, and a will to create a life worth living.
Still, what do we recover? For so many with BPD, a persistent, chronic feeling of emptiness may be all we remember. Perhaps we can't remember a life before the pain, neglect, or abuse we may have fallen prey to in childhood. I have wondered this myself quite a bit as I can see symptoms of BPD in myself as far back as I can remember. Still, I have to believe that there is something healing and life-affirming to recover, or rather... remember. I believe that thing is our Basic Goodness.
A couple months ago, I went to my local Shambhala Meditation Center. The Shambhala Buddhist path is a form of Western Buddhism that combines the teachings of the Kagyu and Nyingma traditions of Tibetan Buddhism with the unique Shambhala teachings for those who are curious. When I went that night, I participated in an hour-long sitting meditation followed by tea and a "Dharma talk." It was all so needed. The focus of the Dharma talk was on "Basic Goodness and The Mind of Meditation." The title of this discussion intrigued me so much as someone who struggles with shame and also practices meditation on a regular basis.
Basic Goodness, or Buddha Nature, is, in many ways, the polar opposite of the concept of Original Sin. I grew up believing that, "I was conceived in iniquities, and in sin did my mother bear me." Such are the words of Psalm 51 (50 in the Eastern Orthodox Church), which I heard and read constantly as a child and adolescent. They were part of the morning hours and prayers I recited as a young convert to the Eastern Orthodox Church. I was told that my nature, my true self, even as I developed in my mother's womb, was sinful, defiled, evil, and against all things holy. Maybe I resonated so much with the monastic prayers, because they seemed to "meet me where I was at" when I converted at age 11. After all, despite this basic sinfulness, there was salvation offered if one was "good" enough. Only now do I fully understand how toxic and harmful these words were to my emotional development. All they did were underscore the messages that were already being sent to me through sexual abuse and a generally invalidating environment at different points during my life. I can choose to structure my spiritual belief system in healthier, more authentic and fulfilling way now though. I want my spirituality to be something that feeds me rather than tearing me down in hopes that my self-flagellation will guarantee some sort of salvation.
I find the concept of Basic Goodness to more accurately reflect my worldview when in Wise Mind. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches us that Wise Mind is the balanced meeting place of Emotional Mind and Reason Mind. So when I feel most balanced and myself, sitting with things from a place of peace, I tend to notice the Basic Goodness in not only the world around me, but also in myself.
Meditation is an excellent way to access Wise Mind. The process of simply observing our thoughts and feelings, being fully present in our environment, and focusing on our breath acknowledges all states of mind. It's easy to get caught up in emotions during meditation, and this is not bad. In fact, it's normal. You cannot do meditation wrong, if you simply notice that you were distracted or overwhelmed and make an effort to non-judgmentally bring your awareness back to the present moment. This is the "mind of meditation." Acknowledging that we are not perfect, that we can get distracted, but deciding to bring our awareness to the present is the process. In fact, in this way, all of life can be like a meditation. Maybe the "mind of meditation" is the full-participation which seems to be the ultimate goal of core mindfulness in DBT.
We may beat up on ourselves and depart into feelings of shame, but that is more our Emotional Mind talking. If we come into the present, into Wise Mind, perhaps we will find that the present is just what it ought to be. It may not be what we want it to be, but it is the culmination of everything that preceded it. However, the present is not ruled by the past. The present, simply is. The present is a clean-slate, a new opportunity, and it holds the potential for change. I'd say that's pretty darn good. In this way, the present moment reminds us of Basic Goodness.
I'd like to think that the moment I was brought into existence on this planet was a basically good moment as well. It was a moment of wondrous potential, of new life. All of us, when brought into this world, find ourselves here, and our bodies and minds are the site of this potential. Maybe that's what we can recover or remember. Maybe recovery is simply trying to fully participate in this present moment, and to treat that moment as an opportunity to create a life worth living. Maybe, like meditation, we cannot do recovery "wrong" if we simply notice our departure from that state of mind and, without as much judgment as possible, bring ourselves back to the perfect, present moment.
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