Today’s Guest Post is from an old friend, the charming, the wise, the always slightly dancing, Kripa Gressel. After spending this short time with her I am sure that you’ll be on the growing list of those encouraging her to start a blog. Thank you Kripa for your words.
When Sreejit invited me to write a guest post for the Dungeon I was a bit baffled. I’m quite shy, and get easily derailed with my writing projects, so I asked him for a prompt. He brought up the topic of “goodness” and living a good and worthy life. It took me weeks to gestate that topic into a form that I could recognize, and then the day before he wanted it I deleted my entire draft and started from scratch. It is such an all-consuming concept, and yet so peripheral to so many aspects of our lives that really understanding how we relate to it is daunting.
It turns out, goodness has been a constant contemplation for me – whether trying to escape being a good daughter to parents who enrolled me in elementary schools that taught meditation and principles of Hindu spirituality, (where being good was not optional but mandatory), or really contemplating the nature of goodness, and having to constantly revise my relationship to it.
This contemplation, however came and went a couple of times, and a true interest in goodness, or living an inherently good life, never really stuck until I was in my mid-twenties. However, each iteration of understanding something as vast and, frankly, overwhelming as “what is good?” has propelled me through the years in search of a truth that cannot be tainted by my own equally vast and overwhelming fickleness.
When this interest struck me the first time I was about 14 years old, living in a tiny mid-western town filled with passive-aggressive meditators and farmers, begging my parents to let me move to India to live in Amma’s ashram, where I perceived that good was the only way of life, and by being there I would inevitably be better. They relented, and this was around the time that I started grappling with these concepts.
An adolescent view of goodness and being good is, or was for me, at least, quite limited. Shortly after moving to India, I suddenly became the image of responsibility, respect, sweetness and willingness to do as I was told. I really thought that if I was a traditionally ‘good girl’, my life would be easier, better, somehow less painful than the first fourteen years of my life.
Three years later, disillusioned with that idea and pissed off at the world, I thought, “screw being a good girl! I should enjoy myself.” I was my own person who could make my own decisions. The act of becoming responsible for myself was the highest possible form of goodness; so I went back to my home town, worked three jobs, learned how to party, and threw myself into a life where pursuit of pleasure was what it meant to live a good life.
I was miserable. I hated everything about my life – I was lonely and disconnected. I hated the superficiality of the people I was surrounded by; I hated working so hard and achieving so little that I felt mattered. What I hated the most, however, was the fact that I kept thinking that if I worked a little harder, partied a little bit more, followed my passion farther into whatever hobby-du-jour I was dabbling in, I would feel fulfilled, and that fulfillment would make me a good person with a life worth living. Because inevitably it always failed, reaching for that little bit extra, pushing for that inescapable more.
It wasn’t until my college plans got derailed at 18 that I started doubting the pursuit of external goals and pleasures as a good and worthy way to spend my time and energy. I remember once being so struck by how much of my life I’d wasted until that point, and how disappointed I was that my efforts had yielded such paltry result. I started writing a list of vows – all to the effect of becoming a better person, but most specifically with regards to becoming a good friend, sister, daughter, and spiritual seeker.
It was the first three that fermented in my mind for several years. I wanted to be the proverbial good people. Salt of the earth, authentic. Maybe not perfect, but always honest and hardworking. I was convinced that by being good in relation to the other people in my life, in finding integrity within those relationships, and in my attitude that my life would become a worthy pursuit. There is goodness in this type of life, but my oversimplification of what that meant – what a life like that looked like – caused me to have a complete crisis of faith. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, and I started vacillating between choosing to become a nun, converting to Judaism and joining an ultra-orthodox community in Jerusalem, or moving down to Kentucky and finding a nice southern boy to marry and have a million kids.
Needless to say “good” was not something I was doing right at that point.
Throughout this whole process I was traveling, living in India, doing volunteer work throughout the world, and going to college. Other people and their opinions of what is good constantly surrounded me. Many of them were imposed upon me. I traveled through enough different cultures and witnessed enough differences in what was supposed to be good that it all became a bit arbitrary. Arbitrary goodness. What does that even mean? None of it seemed to matter much, in the long run.
It was at that point that I started remembering my list of vows, and the last pursuit on that list. Since none of the other ideas of goodness had panned out, perhaps it was time to pursue an internal, spiritual life, or God – and explore what goodness meant within that context.
Except I had no bloody clue what that meant. Where did I even start?
As I made inroads towards this subject, I started to doubt that I was concerned with either thing – spiritual life or God. I knew I couldn’t quite picture my life without either one of them, but was I really interested in making those kinds of commitments and sacrifices? Becoming so…spiritual? Was a traditionally spiritual path the only way to be a good spiritual seeker?
I was wracked with guilt, believing myself to be a failure at something that was – according to my parents, my community, and my upbringing – the only worthwhile path in life. One evening I was speaking with a woman whose wisdom I value above all others, and I voiced this guilt, this lack of goodness that was inherent in me. Her response?
“No problem. Who says you have to want to be spiritual in order to find God? All you have to do is learn to be compassionate and kind. This will open up every door upon that path, and God will find you.”
When I heard this I was shocked, and felt more than a little relief. I had never thought of it like that before, and to hear something as profound as that said aloud was a huge weight off of my shoulders. With little contemplation of the idea, I embraced it whole-heartedly.
I believe it is called a spiritual path for a reason. Paths are uneven; they have cracks and stones, and we all stumble along as best we can. It’s only been a few years since the idea of compassion and kindness have blossomed into a pursuit of goodness for me, but in this time I’ve come to realize that the pursuit of “goodness” in all shapes and forms has only allowed me to find more compassion within myself for others who may be struggling with the question of “what is good.” As I continue to stumble along, I pray for others’ compassion towards me, and try to remember that everyone understands good just a little bit differently.
Writer, Thinker, Cook, Fixer, Traveler,
Lover of life, with a stare-you-down look
that is capable of making you rethink
the mischief that you are
about to engage in.