Tributes Home Page    PDF Format

Tributes to Godwin

...we all deserve to experience the kindness that Godwin pointed towards in his teaching...

by Robert Anthony Young III

originally published here

For about 2 years, my psychiatric practice has become increasingly focused on working with clients who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Working with BPD clients came about directly from my exposure to meditation when studying in India during college. Inadvertently, my first Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) teacher was Godwin Samararatne though I am not certain that he would have even known what BPD was. Besides teaching meditation and insight development, Godwin kept repeating a certain question over and over again - Can you be friends with yourself?

There is so much depth to this phrase that I am still thinking about it almost 20 years later. To Godwin, being friends with ourself was not about just those parts that we want to show to others, it was about being friends with our entire self.

The self that Godwin pointed to included both our desirable and undesirable personality attributes. Meditation was a practice to see who we actually were without trying to change anything about ourselves. Through concentration on our breath, one can have moments when we watch our thoughts and emotions with a certain dispassionate kindness.

This practice for me meant becoming aware of some wounds of childhood, the sadness that still lingered, as well as recognizing how the fast paced life in America left me dizzied and unaffected by more simple things such as the sunrise, the wind, my feet on the ground. I could say the meditation brought a calmness to life, but I think it is more correct to say that it allowed me to recognize the stillness that was always present.

Recognizing this stillness allowed my mind to stay calm, long enough to open up to the possibility that even though I had insecurities and desires that sometimes caused me not to have the most equanimous emotions, that this was ok. It was ok if I was angry or sad, it was ok if I was happy or mad. The practice of meditation helped me to recognize that there was a lot more ok going on with me than I had ever imagined, even if I was not always the most wonderful person.

Having emotions, even if those emotions were intense and powerful, so much so that they could not be controlled was all part of the practice of meditation and being friends with yourself. And, this was in stark contrast to what we are often taught, and I found this perspective far more liberating. Being with my struggles and offering them the tenderness of being included in my whole personality meant that I was not divided, I was not trying to be something that I was not, and interestingly the intensity of the emotion subsided.

Over the years, this practice began to sink in more and more. I began to view others in a similar way and develop the insight, from a therapeutic standpoint, that we were often trying to get rid of all the parts of ourselves that we thought were not appropriate or good enough. This is such a tragic way to live and causes so much suffering, and I have been blessed to have several good teachers along the way to help me experience the freedom of including all the parts of ourself into our heart, of being friends with yourself.

For this reason, when I started practicing as a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner I quickly gravitated to those individuals who suffered profoundly. Not because I had a way to fix them, but because the simple compassionate teaching that I was taught originally about being friends with yourself was unfortunately not something that every person has been taught. Moreover, even fewer people are taught the skill, meditation/mindfulness, that facilitates not only being able to tolerate ourselves but being able to love and be friends with ourselves.

My clients that struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder have very passionate, very intense, and I would now dare to say very special emotions. Because of the profound nature of these emotions and how others react to them, it has become very easily and habitual for my clients to struggle to be friends with themselves. Their experiences of being marginalized and misunderstood by those closest to them and even many in the mental health field is extremely infuriating, even humiliating. This negative reinforcement robs them of the very deep, very timeless, and extremely important truth that we all deserve to experience the kindness that Godwin pointed towards in his teaching on how to be friends with ourselves.

For the BPD individual, this can be exceptionally challenging as the powerful emotions they experience can lead to impulsive or extreme behaviors that 'common sense' would indicate we should shun, repress, avoid, and most certainly not be friends with. Yet, my first DBT teacher, Godwin Samararatne would say that these are the most important emotions for use to reach out to. To reach out to ourselves in our most vulnerable moments or our most spiteful hatred or irrational anger and rage, this is what it means to be friends with ourself.

I work with persons that struggle with BPD, and mental illness in general, because being friends with yourself is a deep question, it is a constant practice, and this work is the essence of that practice. To be friends with myself is also to be friends with the other selves (the other people) in the world in which I live. We all deserve this kindness, it is tragic that there are people who have to struggle so much to experience a truth that a simple man from Sri Lanka pointed me towards many years ago - we all deserve kindness, we all deserve happiness and to have a practice to deeply ask the question - Can you truly be friends with your whole self?

As was said so often -

May all beings be happy, peaceful, and free from suffering!