Making ‘progress’

I’m unhappy with my blog appearance. I’m quite disappointed with myself, I mean I’m an artist and I can (sort of) code and I’ve done absolutely nothing to prettify my blog! I designed my whole site and I can’t even come up with one of my own images for this blog, it is truly pitiful. Let’s see what I can do.

On to what I wanted to talk about: progress, in inverted commas..

Firstly yoga. Now I haven’t been practicing yoga for too long, just over 3 years now but because of the place physically where I started (fairly unfit and inflexible) the pattern has been I do asanas and I get ‘better’ at them. By ‘better’ I mean I can hold them for longer/ go deeper/ balance better. As a self-defeating pessimist (or as my dad likes to call himself: a ‘realist’) I have reminded myself that this can’t continue. I won’t continue to get stronger and more flexible forever and ever until I can twist myself up and sit in a fridge like in an old-fashioned freakshow. I have reminded myself of the facts that well all know but don’t want to acknowledge: we all get ill, we all suffer and we all die. I will get ill and injured and anyway I’ll probably die before I can get to do my fridge-trick. I tell myself this.

Except that my acknowledgement of this true fact has been undermined in the past three years by my not getting injured and rarely getting ill. At most it’s only been three occasions I haven’t been able to practice for any extended period of time. Usually it’s one or two days and these are because of my depression and it lifts fast. So I tell myself I will get injured or ill almost willing it to test my super-duper levels of acceptance at my body’s impermanence. But it doesn’t happen! Month on month I get more flexible, stronger, more able to balance. There is not one area of my asana practice that has got harder.

So now I’m finding myself getting attached to the idea of ‘progress’. If I balance a little bit on my head in headstand or a little bit on my arms in bhujapidasana (shoulder pressing pose) this idea that I’m making ‘progress’ can sustain a good feeling for a whole day. Until the next day when I can’t balance or I’m too tired or sad to give my practice my all so I don’t ‘make progress’. These thoughts are poisonous to the wholesome come-as-you-are nature of yoga that I love. Surely it is not about ‘getting better’ surely it’s about just being? It’s strange how I know something intellectually but something, deep inside whispers: ‘if you do it more, and do it better, it’ll be better!’

The strange thing about these voices is I can acknowledge that I have this insidious, unhelpful thought but it doesn’t make it go away. This is in direct parallel to my depression recovery. I’m guessing depression is a hard thing to recover from, it’s certainly hard for me. My whole life is basically devoted to getting better from depression. So why, this little voice asks, am I not better yet? I should work harder! I should be more mindful! If I work 50% harder, devote more hours to recovering from depression I should make real progress.

All these statements are of course ridiculous. As I’ve known now for a long time, sometimes letting myself be is all the ‘progress’ I need. I calmly, patiently see what every day is like and I do what’s appropriate that day. Progress is an illusion, all we have is now. I see it, I know it, I just have to believe it.

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