“Have I made enough progress? ” she asked, electric anxiety coursing through her words, and a certain familiar tremble in her voice. What is the true question, I wondered. Is she enough now? Is she worthy now, of love, of attention, of respect? Could she finally rest? Echoes of questions that I have posed to my own mirror, a visceral knowing that this thirst cannot be quenched by oceans of water. A desperate longing to simply be okay, for no good reason other than living and breathing. We all want to believe in our better selves, she who shimmers in the far off imagined future. She who is thinner, smarter, always knows what to say. She who is popular, stylish, and more mindful of course. And she who is nothing but a mirage, an illusion, that disappears each time she is touched. There is no progress. Only circling back to yourself, Wrinkles, scars, failures, and all. You are deserving of all you long for and need. All of it. Nothing more to do, and no one else to be. So take this girl as is. Love her fierce, without rule, without exception, and watch her fly free the way she was always destined to soar.
A patient of mine asked me the other day whether she had made enough progress in the last year. She was looking for reassurance that she was working hard enough in her therapy, that she had in fact come a long way as a result of her effort. There were so many complex layers to her question.
The very word “progress” implied that we were trying to reach a destination or a goal, somewhere other than here, where she would be better, and maybe life would be better too. The word “progress” indicated that who she was in the present moment simply wasn’t good enough, and that if she just tried harder, worked harder, she could become a “new and improved” version of herself.
I get it. I really do. We are all on some version of our own quest for self improvement. We are trying to lose weight or be better parents or meditate more often.
I am not sure if it is time, mothering, or the practice of psychiatry, which makes me wonder about this destination we are all trying to reach. Is it possible that the very effort we put into being different, sends us the message that we are not okay as we are? Is it possible that the process of continuously working towards something greater, sends us the message that our current state is somehow less than?
Is it possible that self improvement is another way that we insidiously impose standards of perfection upon ourselves?
Looking back, I realize that my entire life has been about accomplishing bigger and better goals. But that has been its own special kind of tyranny, masked as the admired traits of achievement and motivation and perseverance. As I settle into this middle phase of life, I want to release some of that self imposed pressure, and simply meet myself as I am now, good enough or not. I want to sink into the small, ordinary moments, finding the reward of a weekend nap or reading with my children, as beyond enough. I want to love the life I live, even if it is messy and imperfect.
I can’t do that if I am trapped in the restlessness of always striving for more.
I don’t mean that we shouldn’t work towards our goals, especially the ones that we find meaningful and contribute to our overall sense of joy and purpose. But perhaps we try to find that delicate balance between accepting and loving ourselves exactly as we are, and letting our efforts towards change organically evolve from a place of self acceptance, rather than self criticism. Allowing ourselves to surrender to all the glorious life that unfolds in those small blank spaces, in between when “real life” happens.
We could spend our whole lives trying to get somewhere. I know I already have. Moving forward, can the process of growth be one of love and curiosity, rather than pressure? Otherwise, I wonder whether reaching the destination is worth all that was sacrificed to get there.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in noticing the subtle messages (from inside and outside) about the need to be different and better somehow than who you are in this moment. Where do those messages originate from? In what small ways can we start to release standards of growth and perfectionism and move towards acceptance of who we are in this exact moment?
With gratitude, Monisha