We are in high season for the "before" and "after" pictures, and we live in a culture that loves, loves, loves a good before and after photo shoot. So before you pick out an imaginary "after" picture for yourself (whether our own personal "after" imaginings involve finally resolving some pain or mobility issue, or fitting back into your pre-holiday-treats-pants) just take a moment to ponder the nuttiness. When we exist in a culture that spends so much time sending us the messages that: A) Your present self is somehow faulty and B) The imagined future is what matters the most, we, er, sort of lose touch with the present tense. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Reggie Ray's article Busyness is Laziness, " By being busy you are basically giving away your human existence.". Yikes. How about this: by living in the after photo, you are basically giving away your human existence. Because you're not around for it. You're waiting to be in the after photo.
Put another way, Pema Chodron has said (I'm paraphrasing), "self-improvement is a subtle aggression against who we actually are." Oof. That's a profound one. All of this "be better, do better, reach higher" stuff is, I think, a pretty profound cultural veil that we live under which gives us the constant, subtle message that we suck.
So, hey, let's all just give up on dreams and goals and go eat cookies on the couch!
Before you think that I am either preaching from on high or that I don't ever have goals or ambitions, that's not what I'm saying. I am happier since I paid off all my debt, lost the extra 20 pounds I was carrying around from my son (until he was 3, mind you), rehabilitated my body out of pain, built my private practice, etc, etc. Those were all goals that I met and I am grateful every day to have done those things.
But the thing about goals is that they happen in the present tense. Each little action is what creates your future, and if you are asleep to it, you miss out. I've written before about the fact that there is no such thing as being "done" or "finished" with anything, and I guess that's my real beef with the magical idea of the after shot. Getting attached to the after shot allows us to believe that somehow, someday, we will be done and frozen into our "after" selves and we don't have to show up for anything anymore.
I remember the first time I had a private yoga lesson with my first teacher Jonathan Fitzgordon and knowing my history he asked me, as he was evaluating my movement and alignment, how long I had been working to rehabilitate my body. I did a little quick math and (that being probably 2004) I said that it had been 7 years.
When I said it I felt a little bit deflated because here I was, 7 years later, as a Rolfing practitioner no less, and I still couldn't forward fold much at all and I had a good handful of pain and alignment issues. Sure it was significantly better than it had ever been, but it was still, blech, so unsatisfactory.
Then Jonathan did the most amazing thing. Instead of giving me a, "Wow we've still really got a lot of work to do", or even a, "Huh. Ok then." Jonathan gave me a huge gift. He said, "Wow that is so amazing that you are on this journey with your body. Most people are just looking for a way to stop working on their stuff and you've dedicated all these years to it and you keep going. That's so sweet." If you met Jonathan you would know he wasn't blowing sunshine where the sun don't shine. He has this very unflappable, grounded way about him. I really felt him reflecting back to me a kind of awe about the work I was doing to feel good in my body.
I'll never forget that because it was the moment I regained the present tense. I had been devoted to this idea of "Brooke the perfectly aligned, pain free, effortlessly mobile goddess" when instead I was "Brooke the person who has dedicated her life to living in her body the best she can moment to moment", which, quite frankly, is the kind of person I want to be.
Because then I get to have those moments where I find some new space in my body, or solve some new movement puzzle. Before Jonathan gifted me the present tense I would have seen those moments as still somehow falling short, because absolute perfection had not yet been obtained. And it would have been really unfortunate to keep missing all those little micro wins or explorations and judging them as inferior.
We endlessly sex up the appeal of instant gratification even though it's a myth. I wish I had a banner I could fly that says, "Glacial progress is super sexy!" It may not be sexy per se, but if we can lean into it it does create a nourishing life and real, incremental, built-in-the-present-tense satisfaction.
This year, instead of yearning towards an after shot why not try instead to, as my teacher Jill Miller says, "Be a student of your body." Be a student of your body, of this life, of this moment, of all of it. That's the whole point!
Happy 2014 Fascia Freedom Fighters!!