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Not becoming. Just being.
Letting go and opening up to the present.
During a silent retreat last spring our teacher shared how so many of us approach meditation for self-improvement; as if we need to understand, pick apart, and work through our problems to become present.
Disguised as wholesome, he explained how approaching our practice this way actually reinforces the notion that we aren’t worthy and takes us even further from the present.
Instead, we were encouraged to approach meditation as an act of self-love. It’s a moment we carve out to put down our guards, stop worrying about the past or present, what others think of us, and to finally just be.
Uncomfortable as sitting with nothingness can feel at times, it’s a gentle reminder that despite all our areas for improvement, being present is still always available. Not something that we need to work towards or earn, but rather embrace.
What I want to share in this essay is why we should approach self-improvement in our day-to-day with this same compassion.
We live in a culture obsessed with becoming “better”
Whether it’s expectations set by parents, social media comparing ourselves to others, or even admiring the achievements of role models, modern culture is constantly pushing a mindset that we should be doing more.
Going through my own day-to-day it can often feel like second nature for my mind to find new ways to pick at myself: “I should be more committed to my work”, “I could run more races”, “I need to write more.”
It’s a treadmill of perfectionism that is constantly taking me from enjoying the moment and into my silly mind.
And what I didn’t recognize was that I was unintentionally reiterating this narrative of “not enough yet”; reminded so often I myself would start to feel unworthy as a whole.
Even during some of my most meaningful memories such as my last birthday I remember being unnecessarily stuck in my head at times; holding onto anxiety from the past and future that was completely irrelevant to the party.
It was frustrating that during a time dedicated to celebrating myself I still couldn’t detach from my inner-critic: as if I didn’t deserve to enjoy myself yet.
Fact of the matter is I didn’t need to be ‘better’- I was already stretching myself thin across my work achievements and hobbies. I just need to form a better relationship with myself and how I pursue goals.
What seemed like hard-working is actually giving into an endless cycle of discontentment. As uncomfortable as it is for me to say no to doing more, it’s become an act of love and respect to set that boundary.
Being more intentional about how we approach ‘improvement’
I don’t want to say there’s something inherently wrong with wanting to improve your situation or setting goals. It’s a beautiful thing to have dreams and aspirations.
But when we end up attaching too much to our ambitions we develop an unhealthy relationship that we can’t enjoy ourselves unless we’ve ‘earned’ it.
Except under the hood these goals are set by a never ending raised bar; getting pushed farther and farther until we finally take a step back to recognize how much of ourselves we’ve abandoned along the way of ‘becoming’ something.
Marie De Heenzel shares how it can even take until our last breaths to accept this truth:
“At the moment of utter solitude, when the body breaks down on the edge of infinity, a separate time begins to run that cannot be measured in any normal way. In the course of several days something happens, with the help of another presence that allows despair and pain to declare themselves, the dying seize hold of their lives, take possession of them, unlock their truth. They discover the freedom of being true to themselves.”
Death is such a humbling reminder of our impermanence. We are just a spec of time, and to not cherish the little moments we have is not a fulfilled life.
What I’m learning is that it is possible to be both ambitious and present. I just need to be more intentional about not letting my goals define myself, but rather approach them with curiosity.
“I am enough, but there’s always room to still challenge myself in interesting ways.”
Currently I am applying to graduate school programs, and as stressful as applications are I’m much more intentional about separating myself from the process. That way I leave plenty of capacity to embrace all the beautiful things happening in my life right now.
Even better, the easiest way to pull myself back into the present is by doing the things I love.
Carving out time to write, run outside, catch up with friends, or play piano are simple ways I reconnect with myself when caught up in my head. It’s small steps to re-learning that I always deserve to be present.