When you do something every day, like taking practice, it is easy to get frustrated. It is easy to despair.
There are gross frustrations, like not being able to find balance in a posture or not being able to bind, and subtler frustrations, like finding that your breath is charging away from you or the constant intrusion of vritti’s that drag you out of your self. It is easy to, in the words of Tom Waits, look at yourself and your practice and find that, “the only thing that you can see is all that you lack.”
In practice, as in life, our progress can seem to be moving slowly, even stalling entirely. When we hit a plateau we can inaccurately see it as a failure, instead of what it really is: an opportunity to reflect, assess, make necessary changes and recommit. Maybe even take time to enjoy the view. Plateaus, just like break-throughs, are all part of the path of practice. Challenges provide heat or tapas, which burns away the things that we need to leave behind, but after every fire there is space and stillness. It is sometimes in that seeming-void where the real work can commence. And sometimes, we miss seeing our own growth; miss the opportunity to revel in the joy of it, because we are too close. If we only took a step back, we would see how far we had come.
My brother, Tim, has Autism. When he was little he never made any meaningful eye contact. For years we were told to reward him for looking in our eyes. So as a child I can remember saying, “Looking in my eyes” to Tim, and when he actually did, praising him with a vigorous, “Good looking!” That was maybe 15 or 20 years ago. Well before Tim could pour his own drink, do chores, make art or argue with me. Even before he could tell me he loved me. It is easy to despair when I think about the future, because it is long and uncertain. It is easy to wish that Tim could hold a job without support, pay bills, drive a car or meet a girl and fall in love. But when I think like that, it is easy to miss the joy of being his sister.
The other night, we were out to dinner and my husband and I were having a staring contest and Tim asked what we were doing. We explained the rules and then I asked him if he wanted to try. He did. Brother and sister faced off, literally. We did the best two out of three and twice my brother, whose face I once held in my hands, imploring him to look at me, beat me. In that moment I knew I had been looking but not seeing. Tim’s growth had been painstaking at times, but there has been so much gained. Even among those things that seem to have been lost. Tim had come so far, and I had forgotten to enjoy!
All things in this world grow at their own rate of speed. We, as people, also grow at our own rate of speed, and our practices are no different. We do ourselves a great disservice in the long run when we fail to recognize our own growth, neglect to give ourselves credit for perseverance, or refuse to show ourselves empathy and kindness when the road is rough and we are struggling. Remember, it is better to celebrate your practice. Big things come from humble beginnings and just showing up and giving your effort is no small task. But in the midst of all the effort, don’t forget to take a second, every once in a while, to be amazed by yourself. To glimpse the jewel you are working so hard to polish.