by Greg Hermann
“Progress, not perfection.”
Last week, we pondered the practice of setting a New Year’s Resolution. With my history of failed resolutions, I shared a personal challenge of re-shaping the resolution from a ‘to do’ statement to a ‘to be’ intention. I suggested that, for me at least, a ‘to be’ intention offers me an opportunity to observed the results of my acts of being rather than judging whether or not I did something. Self-study (a niyama, svadhaya) is an opportunity to reflect without judging. This attitude of observation has offered me a mindset that moves me forward and growing rather than passing or failing.
As I continue to reflect on a New Year’s intention of being, I am drawn to the niyamas again, specifically to santosha (contentment) and tapas (self-discipline). These offer a parallel to the Christian virtues as reflected in the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5: 22-23).
Santosha – contentment: “comes from an experience of acceptance of life, of ourselves, and of whatever life has brought us.” This has been a persistent challenge for me as I am frequently comparing myself to others, comparing my stuff to what others possess, and wishing for more. This has left me believing that I am less than others. From this mindset, I am unable to experience Spiritual gifts such as faithfulness – I put faith in material possessions which conflict with love of God, self and others. I find it difficult to experience peace as I am not accepting of the blessings house, stuff, talents...... Further, I am not able to truly appreciate you with your gifts and talents.
Tapas – self-discipline: this one relates directly to Spiritual gifts of faithfulness and self-control. A more literal definition of ‘tapas’ is heat, or the energy of desire. Another perspective is focus – how and where do I direct my energy.
As an addict, contentment and focus are major challenges. My addictive nature keeps me in a constant state of judgement and failure; self-control - - - NOT; focus is on my next source of self-absorption.
So – how does one practice a state of being and observation rather than doing and judging?
Those of us whom have studied and practiced any teaching of peace, self-control, focus, etc. have heard the same response from a wide variety of resources:
We have been challenged over and over to learn how to enter in to a state of quiet and stillness. So, how is your practice going?
I have set an ardent intention to meditate daily. I have to share that my initial years of meditation resulted in a very inconsistent practice of meditation. About five years ago, one of my readings challenged me to practice with “ardent effort”. Hmmmm? For me, this translated into an intentional act of will. More challenging was to surrender my will with an ardent intent to a Higher Power.
Yes, this seems to be going in circles. However, that is how my meditation practice unfolds. There is a circular energy of an ardent intention, focused practice, self-observation, and renewal of the ardent intention and surrender. Yes, this means that I am not perfect in my daily practice. Rather, when I miss, I study the circumstances and reflect on how I will grow from the observations.
Yes, this is progress and not perfection. Contentment – accepting of my progress – is what keeps me going. Otherwise, my judgmental, addictive nature keeps me in a state of self-defeat, abandoning my practice. That is a circle of energy I do not wish to visit again as it keeps me isolated in a message of failure.
Connection, honesty, people to accept me for who and where I am, these are the gifts that keep me moving forward. This is our practice of progress, with reminders that perfection isn’t needed for us to love each other. That gives me hope to grow to love myself a bit more.
I will end here for now, in a state of gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to take these few moments to sit quietly, ponder our relationships, and look forward to the New Year, one day at a time, one tear at a time, one hug at a time, one act of forgiveness at a time.............