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You’re doing fine

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is exactly that I’m doing here. I’ve been at the monastery for nearly two weeks now, and there’s this constant low-grade question of “am I doing enough?”

Am I going hard enough into my meditations? (no.) Am I actually pushing myself fully during exercise periods? (hell no.) Why am I not opting to do every activity that the residents are doing? (because I don’t want to.)

Why am I here, if I’m not going to push myself hard? (…)

I call this voice “the striver”. It’s the one that’s always reminding me of my priorities, the one telling me to have high standards for myself, the one that’s always trying to improve every situation.

It’s not a bad voice. I’m happy to have it. But, taken on its own, it’s obsessive and ultimately harmful.

Yesterday during lunch, I shared that I had been having this low-grade stress of wondering whether I’m doing enough, and some of the residents expressed that it was a very normal worry and that they sometimes had it too.

Today I was ruminating on it further. I stopped shovelling snow after 30 minutes because I just wanted to be inside and warm and I wanted to pee, even though the exercise period wasn’t over. I was thinking about this evening’s optional schedule and how I would probably skip it. I was thinking about how I skipped yesterday’s optional schedule, and probably shouldn’t have. I was thinking how I really wanted something sweet for breakfast, and how I keep letting myself be comforted by food instead of even trying to work with those cravings.

And then this other little voice popped up – an exasperated, slightly angry, but intensely loving voice —

Okay, motherfucker.

Do you know what you were doing a few months ago? You were waking up, immediately beginning to do work, working until exhausted, and then getting drunk and stoned with your friends in the evenings in an effort to relax your mind a bit before starting the process again the next day. On a good day, you were maybe meditating for ten minutes in the day. Maybe you even ate a few vegetables or went on a ten-minute run.

Look at what you’re doing now. You’re meditating for hours every day. You’re doing chanting practice. You’re exercising daily. Your diet is almost entirely comprised of fruits and vegetables and grains and nuts. You’re paying close attention to your body and your mind. And you’re still managing to do your work.

Lower your fucking bar.

You’re doing fine.

5 thoughts on “You’re doing fine”

  1. I’ve been enjoying the updates, and yah, it sounds like you’re doing a good job of easing into it so you don’t burn yourself out on it.

    I know I missed the part where people suggested exercises for you to attempt, but mine would’ve been: try to get into chinups, if you can get to 100 pushups, or figuring out how to do a planche (always wanted to do the last two personally but never quite made it).

  2. I have many thoughts about this. I have a striver in me as well, but I actually view it as a bit of self-delusion because what it does is keep me busy so that I don’t have to face the prospect of death and the meaninglessness of life. I watch it go, and go along for the ride, but I can’t get too caught up in its demands because the minute I try to take those goals too seriously, I ask Why. Why do I need to be better at dancing? That’s the main question that comes up. There’s no answer. And if I look too long at that unanswerable question, my motivation ebbs away. What’s underneath that? From here, it looks like a freefall, into what I’m not sure.

    I’m suspicious of anything that makes me feel like there’s some sort of external answer I’m getting closer to. Like being the best dancer in the world would give me a reason for living. It would not. So I back away from that urge to make it mean something, and just get on board with the striving, kind of on the terms that feel most comfortable to me. I view it as a part of the way I am thrown into this existence. It’s part of my character. There are a few ways to interact with it – I can latch on and be overly focused on the goal; I can step back and devalue the goal (and the process along with it); or I can move with it, observe its movements, see where it takes me. I tend to stick with the final one. It doesn’t give me an answer, but it also sort of releases me from grasping at the question. It feels the least self-delusional, though I am curious about what’s at the bottom of that void that opens up beneath the running. I’m kind of laughing at myself while I run, watching the path crumble to pieces just a few footfalls behind me. Isn’t the universe glorious?

    I have the second voice as well. It’s not pissed at me, it’s kind of just internally verbalizing an enjoyment of my own character and experiences. It’s humming in the background, but the few times I’ve tried meditation, the volume comes up and I’m like jesus am I just made of self-esteem? Is this like, a problem I should be concerned about? This voice is not 100% present all the time, though. Comparison of myself with others is like flipping a switch and I’m on a different channel. It’s why I love performance and hate competition. Oddly enough, it’s not absent when I’m depressed – it’s just drowned out by the noise of self-criticism. Depression isn’t about comparison with others for me. It’s a turning inward of problems that for whatever reason are intractable at the time. I’ve identified the patterns of thought as a symptom of whatever depression is – they basically just don’t happen when I’m not in that condition.

    It’s all me, it shifts around, there’s tons of consistency and repeating patterns that only become more ingrained over time. I don’t see the need to fight it, for the same reason I can’t convince myself that achieving external goals will provide some sort of ultimate validation. Any changes to my habits serve proximal goals which are subject to the same ultimate meaninglessness as everything else. There’s a step to the side, a way of watching, that doesn’t so much change the experience as make it more lucid. I think that’s the only value I’ve found that doesn’t immediately succumb to the void when I look at it straight on. Maybe if I sat for some months in a monastery, though, it would too.

  3. DAMN this is a great post. It’s just so good, so well said, so honest and vulnerable. You write like all my favourites authors: putting out there a personal account of something you’re going through, in a way that by the end makes me want to shout, “ME TOO!”

    I’ve had a terribly stressful week, diving into some deep pools of anxiety about work that brought along with it some self doubt and more than a healthy dose of self-criticism. So thank you for this. It really hit home with me and reminded me to zoom out, to see the bigger picture about how far I’ve come and that overall, things are fine.

    But I also want to ignore that and give you kudos for this, an enthusiastic high-five for putting yourself out there like this, sharing your thoughts. I love hearing about where you are and what you’re going through there. The world is a better place for it.

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