A bit of faith, every day. And I can be happy.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to hold myself to high standards, and often fall short of them.
I want to practice positive habits every day and am pleased when I manage it for a reasonable stretch. But not accepting that I am human, and flawed, and will inevitably fall short of my own ideals – that’s perfectionism, and it’s counter-productive to happiness.
I was feeling super-proud (and yes, a little smug) to manage my 30 day yoga challenge and at the same time I realised I had also meditated every day for 100+ days. In my head, I felt like ‘I’ve arrived! I’m now a confucian machine of positive daily habits. I’ve finally cracked the code!’
Then I came crashing down to earth and all it took was a single sleepless night to knock me off balance and shake my faith in the value of it all.
How can practising these daily habits be working? I asked myself. Because if it was, I wouldn’t have had this random sleepless night, throwing my whole routine into disarray.
What I forgot about was Newton’s Third Law: that ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’.
We all have to deal with the inner and outer resistance that rises up in reaction to positive efforts. In Buddhism, this would be seen as working through and facing up to our karma. Every choice we make contributes to our karmic bank account – and most of us have made some questionable ones along the way. There is work to be done to overcome that shit and it’s going to take a while.
Of course my negative, self-destructive tendencies weren’t going to be vanquished forever just by doing some yoga and meditation. The more you go towards the light, the more the darkness claws at your heels and yes, sometimes it succeeds in grabbing hold of your ankles and dragging you back into the pit of apathy and despair. Or to be less dramatic – the mundane and mediocre.
Like those days you (I) waste binge-watching another throwaway show on Netflix.
But once you know that positive light is there, you can always reach for it again and – like a lantern rising rapidly in the night sky, it will lift you clear of the swamp, back into a world where hope exists and progress is possible.
As the stoics would argue, to expect an obstacle free life is to expect something unfeasible, unreal, fantasy, false. There are unlimited obstacles in this world, and within ourselves.
Like a video game, each time we overcome one thing, we move on to the next level and the next end of level boss.
If we keep building our strength through positive habits and practices, we can deal with it. We might come perilously close to defeat multiple times, but with a bit of faith we can persevere and progress.
However perfectionism is not an end of level boss. The resistance – our cumulated karma – is not an end of level boss. Depression and chronic fatigue and loss of faith are not things to be overcome once and forever – we cannot set up permanent camp in the green fields of freedom just beyond their iron gates. These things are a constant presence, a ghoul, a circling vulture, a pervasive black dog, snapping at our heels.
I carry them with me like a soldier in training carries a backpack full of bricks.
I stand tall anyway. I get up if I fall. I continue to walk in the direction of my dreams, despite the weight of my past karma and doubts and fears. I ask the unseen powers of the universe to help me with the load, and I step forward into the unknown trusting that I can make it another day.
A bit of faith goes a long way.