After a very long time of weekly therapy appointments with no evident change or lifting of the depression that gripped me, I one day marched into the therapist’s office to declare that I was done with trying to improve, to get better, to make changes in myself. Instead, I wanted all my therapeutic work and all my energies to focus on simply coping or, as I kept saying, I wanted to just “play the hand that has been dealt me.” The therapist took a dim view of my resolve, implying that it was nothing more than giving up, than adopting resignation as a life stance, and there was no reason for me to go that route, that he saw cause for hope, possibilities for improvement. But I would not be deterred. I was exhausted from endlessly trying to be better, especially when there was no movement nor an end in sight. As it turned out, I actually began to see change almost from that very moment. Within three months, I had a new job, abundant energy, a positive outlook.
Since that time I have kept a healthy skepticism towards any program or idea that lifts up self-improvement and unlimited progress either for an individual or a cause—because I just cannot anymore believe that human lives and the world in general are wired for progress. Not that we cannot get better in some ways, become more skillful in what we do, how we live. But a mantra I once heard in yet another self-improvement course, “every day in every way I’m getting better, better, better” does not make sense to me nor accord with how my life has unfolded, how I have seen the lives of others unfold. We move along by fits and starts, our life paths include frequent switchbacks and detours, and too much focus on getting better means we are always disparaging where we might be at the moment, overlooking the present and what it might hold that is meaningful, in search of what lies ahead and the belief that whatever lies ahead is so, so superior to what exists right now.
Of course any of us can always be better than we are at present; of course I will work on myself to live more compassionately, to love more fully. But no such efforts need to replace being balanced by a recognition that what is here, who I am today, is good enough. Spiritual traditions of all kinds urge us to be willing to be in the present moment. I imagine that includes a willingness to be the self I am presently, in the present moment. And to find in all that all I need.