The Idea of Progress

Today, I gave myself rest. I felt very unhappy yesterday, and dreamed that I was given a poison-tip cigarette.

Sometimes I think my compulsiveness trumps (nay, even precludes) self-care.

I note how many people tell me: “Do not be so hard on yourself,” “Stop working so hard,” and other comments in that vein which do not exactly make sense to me. In my mind, I am never working hard enough. People tell me these things, and I think, “Mm, well, when I reach my goals, I will take a break.”

But what I learned this morning is sometimes your body will insist on a break even when you do not want one. I already took Monday off from the gym! I told myself. (That was the day of my intense yoga experience.) Cannot take Friday off, too!

But I did not even consciously hear my alarm; and slept an extra hour.

I feel much better.

Once again we find the body self-regulating: doing what is best for it beyond the reach of the very demanding mind. It is funny; we tell ourselves how left to its own devices the body will just demand the couch and potato chips etc etc. We are taught not to trust our instincts and to use our will to overcome our “natural sloth”.

But our instincts are what brought us many thousands of years to where we are today (no comment for the moment on political and other issues). I just mean, alive. The more I build strength at the gym, tenacity and perseverence in daily exercise, and self-awareness in yoga, I find that when you really listen to the body and its messages, it has SO much to tell you.

So much it can be overwhelming. If there’s impediment to progress in reality it’s the mind projecting things onto the body: what we think is best for it; what we think it desires. The body has a much quieter voice than the mind but much smarter. It is not easy to learn to listen to it and takes many years, at least, it has in my experience. There are many strata of mental garbage and physical knots blocking access to that flow of intelligence which is more like a stream than anything else.

I am always so afraid to take a break because it is a slippery slope: If I don’t go to the gym now, then maybe tomorrow I’ll say the same thing, and the day after (“Oh I deserve a break”), over and over until we are back to sloth and overeating.

But I note the use of the word “afraid” in the above paragraph. Fear is definitely not the best basis on which to make decisions. I need to learn how to both listen to my body and stop being afraid of some “force of sloth” within me that will overtake me if I do not willpower it into servitude.

Of course I am sad when I do not have time or energy to make the gym or the workout I had intended — in a perfect world, that is what I do all day. I cannot tell you how much more at peace I feel in my body now that I am beginning to gain upper body strength and look more like an athlete. My roommate last night admired my “ripped” arms, which I had been fearing all day were showing no progress. I admired my powerful appearance in the mirror and felt, “This is what I have wanted to be all my life”: not skinny, not sexy-lady, but strong and powerful and capable and muscular and fit.

I encountered deep feelings of shame along with that pride, too. The idea that I am not “feminine” and am embracing a borderline genderless appearance, “more like a boy than a girl.” I have always felt like this inside; but people have made me feel ashamed about it, that I should be more effeminate, that I should not have such masculine characteristics such as aggression and strength and intelligence and should instead be meek and subservient and doting.

I love my femininity too; understand, I grew up in the 80s to parents born in the 40s. There has been a lot of change in gender relations and identity politics since World War II. I am very saddened to see the rolling back of the progress that has been made.

Last night, I ran into a friend of mine who is quite liberal and whom I have not seen in ten years. We were talking, talking, talking and I mentioned an article I had read by an LGBTQ activist that I thought she might enjoy, as it contained much doomsday prediction, something she had been expressing our whole conversation. However, she made a slight face when looking it up, and then began to speak about how she is “not so sure that all this individuality is progress,” suddenly really not making much sense at all, after nearly an hour of intelligent, coherent conversation. “I just feel like, there are a lot of reasons for people to be sad, and to assume that it’s your body or gender making you sad, well, people shouldn’t have those boxes.”

I really had no idea at this point what she was trying to say; but it slowly became clear she is Christian. This was interesting to me because in every other topic she was utterly intelligent and incredible thoughtful and articulate (in fact she is a college professor), but when it came to this conservative dogma, suddenly she was vague; using this shadowy bigoted language to hint at the idea that people cannot or should not be what it is in their hearts because it “erodes values.”

Vague, vague, vague — it no longer sounded like her talking, but something speaking through her (bigotry; dogma). I just looked at her but did not respond, feeling pretty shocked but also sad inside and hurt for reasons that I could not quite articulate but understood when looking at my newly muscled physique in the mirror. I think she noted my discomfort and quickly changed the topic because she is a smart woman and apparently sensitive.

I am happy that now in 2017 no matter the fears we have about the future it is totally cool to be both strong and a girl, to be outspoken and rough and intimidating and generally awesome while female.

I am happy too that I can feel most comfortable in a boyish state and self-presentation while also having the freedom to play with my femininity, wear skirts, “look pretty,” mess around with those concepts. It can be hard and painful to overcome the self-hatred that is fed into you when as a child you unknowingly express concepts or ideas or self-presentations that challenge others’ ideas of the norm. The real “boxes” — referring to my acquantaince’s commentary — are the ones that cause us to slowly self destruct, to push ourselves so hard not because we want to improve or be the best we can but because we think we must fundamentally change.

I prefer to hold both thoughts inside: “I am awesome!” and “I can be so much better!” Change not driven by self-hatred or feelings of insufficiency or anything like that but instead out of a healthy, intuitive desire to have a better, happier, healthier, more peaceful and productive and fulfilling life.