There was a time I could neither read nor write.
This idea to me is incredible. As I’m typing out these words, able to convey complex ideas using words, sentences, paragraphs, I am bewildered by the fact that there was a time that I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write.
I’m a little saddened that I can’t quite remember how I got from there to where I am today. Perhaps it’s for the better that I can’t remember…
After all, who wants to relive the constant repetition of phonics, word games, and writing exercises? Having to sound out words again and again, making the same mistakes in pronunciation? The frustration and mental torture of being unable to communicate as easily through writing as I could with speaking?
I’m sure there was once a time I looked at one of the large books in our library, turned through the pages and thought, “these symbols look crazy. who could ever understand this?”
Fast-forward to the present and I’m amazed at how I’m suddenly in this reality in which reading and understanding what I’m reading are now much more natural processes to me than they once were.
It seems like both a blessing and a curse of the mind that the memories of learning, frustration, and constant repetition have somehow disappeared, remaining as mere footnotes to my childhood.
For the past few months, in every aspect of my life, I feel a growing sense of inadequacy. The more that I learn and grow (whether in academics, professional skills, or character building), the more aware I become of just how vast the field is and as a result, how much room for improvement I have.
It is a skill in itself to be able to develop an intuition for what “ideal” means in any given field. As I get better at giving presentations and speaking, I develop a better intuition for what it means to give a good, engaging presentation. As I go deeper into my meditation practice, I develop a sense of what it means to live my entire life in a manner that is more connected and meditative. As I learn how to cook, I develop a better sense for what makes dishes good and just how vast the definition of “ideal” is depending on who is eating and what cuisine is being made.
This intuition is something that is constantly evolving; as you grow in any skill, you begin to better understand the nuances of what it means to excel in that field. However, I feel like a painter with a vision for a beautiful painting who stops after every stroke, analyzing how every error will act as an obstacle to the overall painting I’m aiming to create.
It is driving me crazy because I can’t seem to engage in any activity without noticing how I can improve and immediately feeling discouraged that I haven’t learned “enough.” It’s like a child who’s learning how to walk and immediately starts crying after every fall, refusing to get up and start walking again. Or like a person trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle and keeps feeling sad about the fact that all the pieces haven’t come together yet.
I have to keep reminding myself that mistakes are unavoidable. If I’m the captain of a ship and someone informs me that I’m headed in the entirely wrong direction – I have to take that mistake seriously. I have to learn from what went wrong and change course accordingly. But I also have to move on; it doesn’t help to keep remembering all the days that I lost because of that mistake, to just stop the ship entirely and continue questioning whether I’m fit to be a captain anymore.
I’m here. I’m driving the ship. I have to keep going.
In the Gita, a dialogue that takes place between Lord Krishna and his friend Arjuna in the middle of a battlefield, Krishna shares the concept of Karma Yoga and the idea of learning to do your work without becoming attached to the result.
This is a concept that always made sense to me at an intellectual level but one I struggle with implementing day-to-day. Of course, a doctor who focuses more on the surgery rather than the money is likely to perform the operation well. Likewise, whenever I’m not focused on the reward of good grades, I tend to learn better and perform my school work in a much more relaxed way.
However, this sense of deep discouragement I feel anytime I engage in a task, a presentation, or even writing isn’t necessarily because I’m worried about the grade or money I’m going to get at the end. With my eyes on the horizon of possibilities, I know deep down that I am capable of becoming really good at an activity or a skill – but this becomes a constant reminder that I’m not there yet.
What’s the difference between me engaging in activities now and when I was a kid? Was I always this terrified of starting the race because I knew how long it’ll take to get to the finish line? The answer seems to lie in the attitude.
Somehow my intuition and my understanding of what I’m capable of has turned into a constant self-imposed expectation that I have to achieve. Even when I know that learning takes time, that skill development is a continuous process, I become like a tadpole who is upset that it hasn’t become a frog yet (It’ll happen. Just chill. Please.).
When I was younger, I was a lot worse at most things than I am today… and yet I still managed to not get so discouraged. How did I have fun reading books even when I couldn’t understand half the words? How did I manage to know that there was so much more out there to learn and improve and yet still continue with the constant mistakes and repetitive nature of practicing? Instead of expectation, I was filled with hope. I could aspire to improve and not feel discouraged at every mistake because there was a deep wisdom that accepted the mistakes I made and understood that as long as I keep trying and adjusting, results are inevitable (though maybe not in the way I might envision it).
So where does that leave me?
This is a phase, perhaps a mindset, that I’m ready to outgrow. I’ll probably look back in a month and feel like I’ve completely conquered these feelings only to realize a year from now that they’ve found some other way into my life. Alas, life is repetition.
For now, it looks like I’ll continue devising ways of tricking myself into working out or practicing for things without thinking too much about where it will lead me or how terrible I’m at it. Maybe it’s just a matter of reminding myself that I can read now.
Afterall, if I managed to figure out how to read and write, imagine what else is possible!