Progress – Get Out of My Way!

2016 May 11


Better yesterday. Better today. And ________________________ tomorrow.  The gravitational force of expectations means that you most likely had no problem filling in the blank consistent with an ever expanding “even better tomorrow.”  Better is what we all want. Better is what we expect because we’re told and retold to fill in the “blanks” of our lives with this universally celebrated refrain.

Progress is something we all want but our belief in progress can often trip us up because we mistake our bodies with things. We can predict things because things move in ways consistent with laws of physics that propel and constrain objects in predictable ways. When it comes to our expectations for loved ones, progress can betray . . .

A young mother weeps over her child’s return to a rehabilitation center after weeks of positive recovery from a disease that robbed him of his speech and movement.

A loving daughter mourns over her father’s inability to read the morning paper after having made progress from a stroke months ago.

Weeks after a complicated and last-ditch surgery, the pain is returning in ways that reminds you of the past.

Deep disappointment and disorientation are ocassional side effects of progress because we can’t help ourselves from wanting and expecting today to be better than yesterday and yesterday to be confined to the past tense. When our bodies don’t listen to our pleas, we can’t help but find ourselves lost and confused, not being able discern north from south, and tomorrow from today, dropping us to our knees in desperation.

Nothing makes sense.

Everything used to make sense.

If I can’t expect yesterday to lead to a better today, what can I believe tomorrow will bring?

We are often sustained by the soaring flag of progress—always planted ahead of us—waving proudly on the mountaintop in the distance. We race toward it.  It is lit at night; a beacon of hope to keep us going in the right direction even when we feel like we can no longer move forward.  When progress is no longer a guide, what are we left to do and where are we to look for comfort?  How do we measure what we are doing when a step forward may also be a step back?

When our expectations of progress are betrayed, it’s hard for us not to believe that we’ve failed. Lost.  Given in. Given up.

At these very moments, we must consciously push the idea of progress aside—at least momentarily—to make sure our expectations don’t betray our bodies. Tightening our expectations in these moments of disorientation can help protect us from thoughts that take us too far beyond where we are.  Reeling in our expectations can protect us from ourselves when we trip on the idea that we aren’t where we believed we would be according to the unspoken laws of progress.

Don’t worry, we can’t keep our beliefs about progress out of the way for too long. The temptation to lean on progress as a way to mark time and success inevitably returns. But sometimes, in our darkest moments of disorientation, the allure of progress can ambush our thoughts of the future—making it difficult to be in the present.  We are here. This is now. We are here. This is now. Tomorrow will sure enough find us, but sometimes we can cheat today by preoccupying ourselves with tomorrow before it arrives.  When I’m consumed by thoughts of progress that don’t (or won’t) correspond with what is occurring, I try to remind myself to follow a simple but ever-challenging rule: My thoughts of tomorrow should never arrive before the rise of the morning sun.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. May 12, 2016

    Beautifully written and profound, as always!

  2. July 7, 2017

    I like your unforgettable rule: “My thoughts of tomorrow should never arrive before the rise of the morning sun.” Perhaps, you are right! Everything must be done by certain time.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS