I did a bad and very classic thing the other day. After 2 1/2 years of dissertating (a horrible verb, but there it is) and then another 8 years of revising, rewriting, waiting on editors, managing rejections, more research, rewriting, and waiting, my first book appeared in print. When it showed up on my doorstop, I was over it.
I had a new baby and, as far as my writing goes, I was already on to the next thing. Had been on to the next thing for some time.
Nevertheless, I sent copies of the book to my graduate school advisors and to my parents. Posted an obligatory photo of the thing to facebook. But for the most part, I moved on, stacked other books on top of my own, allowed it to get buried in paperwork. Really, I barely looked at the thing.
Then, last week, the classic and bad thing. One of my advisors wrote a little note on Facebook saying how glad he was to get his copy in the mail. I wrote back embarrassed and ashamed, "oh good. it's a great tool for setting coffee cups on, evening out wobbly tables, etc!"
As soon as I had done it, I realized my mistake, piling embarrassment on embarrassment. I had worked on the damn thing for over a decade and it was so much easier to make a joke, to undermine myself than to take a compliment and declare myself proud.
I have a lot of "feelings" about this. And maybe I'll succeed in tying this back to yoga...
First, I think there's still a feeling of exposure around success. Maybe it's unique to me, but I don't think so. It's a fear of taking pride in or celebrating something that might turn out to not be good: "what if I brag about my accomplishment and everyone else thinks its a dumb thing that I've done?"
But there's also an aspect of this that I think has less to do with my own insecurities and more to do with our rush-rush, busy-busy culture instead. And here's where it comes back around to yoga.
Yoga teachers and students alike rush savasana. Savasana (corpse pose) comes at the end of a class or practice. It basically looks like lying on your back on the floor with your eyes closed. In a typically annoying yoga way, if you google "hardest yoga pose," alongside crazy handstands and pretzel-like twists, you'll see a bunch of people lying on the ground.
It's the pose that represents the end of effort. After all the pain, hard work, shaking muscles, and endless chatuarangas, in Savasana, the body gets to enjoy all the benefit of what has come before. You marinate. You integrate. It's the payoff, the most important pose.
You think about whether you need to stop at the store for half-and-half. You start feeling guilty about leaving your husband for so long with the baby. You think about the dinner you need to make and if you should shower now or in the morning before work. The teacher says, "if you need to leave early, please roll up your mat quitely." When the damn chime rings, you pop up, quick to be first out to avoid the parking lot log jam and get to the store. You check your phone for messages as you slip on your shoes.
My friend has this theory about how writers/academics are like the actors she reads about in magazines. She explained, "they're always paranoid that they're never going to work again. It's like we're afraid people will forget about us, so we say yes to every project."
I think there's more to it, though, than the fragile ego she describes. There's also a kind of Puritan work ethic at play here--so long as we're working, we're demonstrating that we are good and deserving. Pausing after a project to celebrate or lying around on the floor seems luxurious, decadent (sinful?).
But it's also a way of honoring the work that's preceded it before plunging on into the next task.
To rush too fast from work to more work actually dishonors the process. Or, more accurately, finishing and seeing what's happened is part of the process. I'm not saying we need to be ego maniacs constantly celebrating ourselves with gold stars, but i am saying that jumping right into more work without pausing to appreciate what's just been accomplished can have a diminishing effect on our work overall.
And this gets me back to my bad thing. Rather than accepting a compliment or celebrating an achievement, I diminished it (what, this old thing? who cares? what's next to do?). On the one hand, you might say I'm not so attached to my achievements, but on the other, you might say I'm addicted to always achieving the next thing in a way that harms my enjoyment of the present. In the hope to be better, to do more, achieve more, improve, I do not enjoy the culmination of what has been, short-circuiting the last moments of my experience.
At the end of a work process (a writing project, a yoga class), there's a ceasing of exertion. But as it turns out, appreciating a moment of switching from the effort-full to the effortless is a lot of work.