Closure is a Myth, Progress is Not

August 6th, 2013

Closure is a myth, but progress is not. Nothing ends and nothing stays the same, which means you never arrive AND you never stay still. Living in the middle like this is a delicate balance and a big part of living skillfully.

Here are three applications of this idea:

  1. The further you go, the deeper you go

A student approached a famous philosopher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your philosophy. How long will it take me to master it?” The philosopher said, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I don’t think you understand how committed I am. If you want me to study for an hour a day, I will study for two. If you want me to read 1 book a day, I will read two. I will work harder than any student you have known; ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The philosopher thought for a moment and said, “20 years.”

The more you study something, the more there is to learn. The more you look into the nature of things, the more there is to experience. The further you go into any practice, the deeper you will go.

This is why there is no such thing as enlightenment. You can always swim deeper in the river called peace. Understanding is a road that is different at every curve. The path is to live each moment with awareness, stay open, and appreciate your progress for what it is.

2.      Progress Runs Its Own Timetable

We expect progress to happen on our timetable, and this expectation leads to so much suffering. Staying the middle requires a healthy dose of trust and patience.

The artist who created the Memorial at Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Boglum, was once asked if his work was perfect. “Not today,” he replied. “Washington’s nose is an inch too long. It’s better that way, though. It’ll erode to be close to right in about 10,000 years.”

The trick is to trust the timing of your own growth, and not expect it to be somewhere it isn’t. Don’t beat yourself up for being where you are. It’s just right. Not knowing what they don’t know has led many young people to do things no one thought was possible. Of course there are mistakes along the way, but aren’t mistakes also part of progress’s plan?

When I first arrived in America, I was 35, leading a church that had had the same pastor for over 30 years. He and some of his friends spent the first couple of years telling me how young I was, how little I knew and how I needed to be more patient. There is nothing more demoralizing than being condescended like this and comparison in this case is the thief of authentic expression.

It’s ironic really, older people lecturing young people about the impatience of youth when they themselves are being impatient with the process.

The wisest people appreciate the idealism of youth just as they appreciate the experience of age. They accept the reality of mistakes and trust the process of progress. It all has a way of working itself out.

3.      Progress Doesn’t Announce Itself With a Loudspeaker

Someone wrote to me recently, frustrated, and said, “Twenty-one years’ worth of work on the mindset has not gotten me very far.” My first reaction was, “How do you know?” Maybe your mindset would be a lot more anxious and jumbled without those 21 years of work.

Progress doesn’t announce itself, and sometimes it only announces itself after the fact.

I love the story about the boy who wanted to learn about jade stone. He found the most distinguished jade teacher in the world and asked to be taught everything there is to be known about jade. On the first day he turned up for his lesson, the teacher placed a stone in his hand and folded his hands together. Then he proceeded to talk for 2 hours about life, meaning, nature, questions, all sorts of things but no mention of jade. The second day the same thing happened. For five days, the teacher placed a stone in the boys hands, and talked to him about everything except jade. After this fifth lesson the boy became exasperated. He said to the teacher angrily, “This is pointless. You have taught me nothing about jade and what’s more, this stone isn’t even jade.”

He didn’t even realize how much he was learning. Each day the teacher was putting jade in his hands. He was learning the feel and sensation of the stone. But on the fifth day, he put a different stone in his hand and the boy knew the difference.

Growth is like that. You notice it after the fact. Its only when you look back and realize how much better you handle certain situations now than you did ten years ago, that you can enjoy the progress.

I read an interview with Frank Ochberg, a pioneer in trauma treatment. He was asked the question, “Is there such a thing as closure? Does grieving ever end?

He made this brilliant statement,

Closure is a bad word, overused five or 10 years ago, and people in my world are not using it anymore, because it falsely implies an end to something that doesn’t end. You don’t get closure on trauma, tragedy, the impact of human cruelty, but you do grow, you do get sadder and wiser and you do, more often than not, get the opportunity to help fellow travelers. Closure is a myth, but progress is not.

Its just as true with all sorts of growth, as it is with trauma and grief. Give yourself a break, and give others a break. You know what you know now, and its perfect for now. You are exactly where you need to be. You are growing, evolving and progressing in perfect order and timing.

Maya Angelou said,

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Closure is a myth but progress is not.