Love this author who speaks with love and candor. Thank you, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
1% less asshole
on Roy Kent, Unicorns and the Limit & Possibilities of Human Transformation
Last week, the final episode of Ted Lasso aired in which this interaction took place (no spoilers here, I promise):
Roy Kent: For the past year I’ve busted my fucking ass trying to change but apparently it hasn’t done shit because I’m still me.
Ted Lasso: Wait. Did you want to be someone else?
Roy Kent: Yeah – someone better. Can people change?
Can People Change?
Last month I wrote a piece about how no matter what happens in my life, good or bad, I am still me:
You’re always gonna be you
I am still me. And in middle age I can finally say that, for the most part, I am ok with it. Sure there are some jagged edges that continue to snag on the fabric of my life. There is a down side to nearly every good thing about me. But no one escapes this place without carrying a whole load of contradictions about themselves. It’s kind of the only thing that makes us interesting enough to have stories to tell.
I wrote that piece about me still (frustratingly) being me even while walking the Camino.
This morning, as I write these words, I am at a 12 step recovery and yoga retreat at Kripalu and am here to report that even here, I am indeed still me.
I don’t know that I, or anyone else could ever solve the conundrum of human transformation. As I said, whatever happens in your life, glorious or devastating, you will still, in the end, be you.
I mention this because at lunch yesterday, one of the retreatants commented how much they admire one of the leaders, Rolf and how they “want to be as calm as him one day”. As I put another bite of Tempeh salad into my mouth, I couldn’t help but say “but the thing is, I could meditate just as much as that guy and still never look like him – I’d just look like a version of me who meditates more.” (Rolf is epic, by the way. A real mensch of a meditation teacher.)
Still the rhino
How often are we just like that rhino on the treadmill sweating and striving and overexerting ourselves thinking that if we just ran a few more miles we could become an entirely different creature than the one God made us. If we just meditate enough we will look less like ourselves and more like our yoga teacher.
Maybe this is a limit of what I like to call Influencer Self-Esteem Porn that is just smeared all over social media these days: we can’t be everything. (I am reminded of stand-up bit I saw once (not sure who) “We should stop telling our kids they can be anything they want. Realistically we should be saying you can be anything you’re good at – if they are hiring”). We can’t be everything. Having limits is the inescapable experience of being a human being, it is not a failure at being a human being. You just can’t take enough improv classes to become someone who is funnier than how God made you. It’s ok. Because maybe you are more deeply compassionate, or less damaged or more athletic than the people in your life who happen to be funnier. I can’t meditate my way into a personality transplant and if suddenly looking like someone else entirely is the basis by which I am judging my progress, I am being unnecessarily cruel to myself.
Having said that, I DO believe in human transformation, I just believe it is not limitless in ways that the words “achieving enlightenment” and “progressive sanctification” seem to imply (no disrespect intended). I have seen people change, just not in a way that makes them not be them anymore. I am not the same version of me that stumbled messily into her first AA meeting 31 years ago. AND I am unbothered by saying that I am still an alcoholic.
As I have said many times, it’s exhausting to continually feel convicted by the distance between my ideal self and my actual self; the distance between my rhino self and my unicorn self. But my rhino self is all that actually exists anywhere but inside my mind. And the self that God is in relationship with, the self that God loves, is my actual self. And the more I judge my progress in life according to if I look as calm as my unicorn yoga teacher, the more I fail to appreciate the changes that have come from doing my personal work, and gently taking care of my body, and stepping on my yoga mat every now and then to be aware of my breath.
All I know is that I am so far from “achieving enlightenment” that it can fill me with a tiny bit of despair if I think about it. But at the same time, I don’t want to think this is the final version of Nadia because I still cling to the belief that one day I will evolve into someone who makes her bed every morning. So when my friend Nikki Meyers talks about the path of 1% it feels so hopeful to me. Can we just meditate for ONE minute. Can we just get 1% less impatient in traffic. Because 1% is good. But more importantly, 1% is possible.
(Dan Harris – founder of the awesome meditation app, “10% happier” claims his wife calls it “90% still an asshole” which makes me love her)
As you know if you’ve spent any time here or IRL with me, my first reaction to almost everything is “fuck you”. I almost never stay there…but honest to God, I almost always still start there. That’s progress. And I’m at a point in my life where I am ok with being a softer version of the same asshole I’ve always been and believing that maybe I can still change, even just 1%.
As the Big Book of AA says: we claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.
As always, be gentle with yourself,
Update: still did not make my bed this morning. Just sitting here being my inconsistent, lumpy, actual self who God loves madly.