Gradual Progress (#53)
Weeds shoot up and multiply, but they are easily pulled from the earth. A tree that stands strong on a mountain will last and last. A tree pushes up through the soil and down through the earth with equal force. Because of its steady and certain progress, it is not uprooted easily. It firmly clasps the ground.
All progress from here will be steady and gradual, like the growth of a tree. This is not a time for agitation or revolution. Impulsive gestures will be ignored or will irritate like weeds. Though impatience at this time is understandable, nothing of lasting value can come from it. Do not try and push things ahead of their time. You may have to wait longer than you’d like for the changes you hope will occur. Work, therefore, gradually, not expecting any quick success. The time for harvesting will come, but it has not come yet.
You have been given a certain place in this world. Your culture and its traditions are not a separate thing from you. The people around you who live by its structures and values are not so different from you. You all feel the same things. You have collectively chosen to act in certain ways, which is what creates a society. You are a real part of this society. Progress involves respect for it, as its laws are part of who you are, and you are more a part of it than you realize. Understand your place within it; progress will spring from its values, and from living within them now. Then, from within your current conditions, you will advance.
If you are rooted in what is virtuous and right, so will your ends be virtuous and right. Do not try to dominate situations. Instead, turn your focus to steadily refining your inner self. There are no shortcuts ahead.
New York City is not a place that reflects any sort of faith in gradual progress. It is a fast moving culture. People work long hours trying to get ahead and succeed. People hurry to catch a subway. They take a second job. I fit right in. Like other times in my life, I overcommitted myself and succeeded. I studied in school, worked, and worked some more. I saw friends. I invested in family. I was busy, and I thrived at it.
For the last two years, I studied writing in a graduate program. My professors, all of them in one way or another, told me to slow down. Gradual progress is the only way.
“Writing is a slow art. “
“Doing nothing is part of the creative process.”
“Books take years to write.”
“How much time did you sit and think before you started writing?”
“Write one sentence. Read it. Sit with it. What does the next sentence want to be?”
I have not been historically a person you would describe as slow moving. After two years of mentorship, however, I finally heard them. There are no shortcuts ahead.
Upon graduating, I met with a career counselor about what my next steps toward a new job might entail. After talking quickly, as I do, for about fifteen minutes straight about who I am and what I am good at and what I have been thinking about, she asked me to stop. “Okay,” she said. “If I could sum up the last fifteen minutes in one word, I would use the word intense.” Intense. Fierce. A force. These are ways people describe me. As a child gymnast, if I wasn’t intense, I got hurt. Then I grew to love intensity- the speed, the momentum, the productivity.
But she then asked me to describe my ideal day fifteen years from now. When I finished, she said, “Well, that day does not sound intense at all. It sounds slow and balanced. So are you going to let go of intense, or are you going to let go of your perfect day?” She was right. I just figured a day would come when I would be too old or too tired to be intense. But the longer I walk quickly and talk quickly and fill my days full to the brim, the better I get at it. The more I think my worth depends on it.
When I found this passage in Harper’s Magazine, it became my prayer.
“All progress from here will be steady and gradual, like the growth of a tree.”
“The time for harvesting will come, but it has not come yet.”
“Do not try to dominate situations. Instead, turn your focus to steadily refining your inner self. “
Turning points are great opportunity to do a spiritual check in. I graduated. I quit my job. I am moving. I will start a new job. What I found inside of me during this middle time of waiting and transition was a whisper from God to slow down and believe in gradual progress. It is my struggle. My lesson.
For students, summer can be a turning point. One school year is over. It is hot. We move slowly. We take deep breaths. Another year will begin soon, and we can be a refined version of ourselves at the outset. Maybe, for you, it is time for revolution or impulsivity, intensity or speed. For me, it is time to work on gradual progress, to be a tree that is not easily uprooted. It is a time for me to grow up and down, refining my inner self slowly.
* By Sheila Heti, from “How to Be Good When You’re Lost,” in the anthology Where We Are, to be published this fall by Visual Editions. Heti’s contribution, illustrated by Ted Mineo, interprets six of the sixty-four hexagrams comprising the I Ching; a traditional method of consulting the text is to pose a question and then toss coins to determine which hexagram to read.