This is a good news-bad news column. The good news is that whatever we can do for Baba – no matter how tiny or insignificant – is good. No matter how little we do, it’s better than doing nothing.
I was once told a story that was attributed to Eruch (although I never heard Eruch tell this myself) about a man who was overcome with carnal desire. The man got married, but he found that this did not provide enough of an outlet for his overwhelming desires and so he took a mistress. This too was not enough, so he started visiting prostitutes. Even then, he found that his desire remained unsated, so he bought a goat.
After some period of time, he got rid of the goat. And the moral of the story was: “That too is progress.”
Although I am not sure of the authenticity of this story, it appeals to me. In fact now, when Daphne and I realize that once again we have fallen far short of the mark in the way we handled some situation – but just possibly could have done even worse – we will ruefully remind each other, “Well, that too is progress.”
That’s the good news. The bad news is a mirror image of this. No sooner do you give up the goat and applaud yourself that, “this too is progress,” than your conscience whispers in your ear, “Now, about those prostitutes . . .”
Baba says there is no rest on this path; you can’t go backwards and you can’t stay where you are. Well, actually, if you’re at all like me, there’s mostly rest and staying in one place, but even I sometimes get the sense that it’s time to get up and start moving on. Although resting seems (by definition) restful, eventually we realize that it’s not getting us anywhere. And even if you aren’t intent on getting anywhere, you won’t be comfortable staying where you are. As Baba might say, the “very logic of experience” will eventually impel you forward.
For example, given my tendency to judge others, I thought it a great success when I was finally able, sometimes, to suppress my urge to comment when I saw people doing things I didn’t approve of. But, over time, I came to see that Baba doesn’t want this kind of passive neutrality. He wants me to express positive acceptance of others. This doesn’t come easily for me, so it was a struggle to come up with even mildly laudatory comments and I was proud when I did so, only to find that Baba lost little time in letting me know that such tepid politeness isn’t what He had in mind – He wants a wholehearted and genuine expression. I suspect if I can ever accomplish that, I’ll find out there’s some new refinement or challenge awaiting me. And so it goes.
Which is why, when people look back at some problematic situation they have been in and ask, “Did I do the right thing?” it’s almost impossible to answer such a question. For, on the one hand, no matter what they did, they could have done worse. On the other hand, no matter what they did, they could have done better. So you end up with a Baba theory of relativity. “What you did was right for you, for where you were, at that point in time and space, but eventually, you will realize that you could do more.”
It’s pointless to judge others. You may find that it’s easy being faithful to your spouse. They may have made heroic efforts to be able to give up the goat. We all tread the same path. Where we happen to be at this moment is not as important as the amount of effort we are putting in to move forward. It’s the spiritual equivalent of “What have you done for me lately?” Baba is not all that impressed with what you’ve achieved in the past; He’s more interested in what you’re doing right now. Which is why “that too is progress” is a good reminder to not judge others but doesn’t work as well when it comes to our own efforts. It’s not that we should beat ourselves up about our lack of progress, but we should be aware of being able to do more.
So, although I may continue to remind myself when I manage to minimally moderate some major failing that, “That too is progress,” I will try to remember to add an addendum, “but this is not where I want to be.” For I know, if I can let go of the past, in the very next instant, Baba will give me another opportunity to please Him.