By Dana Gornall
I have a fascination with before and after transformation photos.
You know the ones—the before photo depicts a person with an expressionless look, a body that is slightly or a lot out of shape, standing scantily clad in a bikini or underwear. The after photo shows the same person, also scantily clad, but now with a smile, shoulders back, skin a little tighter, stomach a little flatter, and everything is perfect in the world.
I’ve been asked if these photos bother me or make me feel inferior, but in truth, they actually inspire me. The dedication, the perseverance, the commitment are all so obvious. These people spent years honing their bodies, eating the right foods, not giving into their cravings and going back to the gym again and again, and again. And they sweat.
Recently I was scrolling through my email inbox deleting all of the advertisements, online sales and newsletters, when I came across one of the fitness newsletters I subscribe to, Girls Gone Strong. The title read: The Problem with Before and After Photos. Interest piqued, I clicked the link.
Thinking that the article would focus on body image and acceptance, a growing empowering movement that emphasizes beauty in all shapes and sizes, and is a long overdue mindset. But instead, Molly, the founder of the site explained that the issue is that we look for an after. We have the starting point and then an endpoint, but in reality, being fit is ongoing.
“There is no after. There is only during,” Molly writes. That statement is pretty damn zen.
This made me think of my meditation practice, since I often equate that practice with going to the gym. Just like working out, meditation doesn’t work as well if you just go every now and then or if you do it for a bit and then stop and then later pick it up again. It works when you sit, again and again and again. It takes dedication, perseverance and commitment.
While I have found a sweet spot in my workouts—I feel compelled to go, crave the burn in the muscle and the fullness and fatigue of it being worked, I haven’t gotten there with my meditation yet. I strive to practice daily, but many nights I miss which makes me beat myself up over it, again and again.
I have this image of a before and after.
Before Dana sits with tousled hair, frazzled facial expression and a deep line between her brow. After Dana is much more zen with a serene look on her face, a sweet smile, she answers her children in a calm loving tone, has sleek, flat-ironed hair and looks like she had Botox.
But maybe that’s my problem. There is no Before Frazzled Dana and After Zen Dana, but just an ongoing cyclical practice of starting and finishing, beginning and ending, with no real endpoint. Maybe that’s why zen is often symbolized as a circle. There is no after, there is only during. Just like fit people don’t reach a point and just stop going to the gym and eating right because they are fit, Buddhists and mindful people continue don’t stop meditating just because they have reached a point of equanimity.
There is a beginning, and there is a during, and then there is a beginning again. And they sit and sit and sit.
As a faint line begins to take shape in my bicep, as I find myself a little less frazzled, a little more calm, I hit the meditation app on my phone. Legs folded underneath me, I breathe in. I got this.
No endpoint, no after, only right now.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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