Perfection is a sham. It robs me of having my fullest experience of life.
I am a “1” on the Enneagram. This means that my particular coping mechanism for being in this world and my means of striving for love early in life was to try to be “perfect.” How and why I developed this particular strategy over another, I have no idea. It made me a good student in school, but it also made me judgmental of anything that I perceived as “lazy” or “missing the mark.” It also kept me from experimenting–from trying something that I knew I might fail–and it also makes for a lousy artist.
When I was young, my definition of perfection meant being the best: Achieving as high as possible, being the favorite, being composed and never angry or emotional, having a perfect body with curves only in the right places, exercising everyday, always doing the right thing, never missing or forgetting anything, and having all my ducks lined up in a row. In a word, being in control.
From an egoic standpoint, this is a dangerous way to live. Without a greater self-awareness of one’s essential worth and place in the universe, it creates the right conditions for self-hate to fester and play out as bigger problems (such as anorexia-nervosa, which is exactly what happened.) Instead of getting me what I wanted, my striving for perfection began to take from me in a big way.
The origins of the word “perfection” come from the Latin word perfectio or the Greek “teleos”, which mean “completeness.” This could also be interpreted to mean “attaining one’s purpose” or “finished.” A far cry from one of our modern interpretations of being “without flaw”. We could even go so far as to say that the origins of the word actually implied “state of wholeness”.
I recently attended a Buddhist silent meditation retreat over the New Year at a Benedictine Monastery in northern Missouri. Retreats are terrible for the ego, but absolutely essential for the truest Self. Like clearing a bucket of muddy water, when we sit still without our usual distractions, the mud has a chance to settle and the water to clear. But–as my teacher Robert would say–rather than settling to the bottom, all the “mud” rises to the surface for us to take a look at. What do you think comes up to the surface whenever I sit on retreat? Yep, all the stuff I stuffed. All the “shadow” pieces…that which I deemed as flawed or imperfect throughout my life. All of it rises up, like abandoned children starving for love. All the un-lived life. All the un-heard or un-felt emotions. And the grief that goes along with it. All of it’s there at the bottom of the well, in the pit of the belly, in the very cells of my body. And what it wants is simple: To be seen and to be loved.
My journey to recovery has been a long and winding road. Ultimately it’s about accepting my humanness and embracing it, even. Celebrating it. All the messiness, all the raw emotion, all the quivering and heartbreak, all the ecstatic joy and passion and fun…ALL of it. Embracing my body just as it is, embracing my messy emotions…embracing the essence of ME just as I am. My beauty lies in my uniqueness and authentic expression.
It’s not alway easy to remember. All to often, my old “perfection program” gets queued in my brain (usually after some trigger) and off I go down the road of auto-pilot and unconsciousness. But when I stop and notice it, that’s the time to be compassionate and patient with myself. Again, not about perfection. Just noticing. Accepting. And coming back to my deepest truth.
So I’ve traded in the word “perfect” for “whole.” I am wholly and fully me, perfectly imperfect. And that’s good enough.