Flames. So many flames //
I’m perfect. You don’t hear anyone say that in a sincere way anymore (or ever?). Why? Because we all know perfect doesn’t exist.
And, you definitely don’t hear that phrase in your own inner dialogue, right? Like, the last person who’s going to tell you that you’re perfect is you. That’s just a fact (unless you’re spiritually well-adjusted and you utter those words to yourself with loving kindness and the gentleness that only your Spirit guides can support you through, and I think I can speak for you and me when I say that neither of us are there 100% of the time….I could be wrong about you, though).
Are you caught up in that tricky fishnet of perfectionism? The aspiring to be perfect, to do perfect?
For some of us, perfectionism is a preferred form of self-harm.
Being perfect is an unattainable, unreal state of being that causes suffering (and nothing else of value long term). Being perfect is impossible, but we like to believe that it might be possible (which is why we grasp at it endlessly, chasing that ghost like a leashless chihuahua in Highland Park, CA). Wanting perfect hurts.
I know this, because I unknowingly lived this for most of my 31 years on this planet. Perfectionism is one of my maladjusted traits/behaviors, propelling me to great heights professionally and on paper, while serving as emotional tidal waves pummeling me with suffocating unworthiness, lack and egoic grasping. My life, my perspective, was sapped of gratitude and dry of abundance. I lived in the dystopian world of not-good-enough, bone dry of self-acceptance and self-love. I was unable to appreciate the progress I was actually making in my life and the accomplishments I was manifesting.
Essentially, I was a nightmare of a human being (though I think that opinion is shared mostly by me and my lowest self alone…. Oh, and all my boyfriends from my 20s).
Fleeing the Fire //
I found a linguistic and spiritual way out, though. It’s called progress. And thinking through this word, imagining up what it means for me, has transformed my life spiritually, physically and mentally. I’m a new lady, and I’m here to tell you and show you how a single word can change your entire identity, can change how you show up in our world, can change how you look at yourself in the mirror.
Progress is just more important and useful of a framing lens to apply to my life’s work today. It’s all that matters, really.
So, what’s this progress path look like, exactly? How is it different from the perfectionism path? And what’s the binary look like in my life today?
Well, for starters, I am sober, and I’m gratefully recovering from substance addiction. To put it lightly, perfectionism did some damage. I attempted to anesthetize myself for years in my failing negotiation with it. I gave up that battle over 4 years ago, choosing a new framework to understand my humanity.
I haven’t looked back with regret once. Life’s too rad now, and here’s why.
GODDDDD (uttered in voice of angsty teenager) //
Today, progress allows me to actively get in touch with who I am, every single day. In fact, it requires it. I stay in touch with myself, with others, and with something commonly referred to as a “higher power”.
This collection of connection serves as the sustenance along my path, and it’s the path itself. It’s my elixir for wise thinking and action. It’s all these things. It’s things I have not yet touched into yet.
I know you rolled your eyes incredibly, painfully hard when you read the phrase “higher power” (and more so because I used it sincerely). But before you dismiss me, before you click away, hear me out. [god] isn’t what you think it is, or what someone else told you about in some scarring legacy church experience growing up. It’s fucking weird, and cool, and ever-changing, and whatever you want it to be. Now’s the time to revisit your inner child. I’ll explain.
In part, I see my “higher power” as my highest self – the self I aspire to be.
It’s a culmination of admirable traits and values that I check into, and commit to, every single day. It’s comprised mostly of adjectives and adverbs. And, I hand things over to this body of traits, this entity greater than myself, when said things become too heavy, cumbersome, or confusing for me to carry. When they start to bog me down. Things like obsession over something I did, or said. Something someone else did, or didn’t do, that I desperately wish to change or control. A hanging question about my career or personal life to which there’s no immediate answer (or rather, there’s no answer I’m willing to see or accept yet).
- Should I take this job?
- Is it time for this relationship to end?
- What’s my life’s work really?
And I engage my higher power in two ways. The first way is via discursive prayer, which is described by Shinzen Young as “prayer in the nature of a discourse or a conversation” wherein “we talk to God, we think about God, we feel an emotional connection to God.” My dialogue with my higher power has evolved and strengthened over the years.
The second way I engage my higher power is through meditation, particularly mindfulness and concentration practice. As part of that, my higher power is the light I see above my head when I sit with my eyes closed on my zafu cushion. I picture myself with my arms reaching to the sky, energy pouring into my 7th chakra, Sahaswara. It’s the abundance of love, that warm light, pouring from above into my body, with no end, summoned by me and and accepted by me alone.
It also comes to me in intuitive waves as I sit in silence.
It’s sheer oneness, that thing Rumi refers to in the field beyond wrong-doing and right-doing. It lives out there.
It’s something I envision outside of myself, that I summon and call to.
Progress, Not Perfection // Progress, New Perfection //
My relationship with this power greater than myself is fundamentally framed by the phrase ‘progress, not perfection.’ There was nothing perfect (in the sense of immediate formation or complete understanding) about my higher power, and there never will be. It’s a relationship and an ever-changing entity that shows itself more and more so long as I engage it. And it’s an entity that will never be fixed, that is always subject to change and evolution. The progress to which it is subject is absolutely perfect (perfect in the sense that it is always whole just as it is in this moment…and we arrive at this understanding by way of acceptance).
The progress paradigm doesn’t just apply to my relationship with a power greater than myself. It informs every arena of my life, far beyond my relationship with a ball of light of my own making.
Today, I prefer to show up fully for my life (or rather, set the intention to show up fully for my life), and to me, that’s perfect.
It doesn’t mean I complete any particular task perfectly, or assume any particular role perfectly. Being all in, or as in as I can be in this moment, is perfection to me. Making shifts over time toward being a better version of me, even if they’re ever so slight, is perfect, because it is guided by progress. If I can show up a little more in this very moment, and begin with this moment, then I’m in the process of conditioning myself to show up tomorrow as well, and the day after that, and the day after that.
My progress starts with this moment. My new understanding of perfectionism is encircled by these words.
And that’s where I live today//
Where do you live today? What paradigm informs your life, your every move and thought? Are you on the path of progress, or do you drag your body around weighed down by the shackles of perfectionism? If the latter rings true, how’s that working out for you?
If you are or want to make the shift to a progress mindset, remember this: the path does not promise easy times, or pure happiness (whatever that is). It promises that you have everything you need in this moment to endure, grow, contribute to the world, and connect. It promises that with every single new moment, you have a chance to turn it all around. It promises that mistakes, missteps, stumbles are the fruit of your growth and the very necessary building blocks on your learning path.
And it requires that you be kind to yourself. That you learn to forgive yourself and others. That you love yourself and others, with a brave heart. SEE the humanity in others, HONOR the humanity in others, regardless of how challenging you might find them to be.
I say this with soft, supportive and ferocious love for you and all the potentially dormant highest selves out there:
Get off your ass, reframe and choose your perspective, liberate yourself from the shackles of perfectionism. Embrace your highest self. Embrace your life.
Remember: moments always come, but they don’t come back. They pass; you can be sure of that.
Now’s your time, our time. The moment is here, right now. Get it.