Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility. Spiritual people, for all their desire to be humble, are often not humble. They’re kind of horrified at their own imperfection.– Adyashanti, Commitment to Truth and Love
This quote touches on many topics.
SECRET IDEALS OF PERFECTION
These days, many who are into spirituality are a little more sophisticated than this. We know it’s better to embrace ourselves as we are. We know it’s better for us psychologically. We know that if our spirituality is about truth and love, then we need to be honest with ourselves and find love for ourselves as we are.
We know that ideas of perfection are human-made and often used to control people. And in our modern culture, ideals of perfection are used to encourage us to be good consumers and buy products that will help us appear more perfect.
And yet, many of us are also caught up in some ideas and shoulds around perfection. Secretly, somewhere in us, we wish to live up to certain ideas of perfection. Often because ideas and shoulds are common in our culture and we have absorbed them almost without noticing from early childhood, and we are now applying these secret shoulds to our approach to spirituality.
What are these images? What are the images of perfection I wish to live up to? How does it influence how I see myself and how I present myself to others and the world? What happens when I try to live up to these images? What’s the cost? What am I trying to achieve? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t live up to these images of perfection? Do I assume others will judge me? That God will judge me? That I won’t get what I want?
SPIRITUALITY AND PERFECTION
Why is spirituality sometimes associated with perfection?
Is it because God or the divine, almost by definition, is perfect, so if we aim to connect with the divine we too should be perfect? Or because we assume we need to be perfect to be saved, whatever saved is for us? Or is it as simple as wanting to be accepted by others? Or ourselves?
Or by an image of our parents from when we were little and needed and wanted their acceptance, love, and protection?
What form does this drive to perfection take for us? And for the spiritual tradition we are in? Or the culture we grew up in?
And more generally, what form does this tend to take in the different spiritual traditions? Are there traditions where we find less of this? Or do some here too try to live up to certain ideas of perfection even if they, on the surface, may appear not to?
EXPLORING IT FOR OURSELVES
As usual, this is a fertile ground for exploration.
What beliefs, assumptions, and identities do I have about this? What do I find when I investigate these? How would it be to find love for the parts of me scared of imperfection? How would it be to find peace with what I fear the most would happen if I am imperfect or seen to be imperfect?
What are the genuine upsides of embracing my imperfection? The general answer for me is that it’s a relief to not have to try to live up to images of perfection. It helps me find and embrace more of my wholeness. It gives me a wider repertoire. It helps me more genuinely connect with others. It helps me recognize we are all in the same boat.
More importantly, when I look at specific situations and specific ways I try to live up to perfection, what genuine benefits do I find in embracing my imperfections?
Can I find safe spaces for exploring embracing my imperfections? Perhaps in a journal? With a good therapist? With accepting and relatively mature friends? Can I find ways to talk about it that make it easier for me to embrace it?
And maybe most directly, how is it to meet and get to know my fear of what may happen if I don’t try to live up to perfection? How is it to feel it in my body? Allow it? Notice it’s already allowed? See what it really wants (love? acceptance? safety? support?) and give that to it? Notice its nature? Notice how its nature is my nature? Rest in that noticing?
FINDING WHAT I AM
If I find what I am, my nature, does this change these dynamics? Does it create a different context for exploring all of this?
I may find myself as capacity for the world as it appears to me. I may find myself as that which the world to me – this human self, the wider world, and any other content of consciousness – happens within and as. Here, there is a kind of perfection. Nothing is missing. It’s all there is. And yet, it also includes and embraces and IS all the apparent imperfections in me and the world.
This can help me shift my relationship with imperfections in a few different ways. The perfection inherent in what I am makes it easier for me to embrace the many apparent imperfections as who I am. I can recognize my nature even in the imperfections, they too happen within and as what I am. Noticing my nature helps me explore my old beliefs and assumptions and find what’s more true for me. And finding myself as oneness and love helps me find love for these parts of me.
THE MESSINESS OF ALL OF IT
When it’s written out like this, it can seem like a relatively simple and clean process. And that’s one of the ways we can try to live up to some ideal of perfection. We may try to live up to how someone else has described something.
In reality, the process is typically far from simple, clean, and perfect. When it’s lived, this process, as so much else, is flawed, messy, and imperfect. And It’s an ongoing process without a finishing line.
And that’s OK. That’s life. That’s how it is for all of us.
P.S. WHAT ARE MY IMAGES OF PERFECTION?
All of this is very general and just a pointer for us to explore for ourselves. That’s where it gets juicy and meaningful. So what are some of my images of perfection? Which images have a charge for me? Which ones do I sometimes try to live up to? What am I afraid would happen if I don’t?
When I look at my images of perfection in general, I see that many of them seem to have to do with degree. I am happy to deviate from them to some extent but if it goes too far, it brings up embarrassment and fear, and I may even feel mortified. I am OK with being normally messy and flawed, and something in me doesn’t want it to go too far.
I am happy to have some hangups, flaws, beliefs, emotional issues, and even trauma. But if I get completely blind-sighted by it, and act on them or react to them in a strong and blind way, it would bring up shame and embarrassment in me and a wish for others to not see it.
Also, I have some ideas of perfection around what I write here. I know it’s a bit messy and that I, as anyone else, have my limitations. There are innumerable things I am not aware of, and that’s reflected in what I write and in my life in general. At the same time, if this is pointed out to me and it’s something I feel I should have noticed or included, this too can bring up some embarrassment and shame.
When it comes to awakening, I can find images saying that awakening has to do with perfection at a human level. It has a slight charge for me although my conscious view is very different. It means that whenever I reveal some of my human messiness in the awakening context, there is a little tickle in my chest saying “Oh! You are going against this (slight) taboo”.
What do I fear would happen if I am not perfect?
I seem mostly fine with it for my own sake, although there is a fear that I will mess up my life if I am not mostly on the “perfect” half of the imaginary perfection scale. If I act too much on my hangups and issues, I am afraid it will make my life more messy and challenging.
Most of the fears seem to have to do with others. What will others think about me? What will they say about me behind my back? Will they judge me? Shame me? Crush me? Dismiss me and my life? Will I be ridiculed? An outcast? Isolated? (These fears tell me to isolate so I won’t experience this, so I am creating the isolation for myself.)
How would it be to find peace with all of this? With the worst I imagine can happen?
- spirituality and perfection
- where does the idea come from? may belong to certain older forms of spirituality
- these days, may be more of an embrace of who we are with flaws and everything
- if truth and love is our aim, then embrace of who we are come with it
- even then, may try to live up to certain ideas of perfection, less obvious to ourselves
- certainly more peaceful, more what we really want, to embrace ourselves as we are
- and helps us with the awakening process
- also, when notice what we are may be more easy to embrace the imperfections of who we are
What are the genuine upsides of embracing my imperfection? Does it help me find more of my wholeness. Does it make my life richer? Does it help me recognize, in my bones, that we are all in the same boat? Does it help me connect more genuinely with others? Is it a relief to not have to try to live up to certain images of perfection?
What types of perfection for me?
Avoid logical fallacies
Not say something terribly wrong if I could have avoided it
Not act too much from hangups, issues
Seems more about the degree than any particular content
Get a little embarrassed if this happens