The beauty in the imperfect

Due to erosion, a large cactus fell over on our land and broke into several pieces. This is one of those broken pieces, and we decide to plant it at the entrance to the house.

Why? Most people wouldn’t plant a broken piece of cactus in such a prominent place.

For me, the answer is simple.

There is beauty in the imperfect. And there is beauty in new life coming from what’s broken.

It may not be what you see in Home & Garden magazines, but this is something that has character, history, and a lived life, and I find that far more beautiful and interesting.

Adyashanti: Recognizing our imperfection takes a lot of humility

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. 

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The perfection of this world

In The Matrix, the first world the machines made for the humans was too perfect. It was too pleasant. And the machines eventually arrived at a world for the humans that’s very similar to the world we all know.

I suspect the Wachowskis may have been influenced by the Buddhist view on our human experience, and perhaps also Alan Watts’ dream analogy.

THE WORLD IN TWO WAYS

When we talk about our world, we usually talk about our physical consensus-reality world that we – as a human being – live and function within.

Here, I am mostly talking about the world as it appears to us. Within this consensus-reality world, we may live in bliss, despair, and typically somewhere inbetween.

DREAM ANALOGY

Alan Watts has a beautiful dream analogy.

Imagine that you can decide what to dream each night. In the beginning, most of us would want to have all our waking dreams fulfilled: a pleasant life, lots of money, loved and admired, not lacking of anything, and so on.

After a while, this gets a bit predictable and boring. It doesn’t feel real. It doesn’t challenge us. We may find ourselves get complacent.

So we decide to add a few other ingredients to spice it up. We may decide to forget we are dreaming while we are dreaming. We may throw in some challenges. We make it unpredictable. We make it into an adventure which requires something of us.

And here, we may find that we have our world. We have the world we, most of us, are already living.

If we could decide what we dream, we may end up with a world very similar to the one we are already living. It has the right balance of ease and challenge, pleasantness and discomfort. It requires something of us. It keeps us on our toes. It helps us discover and bring out more sides of ourselves.

A PERFECT EXISTENCE TO WAKE UP FROM

In Buddhism, they talk about the god, hell, and human realms.

These are states of mind. We have a pleasant blissful state of ease. A hellish realm of suffering, anger, envy, hunger, and despair. And our ordinary human realm touching on all of this and yet not stuck for too long in one or the other.

From the view of awakening, of noticing what we are, the human realm is perfect.

The blissful realm may not encourage us to question our assumptions about the world and who and what we are. Things are fine so why go digging deeper?

In a hellish realm, we may be too caught up in despair, confusion, and struggle to have the space and clarity to go deeper.

And in our ordinary human realm, we typically have the right mix between the two – and also a more neutral state – to be encouraged to question our assumptions, while having some space, stability, and clarity to actually investigate.

From the view of awakening, our ordinary human experience is perfect. It has the perfect mix of ingredients for us to want and be able to notice what we are.

CREATING IT FOR OURSELVES

When I first described our wish-fulfilling dreams in the dream analogy, I included loved, accepted, safe, and so on. I included the essentials of what most or all of us wish and long for.

It didn’t fit, because this is is really what we wish and long for it. We don’t really want money, or admiration, or success, or any of those things. We want what we think it gives us, which is love, acceptance, safety and a few more essentials.

When typically try to get this from others and the world, and although it can seem to work to some extent and for a while, it’s a precarious project. We are dependent on an always shifting world that’s not primarily here to give us what we want at this level. It lives its own life.

We are the only on in the position to give this to ourselves. When scared, confused, and suffering parts of us come up, we can give these parts of us what they really need and want, which is one or more of these essentials. We can love them. Be a safe harbor for them. See and understand them. Accept them as they are. And so on.

And by doing that, we create a perfect world for ourselves. Independent on what’s happening in our life in the world, which we ultimately cannot control, we can give our scared and suffering parts what they seek and look for.

HAPPENS WITHIN AND AS WHAT I AM

Most of us take ourselves to be this human self in the world, and that’s not wrong. And if we look, we may find we more fundamentally are something else.

Our nature is capacity for all our experiences, and what all our experiences happen within and as.

We are what the world, as it appears to us, happens within and as.

We are what our ideas of perfection and imperfection, and what they point to, happen within and as.

There is a kind of perfection here. The perfection that comes from perceiving oneness, and how all our experiences are formed within and as what we are. A perfection that all the daily life perfections and imperfections happen within and as.

In the world, we may find that all is perfectly imperfect.

PERFECTIONS

So we may find that our world, as it is, is about how we would make it if it was a dream and we could decide its content. It’s perfect, in that sense.

We may find that it has the perfect mix of bliss, discomfort, and neutrality for us to want and be able to notice what we are.

We can give to ourselves, to the confused and suffering parts of us, what they need and want. We can give them the love, acceptance, safety, and other essentials they seek. We are in the perfect position to give the different parts of us what they really need and seek. Here, there is also perfection.

Our sense fields – including this human self, the wider world, and anything else – happens within and as what we are. Here too, there is a kind of perfection, a meta-perfection that includes anything we may see as perfect and imperfect in a daily life sense.

I am very aware that I am writing this from a position of privelege. I happen to live in the human realm with that mix of bliss, despair, and neutrality. Not all do. For some, the balance is way over on one side.

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