“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone.” – Lin Yutang
This month I’m musing about acceptance of imperfection. Letting go of the need to be perfect. I observe it often in many people – including myself. It’s not surprising, since it’s been ingrained in us since birth. Stay aware and you will notice how many times you hear or say the word perfect. Here are just a few I came up with: the perfect baby, perfect daughter, perfect health, perfect body, perfect weather, perfect job, perfect workout, perfect outfit, perfect couple, perfect home, perfect day, perfect score, perfect parking spot, perfect trip. Perfect life? Why is it when we achieve these so-called levels of perfection we are not always happy or satisfied? How often have you heard people brag about their perfect life, only to discover at a later time it wasn’t so perfect after all? This month, catch yourself trying to control a situation to make it perfect or lamenting about something you hoped would be perfect. Can you recall times when you were content even when events or people (or yourself) were less than perfect?
Letting go of the need to be perfect doesn’t mean not trying or not being ambitious. It’s having a future goal, without being fixated on it. I have often found that whenever I have high expectations, I am disappointed. Better to enjoy the journey, and then when things turn out well, (and they often will) be pleasantly surprised. We joke about it, our obsession with perfectionism. But we have to let it go if we are to accept life’s changes or aging or ailing bodies, with grace. We must adjust our thinking more in the realm of reality. Being content with our own version of perfect: our body’s ideal weight, health, and beauty based on circumstances beyond our control, or genetics or age. Trade being perfect for doing the best you can and realizing that is enough.
Sometimes, after teaching a class or giving my talk on Twelve Mindful Months I hear that critical voice in my head saying “If only I’d done this, if only I’d said that.” If only. Be aware of those two words. You will see that they usually relate to perfectionism. If only I’d thought…if only it hadn’t rained…if only this hadn’t happened…if only I had been stronger. Instead cultivate positive, more resilient thinking. When the self-sabotaging voices in my head start to chat, I focus on what worked, what my strengths were, and if it is a situation that I’ll be in again, a class I teach, then I make a note of what I learned that I’d like to remember next time. When I gave my first mindfulness talk in April I was not as polished – well, actually at least the first four of my weekly talks – as I am now. With each week my confidence grew but it wasn’t only due to practice. I realized that I did the best I could each week with where I was on my speaking journey. Life unfolds and we are given opportunities to grow and it sometimes has to be gradual, so we must be patient.
What if we seek our true nature, what feels right and aligns us with our soul instead of striving for some ideal that society or someone else sets for us? What if we look for the good in ourselves or others, or what we’ve been able to do in our day, instead of finding fault or focusing on what went wrong, what didn’t happen? What if we live in the now, being grateful for what we can do, instead of being fixated on some future dream or moment or wishing we were still able to do what we did in the past? What if we cultivate our natural resilience and go with the flow of life, accepting what we cannot change and appreciating what we have?
Wow – amazing concepts, huh? That’s mindfulness. It’s really like putting on a new pair of eyeglasses. The world was a bit blurry before, and because your eyes weakened gradually, you didn’t notice what you were missing until you had a stronger prescription. Suddenly the world is jumping out at you, clear and vivid and you see more. Just like putting on your mindfulness glasses. Instead of being nearsighted – tuned in to your own world – you will experience farsightedness – the ability to see and feel the whole world and connect more to others. With your new lenses on you will see the beauty in the imperfect – both in nature, others, and yourself. And that in turn will allow you to experience life with more depth and meaning.
My year – 12 full months – of mindful musing blogs has passed quickly. I will continue to muse monthly about the chapter theme at least until the end of this year, and perhaps beyond. It has kept me on the mindfulness track and I hope it has helped you. Keep practicing. Remember that it takes awhile for new consciousness to develop because the old consciousness still has momentum behind it. No one is perfect – mindful 100% of the time – but the more we practice we will be able to digest our experience and let life touch us, nourish us, and move through. Resist the need to be perfect. Go with the flow. Just be.