There are some things we could argue that are simply perfect. A sunset is perfect. Snuggled around a cozy fire, while looking up at the night sky, mesmerised by the beauty of the vast, expansive universe is perfect. You wouldn’t sit there and think to yourself, “I wish I could change the orange hues of that sunset” or “the night sky would look more beautiful with far less stars.” These rare experiences we have in our life, are perfectly perfect.
Yet, one can hardly argue, that no matter how much we have, that new car, the right zip code, or the job we always wanted — that something in the back of our mind — niggles, paces, and is never fully settled. Imperfection, seems to cling to the human experience. We can have everything we want, but still feel that we don’t have everything we need. But as spiritual teacher Pema Chodron reminds us,“You want it your own way. You’d just like to have a little peace; you’d like to have a little happiness, you know, just “gimme a break!” But the more you think that way, the more you try to get life to come out so that it will always suit you, “the more your fear of other people and what’s outside your room grows.”
My first experience of never being good enough came as a child. Nothing I ever did seemed to be good enough either for my mom, or the teachers at my school. Constantly, over and over, I was told, this is not good enough, you can do better. While I acknowledge that in some twisted way this was meant to inspire me to become more, I always felt that it left me with a battered self-esteem. The more I was asked to do things just right (or said another way, like everyone else), the less I wanted to do them.
You see, now in my 40’s I have come to realise that not only is life imperfect, it is that very imperfection that makes life so perfect. What I should have been taught growing up was not to be perfect as defined by a broken system, but rather how to dance with imperfection. Not only is the obsession with getting things just right a handicap to getting things right — our ancient brain, the lizard in all of us doesn’t help either. The lizard brain, the amygdala, says, “Don’t change, don’t achieve and don’t take risk, stay within your comfort zone, stay within what seems to be perfect, stay with what you have been TOLD is right.” While the lizard brain may be trying to keep us safe, it is also that part of the brain that stops us dancing with imperfection.
The truth is, living isn’t safe.
Safe, while safe, is boring, it’s where nothing creative and innovative happens. Safe keeps you where you are, stops you from where you want to go, but paradoxically makes you feel that who and what you are is never good enough (even when you have all the toys our materialistic culture told you would make you happy). Understanding the perfection of imperfection is awakening to the truth that as Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, notes, “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.” As Pema Chodron reminds us again, “There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride.”
I have come to realise and I am certain you have too, that life isn’t a smooth ride. But those rough spots in life are an invitation to be simply who you are. When you begin the journey of accepting yourself, you become courageous, you no longer run from those aspects of yourself that you do not like, but begin to realise that within your neurosis, lies your wisdom.
Said another way, to chuck out your neurosis, you throw out your wisdom, because they are made of the same material. This is of course hard to see, in a world that has defined perfection for us, and then tells us that to not be perfect as it defined it, is to be considered mad. But being mad, being imperfect may be the only true perfection that exists in this life. Sanity then, may be the very act of excepting who you are, exactly as you are.