To hell with perfectionism

Do you ever give yourself a hard time for not being perfect? Would you describe yourself as a perfectionist? Is it possible to stop being a perfectionist?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist… I should say ‘was’ a bit of a perfectionist because I’m sick of perfectionism. It’s rubbish.

Now let’s define the difference between perfectionism and having standards… It is okay to have standards, especially morals and good principles.

Perfectionism is different. Perfectionism is always striving for the best, to be the best, even when there is no reason for it. It is a compulsion. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with self improvement or having a goal. But where do your standards stop being enjoyable and loving and start operating from a place of fear?

I feel like I have been programmed to be perfect from a young age. I always believed I should get straight A’s, and conversations about school with my dad usually went like this:

“Still top of the class, Lynd?”
“Yes, Dad.”
“That’s my girl!”

So it’s easy to see how this habit was formed from wanting approval. Of course i forgive my dad; he grew up in a generation where an education really meant an escape from poverty or hard manual labour. Not necessarily the job market today, with so many unemployed graduates.

Here are the rubbish things perfectionism has made me do:
• not send a text ’til all the grammar and punctuation was correct
• worry about whether I’m dressed ‘cool’ enough
• only use certain pens in certain notebooks

I have now dropped these habits. Thank God.

I took up improvisation four years ago to have a bit of fun and be a bit more spontaneous. I love it and I find it useful for getting into a state of not being self-conscious.

Andy Fitzgibbon, a wonderful role model for awareness, recently advised me that I could afford to do 65% less, and still do an okay job. I found his comments interesting and scary.

So I decided to look at this habit a little more closely.

My perfectionism seems to stem from fear. From fear of not being right, from fearing failure, from being scared that my truth might not be good enough for someone else’s approval. From not trusting that everything will be alright, if it’s not perfect.

But look at nature. Nature isn’t perfect. A tree grows crooked; it still grows. The daisies are all different heights. They are more beautiful because of it

So I come to the conclusion that perfectionism is not natural, or trusting, or forgiving.

If I can’t forgive myself, how can I forgive others? As Pema Chodron says:

“The way that we can help is by making friends with our own feelings of hatred, bewilderment, and so forth. Then we can accept them in others.”

So true. So if I stop judging myself, I can stop judging others too. Makes sense.

That means, when an uncomfortable feeling, like desire for instance, comes, I should live with it. Let the desire be, and love it. Maybe give it a little wave.

Not jump on it, terrorise it, tell it how wrong it is and try to change it.

“Okay desire, there you are. You can stay as long as you like. I understand. I’m not gonna act on you, but I accept you.”

This conversation can only come with awareness of what you are feeling. So recognising feelings, accepting feelings but not being forced into action by feelings is key.

Another teacher put it like this:

“Within our impure mind, our pure mind is to be found.” (Dajian Huineng)

The pure mind is just a step away, in the stillness and the silence. If the ordinary mind can come to standstill, there the pure wisdom nature of our mind shines through. The pure mind is not a perfectionist, it is simple and loving and full of light. And within all of us, if we can just let go of grasping for just a few seconds.

So that’s it. Me and perfectionism – we’re over. I’m gonna care a little less, and chill a little more. So if you see me out on the street in my slob-out clothes, getting a little sloppy over my written presentation, or deliberately letting projects go a bit wrong, please know it’s natural, and in all of our best interests : )

The day I didn’t meditate

Today I didn’t meditate.

I didn’t intend this. I intended to wake up early, do some yoga, thirty minutes mediation then off to work at school.

However, I slept through my alarm and woke up fifteen minutes before I needed to leave the house.

I was disappointed, but happy I still had time to make it to work. I threw some clothes on and after making time for breakfast, left ten minutes later than I would have ideally wanted.

This left me an hour’s journey to complete in fifty minutes.

I worried. I started to panic. And then I saw my own mind.

“Does it matter?” I asked myself, “That I might be late? If the teachers think badly of me, will their thoughts hurt me? Is it possible I could drive there quickly, but still stay calm, stay with myself, as if I had just meditated?”

It might just work.

On the drive, I prayed that I would have an easy journey and arrive in time. I started to play Pema Chodron’s Bodhisattva Mind, and started absorbing her wonderful teachings.

Then I got a text.

The text was from a friend, in trouble. She was heartbroken at a relationship meltdown and wanted somewhere to stay at short notice. She sounded really in need in the message.

I turned off Pema Chodron and as I drove, I practised for my friend. I imagined breathing in her distress, sending that energy down into the earth, and breathing out peace, to her.

I sang mantras and sent compassion to her, and a few other friends having a difficult time right now. I decided to ask my landlady’s permission to offer my friend the bottom bunk below me at my lodging.

As I drove, I noticed that I also made good choices. I drove swiftly and deftly, without causing hazard but at full speed.

When I arrived, I was fifteen minutes later than agreed with staff, but twenty minutes before I would work with the children. I thanked the forces that be for answering my prayers.

I still had plenty of time to set up. In fact, I had time to set up, make a drink and text my friend the offer of a bunk.

I felt incredibly peaceful. I had not meditated or done yoga, but felt like I had practised for hours.

During this day, I had such wonderful clarity. I saw efficient solutions to problems, collaborated well with staff and saw beauty in so much of the children’s work.

I found myself able to have time to complete my work successfully and able to have a text dialogue with my distressed friend.

I felt thankful all day to the teachings and yoga and meditation training that have allowed me this great peace of mind.

Later on that day, I reflected. Why was it that I felt so peaceful, even though I had missed my meditation?

It remembered the Buddhist tradition honoured three paths to enlightenment: meditation, compassion and wisdom.

Perhaps during my drive, the mantras and practice I had performed were compassionate. And Pema Chodron’s audiobook is full of wisdom. They must have helped.

I also reflected that there is something more important than meditation.

And that is the great peace, the true nature of ourselves that we may find through meditation. The goal, if you like, is not to meditate, but to find our true self. To find our peace.

In Donna Farhi’s fantastic Bringing Yoga To Life, she says we must remember that anything that we should never tether ourselves to anything that can be lost in our practice. If our security lies in our ability to perform an incredible posture, what happens when we suffer injury, or get old? Do we lose our security?

Donna Farhi suggests we tether ourselves instead to the “unchanging core of our being”, for it is only with the infinite that we can truly realise our security.

I want to thank Donna Farhi, my teachers and guides and my friends in need for the great lesson I learned today.

I learned that the rituals of meditation and yoga are just signposts to my real nature, the infinite truth.

I’m not about to throw my practice book out of the window. Meditation and yoga are my training ground. But that is all. What they are training me for is that amazing, infinite, all-encompassing light of peace.

And that peace lies within me, within all of us; in our deeper, true nature.

All the time.