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 : )

White orchid

Japanese watercolour,
She towers above the cacti;
A delicate, white geisha
In the soft shadows
Of bashful buds.
Graceful and rare,
Full of life unfolding,
The mystery
Of every second,
In every frond unfurling.

Shady leaves,
Cool and broad,
Green waves paused.

Slender green stems
Climb to the light,
Proud
That tall is nothing to hold onto.

Pure white petals,
Paper-thin,
Pink with pollen powder-paint,
Sprinkled by the perfect artist.

Thirsty little dragon mouths open
Sucking sunfire.

And in her beauty
Is her death:
A whitewash of wilting petals,
Drooping like wet skirts;
See-through crispy curls
Limping out of the limelight,
Graciously bowing out to the
New small stars.

Lady-like, in flower form,
Kuan Yin,
Consort of compassion,
Sings of the beloved.

She is a slip of a kiss
By a rain-soaked window pane;
A jasmine goddess,
An elegant saint;
In fragile purity,
So certain in her choice.

Lyndi Smith, January 2012

I wrote this poem about a beautiful white orchid in Jan and Maria’s house in Copenhagen. The character of the orchid reminded me of another dear friend Verity Pabla.

The love experiment

Over the last week I have been running a Love Experiment. The experiment was inspired by this quote, from my good friend Verity Pabla.

When all the people in the world love one another, then the strong will not overpower the weak, the many will not oppress the few, the rich will not mock the poor, the honored will not disdain the humble, and the cunning will not deceive the simple. And it is all due to universal love that calamities, strife, complaints, and hatred are prevented from arising.

(Mo Tzu, Chinese Philosopher)

Verity texted me this quote while I was asleep, after a Skype conversation about love and making a difference in the world. I woke up and read the quote she had sent and was immediately inspired. I wondered, is it possible to love everyone? Could I love everything that I did?

So I set out to run an experiment. My research questions were:

  • Is it possible to put love in every single waking moment and action?
  • What would be the effect of cultivating inner compassion and placing that compassion into everything I do?

Recently I had observed that when I felt carefree and at ease, the way I combed my hair changed dramatically. When I put love into brushing my hair, it softened my actions and my hair felt and looked nicer. I wondered if there had been an energy transaction here. Had brushing my hair in a kind and loving way given my hair some positive energy? Had this energy allowed it naturally to fall in the way I preferred? Could an energy begot from love yield a happier life?

And so over the last week, I have cultivated feelings of love and tried to be with them in all of my interactions. I have not tried to force feelings of love, but have noted when it became more difficult or more easy.

Sometimes I feel like my life becomes a to-do list, as activities are ticked off or ‘achieved’. I wanted through this experiment to pay greater attention to the means rather than the end.

And so, one week on, how did it go?

Well, I have found feelings of love easier to maintain when alone, with plenty of time. To wash up and really put my heart and soul into that one bowl I am washing is beautiful. It is like a meditation.

I have enjoyed the softness I have experienced when typing tenderly, loving each key rather than making it my slave, and bashing it to death. I have found a femininity in loving every action, and this feels new and vulnerable and rich.

I have appreciated the people I work with even more; been even kinder to children and been even more grateful for every mouthful of food I have eaten. All this has come from living with love.

I have felt happier and more at ease; more relaxed. Being more loving has given me a better quality of life. I have found it easier to get along with people and easier to forgive.

Creatively, I have felt more drawn to poetry. I found myself listening to lots of Rumi this week, particularly Podiobook’s free audio downloads of The Masnavi, read by Jawid Mojaddedi. I was inspired by The Masnavi so much that I composed my own verses in my van. I would like to dedicate a future blog entry to this.

I have found the Love Experiment more challenging the more people I have to deal with, when deadlines loom, when I feel rushed or stressed or have a lot to accomplish in a short space of time. Sometimes during a faster-paced period, that loving feeling has become more urgent, and felt more passionate. Sometimes, in the words of the Righteous Brothers, I lost that loving feeling.

However, the experiment in itself has enhanced my awareness. It has brought greater awareness into how I act in life. Many times I noticed when I lost that feeling of love, and was sometimes able to shift into feeling loving again.

I also became acutely aware of when love arose naturally. When with good friends, during yoga and meditation or singing in my van it seemed to spring forth! When working with children, love is very present.

This experiment has helped indicate when I am in great natural flow, and might be a good indicator of my true role in life.

Eckhardt Tolle discovered a similar ease, although rather than run a love experiment, he awoke unexpectedly with such a feeling and it lasted for over two years. In that time he felt deep bliss and inner peace. His mind was uncontrived and undisturbed. He was able to be in the moment at every single moment, and writes about it at length in The Power Of Now. This book is particularly useful as a toolkit of exercises for keeping you calm and aware and present.

I have experienced a time in my life when I felt something similar.

It was in Tenerife. Over the summer, I had spent three weeks on a working retreat at Casa Saraswati, the retreat centre of sacred clown and spiritual teacher Didier Danthois. Our schedule there was morning meditation, followed by an organic breakfast; work, then an organic lunch and rest time; then more work, yoga practise, organic dinner, relaxation time and finally bed. This schedule suited my body, my emotions, my soul perfectly. Didier helps people find their own sacred clown; a fool, full of childlike awareness, who has no concept of time and space and savours every new experience. His workshop method transferred to the running of his farm on working retreat, which was similarly easy-going and all about quality of experience. The banner photo on this blog is a picture of sunset at Casa Saraswati, by the way.

Without even forming a concept or conducting an experiment, I was living in the moment, and putting love naturally into my actions. A retreat space is perfect for this as there are fewer responsibilities and deadlines than in daily working life.

Sogyal Rinpoche is an esteemed Buddhist teacher and the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He talks about an old Tibetan phrase:

Water, when not stirred, will become clear;
The mind, when unaltered, will find peace.

In my experiment, the times I felt love were also very peaceful for me. Peaceful and simple. I only had to do one thing: love. Love everything.

I feel that modern life is hectic. I feel that the education system places higher emphasis on passing exams than how to life our lives as successful people. I feel that love is not something that comes from outside you, but from inside you. I would love to see greater teachings on love in the school system, in the workplace, in the home. We spend a long time chasing a love outside ourselves, when we can find it in an instant in our hearts.

I believe that it is possible for me to try and live with even greater love in my heart, and give love more freely, more openly, with less limitations.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

(The Buddha)

This does not mean we have to say yes to everything. It means that we can choose to find love, and give love. It means we can notice when we feel love naturally, or when it becomes a struggle. We can spend our time on the things we love. We can improve the quality of our lives and those around us by putting love into the tiniest action.

Have you ever eaten a homemade meal, cooked with love? You would choose to eat such a meal over a microwave dinner any day, right?

I guess that’s my point : )

Separation creates great art

While feeling separated can cause us humans great distress, it can also be the fuel for great art.

I regularly participate in and run mask workshops, and last weekend, me and my fellow European ‘masketeers’ (as Mia Tullberg calls us) ran a Trance Mask Workshop Demonstration at the Questors’ Theatre in London.  The workshop was a great success, and an audience were introduced to the trance mask techniques of Steve Jarand and Keith Johnstone.  We also made time that weekend to play with full masks, and an observation was made about how frequently the theme of separation came up.

The mask scenes that captured my attention the most all involved separation. Have a read of these. Two of them were directed by the talented Alex Fradera.

Scene One: The Toyshop.  The toymaker’s toys come alive at night, but despite the boy and girl toy falling in love, they must be separated as the toymaker prepares to ship the girl toy off to South America. What will the toys do?  Run away together?  But how will they survive as toys in a human world?

Scene Two: Grandma’s House.  Granddaughter comes round the day after Grandma’s funeral.  Grandma left a bag for her.  As Granddaughter goes through the bag, happy memories flood back. Grandma’s spirit is there, but Grandma can’t touch Granddaughter and Granddaughter can’t see Grandma.  They feel each other there but know it can’t last.

Scene Three:  The Royal Visit.  The Queen visits a nursery, and as the visit continues she realises the Nursery Worker is her daughter, illegitimate and taken from her at birth.  They both have a moment of tenderness together but will Her Majesty be able to maintain contact with such a ‘scandal’?  Can she walk away and return to her royal life?

Separation is there in each scene, and the question: can they stay together or will they leave each other?  I got to asking, is all great drama about separation?  And what about visual art, or music? Can we see the theme of separation as clearly there?

Over the next few days I looked out for other art forms which have separation as a theme.

Verity Pabla has just released her live album, The Journey.  Verity’s music is beautiful; very precious, with warm instrumentation and perfectly-pitched, pure vocals. Lyrically, she opens her diary on love and relationships.  In Verity’s music you can experience what it’s like to love someone, lose someone, celebrate love or be under its spell.  The themes of separation and togetherness are definitely there.

And what do you think about the following themes within Warwickshire Artsweek? Changing WorldsAn Emotional JourneyDefine YourselfLong People and Wonky Buildings? Is it just me?  Don’t they seem to be about separation too?

Separation has such a power of expression.  Our lives revolve around love, and love and relationships are all about separation and togetherness. Separation is a common theme for us human beings. Even if you discount relationships, the longing to have friends, be part of a family, or part of society is within us all.  Our desires all come from a feeling of separation, or a longing to be part of something whole.

In fact, many of the ancient Vedic and Buddhist teachings talk about this.  Here, duality or separation from oneness is the source of all desire, and all distress.  The initiate seeks therefore to reach enlightenment, in which they become part of the great universal oneness.

However, the state of enlightenment may not be desirable for the artist who still seeks to produce.

From time to time I pick up the guitar and write a song, but I have noticed a pattern.  Whenever I am very content, I do not write much.  The impetus for expressing myself is just not there. My best tunes have been written when I have been suffering, wanting or feeling rejected.  Perhaps musical expression only comes to me when there is a gap between the goal and the reality.  Certainly, for me, when there is no gap, when I have what I want, there is no new music.

Have you found this to be true? Hey, if you’re interested in discussing the theme of separation, please get in touch.  You can leave a comment below or e-mail me: lyndismith@btinternet.com.

And if you’re interested in trance masks and live in London, contact the fabulous Jude Claybourne at jude.claybourne@yahoo.com.  Jude will be starting to run trance mask workshops in the autumn in Ealing.

The importance of friends in business

Things haven’t been going so well. Cash isn’t coming in to the business as much as I would like, and I can see problems with the way my work is going. So how can I find a way forward?

I am meeting my friend Verity Pabla to have a catch up. Verity is a singer/songwriter and film-maker, and in the last 12 months, her company I Am Not A Machine Productions has been doing very well. We chat for a while about how things are going, and our similar interests both inside and outside of work. Verity is on the Graduate Mentoring scheme at ICE, the Institute for Creative Enterprise, and when she tells me of the services they offer, I am amazed! Hotdesking, meeting rooms, post boxes, mentors and interns… this sounds just like what I need! It turns out Verity is even on her way there, so she walks me down and introduces me to the receptionist. Within a few minutes, I have a meeting booked in with the programme manager!

When you’re stuck, remember that friends are a valuable resource. Call a buddy who also has their own business; have a catch up. Even if they do something quite different. TRIZ, the thinking tool, teaches us that a problem solving approach from one industry can help another industry. And it can benefit you to stand back, look at the bigger picture and see what works on a macro level, before applying it to your own situation.

Tell your friend your problems and find out what works for them. The comparisons you draw will definitely help you find a way forward, even if that means you don’t like your friend’s ideas! It still allows you to use a process of elimination. And who knows? You might find that there’s a lucky coincidence in there – that they know the person you really need to speak to.

If you don’t have a buddy with their own business – find one! Look for local business networks, or at least use internet forums.

A problem shared is a problem halved.