Every morning, right after my meditation, I try to sit down and write a few “morning pages”…these are usually about three pages written out in my journal or on my laptop, where I try to clear my head before the day begins. I am still usually foggy from sleep, and so it is always interesting to go back later in the day to read what I wrote. Often I don’t even remember what I was thinking, and the morning pages become a window into my thoughts and emotions in that cloudy, subconscious window between sleep and wake.
It had been a challenging few days, feeling slightly “off” and irritable. I didn’t know exactly why, but I knew I wasn’t feeling particularly centered. I often tell my patients that it can be more difficult to deal with subtle, negative emotions, like discontent, boredom, loneliness…rather than the crashing waves of anger, sadness, or frustration. And so as I wrote my morning pages today, on the heels of these challenging days, this is what emerged onto the paper:
“today i imagine myself going through my day dropping the need for perfection, for it all to look a certain way, and doing so with compassion for myself. but i realize that in accepting my imperfections, i allow my children to be imperfect, to be weird, to feel sad, to be themselves. the light of someone who is mindful and self compassionate isn’t necessarily a steady, calm, un-wavering light. it is perhaps a light that flickers, that waves, that at times dims and at times burns brightly, but burns nevertheless. so my intention is to allow imperfection for myself and others, and to breathe, even as i write this i breathe. i breathe into my identity as someone who tries, every day, but often fails. and that is ok.”
I hadn’t consciously realized it, but yes, as I looked back, the voice of perfectionism in me had been loud and persistent. I try to be aware of not going overboard with the “I shoulds”, and the “I have to…”, but sometimes they creep up on me. I want to be a good doctor. I want to be a good parent. I want to be a good writer. But when the desire to be good insidiously transitions into the desire to be perfect, things start to fall apart for me.
I realize that when I try to be perfect, I am betraying some of my core values. I long for authenticity and transparency in my relationships with others. I value being able to be my complete self, including my faults, challenges, limitations, because that is how I can be most honest in relating with other people. I feel like if I am comfortable with my imperfections, then other people can feel comfortable being imperfect with me. Holding up an external image that says, “I’ve got this down!” only prevents others from entering my world, and being with me as I am, as they are.
Aside from my relationships with others, perfection paralyzes me, and warps the bigger picture. As I sit and write this, my daughter sits in front of me, reading, playing with her bookmark, eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and sorting through mint leaves for me to drop in my coffee. All at the same time. She periodically wipes her mouth with her t-shirt, occasionally lets out a burp and laughs. There are so many things technically wrong with this picture.
But if I asked her to follow all the rules, she couldn’t be herself with me. We couldn’t sit here together like this, in peaceful silence on a Sunday evening. If I demanded perfection of this blog post, I would wait until the circumstances were exactly right…kids in bed, house clean, bills paid, dogs fed…and by the time I got to writing, I would be exhausted and uninspired, and resenting life. Dropping my standards allows me to be good enough, and sometimes that is the zone of staying sane and true.
So I continue to learn, from myself, my patients, my children…to approach myself with kindness, and allow myself to relax into life as it is, not as we imagine it should be. This was the message my subconscious mind was sending me this morning via my journaling. Make mistakes. Let them go. Start over. Drop the standards of perfection, for yourself, and others. It’s the only way your candle can continue to burn.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in considering where perfectionism manifests itself in your life. Would life be a little more comfortable if you created room for a little imperfection?
With gratitude, Monisha