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“Oops … I did it again.” – Britney Spears
Face meet palm
What is your “thing” that you do again and again even when you’re determined not to do it? Lose your temper? Procrastinate? Remind (ahem, nag) someone you love to do something? Eat one too many candy corns?
Each and every one of us has at least one of these “oops’s.” It seems to be part of what makes us human to continue to fall into a habitual behavior long after we’re aware that it is not useful, healthy, or helpful. Our ability to change seems to lag behind our ability for self-awareness.
These mistakes we make even we’ve promised ourselves never to make them again are one of our most frequent invitations to face our innate imperfection. Even decades into my perfectionist “recovery” (another way of saying my imperfectionist acceptance), I find myself quite willing to chase after the always alluring notion that maybe this time I’ll pull it (whatever it is) off perfectly.
When I’m chasing that lure, I am all in – mind, heart, and body. I am determined and focused. I am intense, excited, and deeply hopeful. I can taste and feel my sweet, perfect success.
And then I mess up. Again. The fervor of my efforts not to mess up amplify the aftershock of my crash. I can get quite mean with myself – thinking and saying things about myself I’d never allow myself to think or say about someone else. I can worry about my mistake to the point that I feel sick.
Honestly, even in the throes of one of these perfectionist reality checks, I know my reaction is ridiculous. Yet, though it happens much less than it did, oops, I do it again. And again.
What has helped?
One of the most life-changing gifts of yoga and meditation has been the opportunity to cozy up to imperfection; to get to know the okay-ness of messing up over and over again. Though my practices are good for me in many ways, I am most grateful for the vast amount of practice I’ve gotten in responding to my mistakes.
It is easier on my yoga mat. There it is impossible not to notice when I’ve fallen out of or not made it into a posture. There I may have to try and try again 5 or 15 times. More times than not, I have had to move on and deem my failed attempts successes simply because I tried. Without years of physical practice in parting ways with perfectionism, I think my forays into meditation would have been even more challenging.
On my cushion (which is really a comfy, old, oversized armchair) my perfectionism is deeply challenged because I’m working with parts of me that have often felt like superpowers. My ability to focus, my willpower, my stubborn determination, even my ability to sit still and be quiet all seem like they would make me an excellent meditator. (Just typing that makes me laugh.)
Twenty minutes in meditation affords me countless opportunities to notice that (oops) I’ve wandered off with a thought. This awareness is an invitation to accept the reality of my imperfection without (much) judgment, which frees me to return to center – again. I even get the chance to choose to soften as I observe myself getting frustrated or determined or any other response that narrows my perspective, grits my jaw, and hardens my edges – again and again.
The return is everything
With practice, I have learned that the return (the rebound, the do-over, the willingness to begin again) is the whole point. It is not about how long you hold a posture or how long you were able to keep your awareness softly focused. That is child’s play. The real work is in developing an affinity and grace for navigating your mistakes. Meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg, says, “the healing is in the return.” This healing perfectionist could not agree more.
Richard Rohr sums it up beautifully:
“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves.”
This recovering perfectionist is a little tweaked by the idea of one day being able to handle my imperfections perfectly. Lucky for me, my practices continue to give me a zillion chances to surrender to just how out of reach even that teeny-tiny chance of perfection is.
Facing your imperfections can be quite painful. Working with a spiritual director in a quiet, confidential, wholly accepting space can help you on your healing journey.