The Tyranny of Perfection
Imperfections are part of the display of life. Joy and sorrow, birth and death are the dance of existence throughout which our awakened consciousness can shine. Yet we long for perfection. The perfect partner, house, job, boss, and spiritual teacher. And when we find them, we want them to stay that way forever, never to lose the glow, never to grow old, never to have the roof sag, the paint peeling. We’re also taught to seek perfection in ourselves. Novelist Florida Scott Maxwell writes, “No matter how old a mother is, she looks at her middle-age children for signs of improvement.” You are told that if you do enough therapy, work out at the gym, eat an especially healthy diet, watch documentaries on TV, manage your cholesterol, and meditate enough, you will become more perfect.
In 1971 Ram Dass, who became author of the bestselling Be Here Now, was encouraged by his guru Neem Karoli Baba to return to the United States from India to teach. His guru’s message was one of love: “Love people and feed them.” Ram Dass was hesitant; he protested to Neem Karoli Baba that he felt too impure and spiritually imperfect to teach. His guru got up from his wooden seat, took several minutes to circle Ram Dass slowly and carefully, peering at him from all sides, then sat back down. Looking Ram Dass deeply in the eyes, he said simply, “I see no imperfections.” Ram Dass returned to America, bringing the teaching of pure love to millions.
You are perfectly yourself. The gifts you seek of love and compassion are not in faraway India. They are always here waiting for you. I see the fruit of loving awareness and self-compassion become visible at the end of retreats. On the first days the meditators’ busy minds begin to settle. Gradually their minds quiet, their bodies open, their eyes soften. They become less hurried, more present to themselves and the world. People sometimes joke about the vipassana facelift, because meditators leave retreats looking younger and more alive. When you see with the eyes of love, everything changes.
So forget the tyranny of perfection. The point is not to perfect yourself. It is to perfect your love. Let your imperfections be an invitation to care. Remember that imperfections are deliberately woven into Navajo rugs and treasured in the best Japanese pottery. They are part of the art. What a relief to honor your life as it is, in all its beauty and imperfection.