Imperfections. I’ve had a long-time hatred toward it. Yes, it’s been that intense. This hatred wasn’t targeted toward others with great intensity. It was actually targeted toward myself. I learned it in my upbringing. Perhaps I was born with it. Who knows. But I know I’ve been intensely displeased with being “not perfect” for most of my life. It’s only in the last decade that I’ve come into greater peace with it.
If you think you’re immune and that you don’t have these feelings and that all you seek is the “best outcomes”, you sound like the old me. In denial. I invite you to dare to peek through toward your imperfections. How do you find them, you ask? It’s those things about you that you know are undesirable, to yourself and to others. These are the parts of yourself that you loathe and run away from. These are the parts of yourself that you want to literally cut out of yourself and yet, that which you will defend with vehemence when criticized. “What are you talking about? I’m not the problem, you are!” For some of us, our displeasure with our imperfections is so intense that we bury it — so deeply that we delude ourselves into thinking that we are actually quite perfect. For others, we are so constantly focused on our imperfections that we are barely functional. Neither is seeing with reality. Yet both ways of living is deeply painful. Rather than fleeing from it or being mired in it, can we at least be with it, with a little more compassion and indifference?
You are imperfect. I am imperfect. That’s part of being human. There’s something so “old news” about it all. Yet it seems like we are all hiding with terror from this reality of not being perfect. Somehow if people find out, we’ll be branded with a big red “I” for imperfection and shamed publicly. This month, I hope you’ll take some moments to be able to do a simple but difficult thing. Acknowledge that part of you that you despise most. For example, if you hate not winning every time, think about a time when you were devastated that you didn’t win. Dare to feel how you felt. Feel it in your body. Let it engulf you in that moment. Then just breathe. And as you breathe, let that awful feeling leave your nostrils into oblivion. Literally transform that despise into vapor. Let it leave your body. Like how steam escapes from the shower. Do it a few times. What you’ll find is that all this hate for your imperfection can shift. You can actually diminish its omnipotence over you — just a simple breath can make a difference. Follow this exercise again and again when you feel that horribleness of your imperfections. It won’t “fix” it. But it will diminish its intensity. Over time, you can even experience imperfection with compassion and acceptance. A moment at a time.
If you’re a parent, this approach to life is vital for your children’s welfare and sanity. Breeding hatred of imperfections in our children is the greatest poison we can give them. I’ve seen adults who still harbor this self-despise, often instilled by unaware parents. Into adulthood, regardless of their true accomplishments, they carry a cloud of incompleteness. They fill their lives with ever more accomplishments, they criticize any person that presents any imperfections or they just give up on themselves. It’s painful for me to witness. But it’s even more painful for them to live with this. Today, so many of us are trying to create perfect children who can do this, that — bigger and better than everyone else. I get to meet some of these students in my work. When I ask them, for example, why they have played an instrument for the last 12 years, they say it was something their parents wanted. When I ask how they relate to this instrument, which composer they love and why, they respond with a paused look that convey a lack of connection with the intention of this instrument, which is to create an experience of connection, to sound, music, feelings and the world. It makes my heart break. To think they’ve spent most of their childhood in this activity and yet find no personal connection. Or worse, when they look down and with a sense of sadness and say, “I’ve just played in my school orchestra, but haven’t won any awards” – as if winning was the marker of their worth. Parents, is this the world we want to create for our children? Isn’t it love that breeds curiosity, expansion and exploration?
Witnessing and accepting our imperfections isn’t weakness. It’s an act of love. It breeds freedom and acceptance within us. From there, we affect all who are in our circle of life. When we can take a breath to lessen our self-loathing for our imperfection, we’ve actually dialed up self-love. It’s not about narcissism. It’s about dignity and freedom. For ourselves and for those whose lives we touch.