Seeking a new kind of perfection

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Sign with the word wisdom and a red line through the word perfectionism

Even when we aren't experiencing the kinds of catastrophic losses that we normally experience as brokenness, there are times when enough smaller frustrations, setbacks, and disappointments can still lead to feeling like life in general is a pretty broken place.

I think this is even more true for those of us to are perfectionists (even those actively working on recovering from perfectionism as I am). When there are so many examples of things completely missing the bar of perfection all at once, it seems as if everything I touch is broken.

I've been having one of those times lately. I've been sick with a nasty chest cold that prompts wracking coughing fits throughout the day (and night). My car that I just spent so much money trying to fix is headed back to the dealer with a new issue tomorrow.

There are multiple structures in my back yard in various stages of decay and collapse leaving it looking as if a tornado has gone through. A round of expensive removal, repair, and replacement work is scheduled to (hopefully) begin tomorrow after months of frustrating work trying to get that all arranged.

And in the meantime, multiple large trees and shrubs in my front yard of all different species are suddenly dying from unknown causes, and I'm scrambling to try to figure out how to save them.

Add to that challenges at work, the stress of juggling multiple jobs (including my own businesses), and the discouraging state of national and world news that bombards me wherever I look, and it seems at times like everything I see is broken and imperfect. Including me.

In the midst of all of this, I came across a message that redefined perfection in a way that not only offers a shift to a radically more healing perspective, it also resonates strongly with the art of kintsugi.

Redefining perfection

I came across this shift-making message in a recent email from Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest and mystic, who says:

Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection. Divine perfection is the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection--just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.

He goes on to quote from David G. Benner, saying:

Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. Paradoxically, it is this whole self that is most perfect. As it turns out, wholeness, not perfection, is the route to the actualization of our deepest humanity.

This idea of true perfection being the embrace of the wholeness of who we are and how life actually is rather than the elimination of all imperfection has stuck with me since I read this, and I've found myself going back and re-reading it multiple times.

(I highly recommend the full email for fuller appreciation of his thought. In fact, his daily emails in general are well worth a read if you have any interest in mystic spirituality, even if (like me) you are not Catholic.)

Given my interest in and work with kintsugi, I naturally move directly to applying this to the idea of broken things.

Seeking wholeness

What if healing—much like kintsugi—does not involve removing the imperfection, but rather embracing that imperfection as a part of the whole?

What if a part of healing is embracing the existence of the pain as part of the wholeness of life?

What if it is the radical acceptance of the parts of ourselves and our lives and our experiences that we dislike and see as defective and imperfect are actually what leads to perfection?

By allowing the gold in our cracks to shine, we are embracing those imperfections as part of our wholeness that makes us more perfect than we would be without them.

I've taken this on as a challenge to myself the last few days as I've struggled with the challenges I'm currently facing, and (much to my surprise) it's helping. I'm still not happy about any of these current issues. I'm tired of being sick. I'm worried about the number of expenses that are hitting so hard and fast right now. I'm frustrated and discouraged on so many fronts.

But as I lean toward embracing life (and myself) just as it is right now—accepting both the parts I like and those I don't, the things that are perfect and those that are very imperfect—I'm finding a kind of wholeness underneath me that steadies and upholds me as I deal with these current issues.

My usual self-flagellation over my imperfections has eased, and life is managing to still seem good, even in the midst of hard times.

I have no doubt that this would be an exponentially harder attitude to hold onto in the midst of catastrophic trauma and loss, but I'm wondering whether learning to embrace this wholeness of all of myself and all of my life in these smaller hardships might make it easier to hold onto that wholeness in larger ones.

After all, wholeness is a much more manageable goal than eliminating imperfection ever will be, so learning to see perfection in wholeness may allow this recovering perfectionist to heal in ways I never dreamed possible.

Questions to ponder

How much of a perfectionist are you in your expectations of yourself and your life? How does this perfectionism (to whatever degree it manifests itself) affect you?

How well do you embrace the whole of yourself and your life—including the imperfections, the things that cause you pain, and the things you don't like?

When you do manage to embrace that wholeness, how does that feel compared to how perfectionism feels?

Can you imagine this embrace of wholeness leading to a new kind of perfect—one that makes space for you and for life as it is? What does it feel like to imagine that?

How might it heal you to embrace the whole of your experience as you might embrace a kintsugi repaired vessel to find the beauty even in the cracks?

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