Perfect or Alive?
Yesterday I asked a 16-year old female client of mine to tell me the advantages of holding onto her restrictive eating behavior. She replied, “It makes me feel good, like I’ve done something.” I took a risk and said “so does this mean your tombstone will read: great friend, mother, wife and restricter?” Thankfully, she laughed. Although it’s great to bring humor into this work, eating disorders are certainly no laughing matter. This young girl is not unlike many others; she’s looking for something to make her feel good about herself, something to be good at, to give her life meaning. Unfortunately, this desire gets projected onto the body all too often in a relentless battle towards perfection and ultimately ends in emptiness. Alternately, connection, purposeful work, philanthropy and spirituality hold much more promise when it comes to creating a richer, more substantial life.
I leave a little book called The Pocket Pema Chodrin by my bedside. Every once in a while, I’ll open it and see where I land and what nugget of wisdom this Buddhist nun will bestow on me. Today, this passage was so apropos, I decided to share it in hopes that it might help any of you who are struggling with perfection whether it be via the body or any other form.
Perfection is like death
We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn’t have any fresh air. There’s no room for something to come in and interrupt all that. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Doing this is setting ourselves up for failure, because sooner or later, we’re going to have an experience we can’t control: our house is going to burn down, someone we love is going to die, we’re going to find out we have cancer, or somebody’s going to spill tomato juice [or ketchup] all over our white suit [yoga pants or jeans].
The essence of life is that it’s challenging. Sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is bitter. Sometimes your body tenses, and sometimes it relaxes or opens. Sometimes you have a headache, and sometimes you feel 100 percent healthy. From an awakened perspective, trying to tie up all the loose ends and finally get it together is death, because it involves rejecting a lot of your basic experience. There is something aggressive about that approach to life, trying to flatten out all the rough spots and imperfections into a nice smooth ride. To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment completely new and fresh.
~ Pema Chodrin