I had a realization at my meditation yesterday which was how much I have been attached to the idea of “becoming”– becoming a perfect self in a perfect world where everything is just the way I want it. Yeah, things are great now but it would be a little better if… Isn’t this the cause of all suffering? We are never quite happy, never quite satisfied with the way thing are. We want a little more of this and a little less of that. It’s this constant striving to add on better attributes to ourselves or to our lives and to subtract everything we don’t like.
I realized how often I make something an improvement project–myself, my health, my relationship, my work. I’m never enough, healthy enough; my partner isn’t enough and the work I’m doing and what I am contributing to the world is not enough. So I imagine some time in the future when this “ideal self” exists. A self that is more loving and kind, assertive and powerful. A self that is less fearful and reactive, less passive and inhibited. Of course, I can never reach these ideals that I have set up in my mind. It becomes an endless chase like when teasing a cat with a feather attached to a string.
Our society is based on this idea of striving. We are running around, tired and afraid, trying to get a higher income, nicer furniture, thinner thighs, a more prestigious job. Work is especially an area where we can end up lost in this striving. Our identities are so wrapped up in what we “do”. I read in the book, Callings by Gregg Levoy a clever answer to the question–What do you do? The answer was “When?”
Our “being” has become something totally separate from our “doing”. We race around and then at the end of our day we “relax” by drinking beer or watching TV. What if, instead, we could slow down and bring attention to ALL of our moments? What if we could be FULLY engaged in whatever we were doing?
I just thought of the phrase “to get ahead” which means to be successful in our work. But if you think of it literally, it means leaning into the future. And what about the common phrase, “to be on top of things” which means to be in control of the situation? Our language is littered with words and phrases that lead us to believe that if we can just get in control and get on to the next “better” thing, then all will be okay. It’s no wonder anxiety is such a common problem.
But–you say–how would we get anywhere if we weren’t striving? How would we reach our goals and make our dreams come true? How could we accomplish anything? Well, let’s take a look at what “strive” means. By definition, to strive means “to make great efforts to achieve or attain something. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with making an effort towards a goal. The problem lies in our attachment to these things, the belief that by getting these external things, we will be finally be content. Think about it, has reaching a goal or getting something you wanted ever given you lasting happiness? Momentarily maybe, but then we are just on to the next desire or dream.
When we strive with the underlying belief that something is wrong or missing in our lives NOW, we will suffer. What if we could examine this belief and start opening up to the possibility that everything is really ok just as it is now, that WE are really ok just as we are right now. Tara Brach had a lovely little metta prayer for ourselves–MAY I ALLOW MYSELF TO BE IMPERFECT. And I could add to that–MAY I ALLOW MY LIFE TO BE IMPERFECT. MAY I ALLOW THE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE TO BE IMPERFECT.
Perfectionism is something I have dealt with over and over in my life. When I get lost in trying to make my speech perfect or trying to respond perfectly to someone or trying to write this post perfectly, or even trying to meditate perfectly, I contract and I lose contact with the moment, my heart becomes guarded and I judge others. But if I can forgive, and ACCEPT, my own imperfections then a softening happens. If I can accept my life as it is right NOW, then, fear dissipates. If I can let go of the way I want things to be, then I can simply enjoy wherever life takes me. If I can stop trying to be better, then I can actually BE.
I prefer the term UNFOLDING to striving. In unfolding, we can still have desires, dreams and goals but we surrender the outcome. In unfolding, we are not trying to “become” but rather we can focus on BEING. I can BE loving and present, powerful, assertive right NOW. And in the next moment, I can choose again the person I want to be. Here there is an expansiveness and spaciousness in which we are free to respond creatively and wisely in the best way we can.
There is no failure here because there is nothing we are striving to “get”. And we accept, that just as in nature, things are always changing. Loss is inevitable. When we simply allow things to unfold, each moment can become rich with meaningfulness. Each second is precious. Instead of leaning forward in the attempt to control and perfect, we can sit back into this precious second and find the joy and peace that are there. Indeed, this moment is perfect.