the myth of perfection

(overcoming a major obstacle on the path to liberation)

"Divine Mother holds two extremes: maya and liberation."

We are caught in maya, the play of our continuous illusions, drawn into what is swirling and moving and changing around us. In the fluctuations of this change, we search for stability and security. We look for the mythical perfect place outside of ourselves – the perfect job, teacher, relationship, Hatha pose, body – lawn anything that seems normal, complete and looks like it will stay the same. When you think you've found it, you can say, this is who I am, this is what I want, this is what I can do.

We believe in a life-story. Taking the threads of our days and weaving the dreams and dramas and images together, we build this story. But what is real?

We often sense indications of a reality that is just beyond, behind or below the surface of the ongoing story of our lives. The real is that magical combination of human and spiritual. The real is experiencing the essence of who we are in the present. We all have a wisdom within that connects us to a more penetrating view of life and clarity about our purpose in it. The commitment to face your reality is a potent crossroad in your spiritual life.

But the myth of perfection is strong, and can stop you on your path, challenging your decision to go forward. When the desire for perfection is too great, we don't have easy access to our own knowing – we can't act; we are afraid to make mistakes. But we are human and learn through trial and error – it keeps us humble. When we keep the image of perfection – which on the spiritual path often manifests as a holier than thou attitude – we forget our purpose as humans is to evolve and be compassionate to those around us. We lock ourselves into a prison of perfection in relationship, in work, even in our spiritual life. Looking at the facts can reveal how little we know about ourselves and who we really are.

We can make up some very creative ideas about who we are. We go out of our way to have the right clothes, the right kind of work, a perfect partner. We often define ourselves in relationship to other people. The other person reflects back what you want to be, a mirror of who you think you are. But being in a relationship can be challenging if you don't know yourself or if you project what you want onto another person. Maybe you want something that the other person can't give. Maybe you are so self-critical that you can't see yourself clearly. You need someone to reflect back at you so you can feel appreciated or so you won't feel lonely.

Also with a perfectionist attitude, a little change seems like a big change, so big you think it can never be done, or it takes a lot of redoing and revising and the results are slow in coming. Change becomes very difficult, and the main reason is perceived criticism from others, or even from yourself. Negative thoughts take hold and grow. "I am discouraged and struggling with blame I'm trying not to give into the desire to criticize myself... the depression caught me... it's like a fog... I can't see what my mind is doing... it takes me a while to really get in touch with my emotional reactions... I want to hide from it...I feel caught." Criticizing yourself prevents you from making use of what you do know and limits what you can do.

Liberation in part is recognizing that negative concepts and habitual emotional strategies must die. In Eastern teachings, death is part of the change of life. There are constant rounds of birth and death. At a point of near death, your life flashes before you and you realize the pettiness of holding onto painful ideas and unresolved relationships that hold you back. It is like the curtain of maya is drawn back and you gain understanding and decisiveness.

In the imperfect there is perfection. Often people don't recognize their own Light. When they begin to step over the hurdle of criticism, and learn to trust themselves, life opens up. Recently, an older student in teacher training felt that she couldn't teach, that she wouldn't be able to do the poses perfectly. But she followed her body as it was, drawing on her many years of wisdom, and she now radiates Light. Her students can appreciate what she has to offer because she has an understanding of how to approach them from her own experience.

The nourishment for continuing on the path is in the small details of quality and joy and usefulness in everyday life. By recognizing these details you will develop faith in the presence of the Divine in your heart. This deepening of faith helps in facing the reality of your situation.

There is a giving part in all of us, an expansive generous part that recognizes life and its challenges and doesn't back away from changes and commitments. By developing a foundation and learning about yourself, you are stepping forward on the path of liberation. Keep learning and be an inspiration to everyone.
Swami Radhananda is president and spiritual director of Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia, Canada.

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