Religions and most forms of spirituality strive for perfection. Or at least, improvement. They teach that we're fallen, sinful, deluded, enmeshed in maya/karma, ego-ridden, desirous, lustful, selfish.
In short, imperfect.
Well, yeah. That's what being human is. That's what being alive is. Perfection is an abstraction, a concept, an idea.
Maybe it exists. Maybe it doesn't. Perfection is a state of mind. Sometimes we're filled with a sense of everything is just as it should be. Then that moment passes.
And we're left with life in its everchangingness. Ups and downs. Happiness and sorrow. Good news and bad news. Smiles and frowns.
This afternoon I took my watch in to have its battery replaced. I was getting irritated by having to strain to make out the fading digital numbers. For $9 I got a nice crisp screen back.
Also, a watch band that fell off the first time I took the watch off my wrist. I just spent ten minutes with a teeny-tiny screwdriver trying to get it back on. Couldn't do it.
A return visit to the watch guy wasn't on my agenda for tomorrow. But who says an imperfect life isn't as sweet as life is ever going to taste? That thought, when it passed through my mind a few hours ago, raised my spirits.
I was finishing my regular exercise routine at our athletic club. I realized that I didn't feel quite as buoyant as I usually do. I started to think, "I wonder why..."
Then an intuitive flash stopped my ruminating.
Expressed in words, it was like this: It's OK. Life isn't perfect. You aren't perfect. Nobody and nothing is perfect. Things and people are just what they are.
Instantly I felt better. A weight lifted off my psyche. So what if I wasn't feeling as good as I usually do? If I was in the same state all the time I'd be a machine. Or dead.
For most of my life I've worked hard at trying to improve myself. That's why I started meditating and doing yoga when I was twenty. Now, at sixty-one, I'm much more into enjoying myself as I am.
But old habits die hard. I'm still prone to wonder whether I'm kind enough, charitable enough, romantic enough (Valentine's Day is coming up), social enough -- to name a few "enough's."
I get irritated at myself when I'm irritated; I get angry at myself when I'm angry; I get unhappy at myself when I don't feel happy.
Sure, logically this is ridiculous, self-defeating, useless.
But who says life isn't often absurd, paradoxical, meaningless? It is what it is. Comparing my experience at any given moment to a notion of perfection just makes me feel like I'm lacking more than I really am.
So embracing imperfection is therapeutic. Relaxing. Healing. Most of all, human.
My watch won't stay on my wrist. This blog post isn't making complete sense. I probably won't enjoy watching the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics as much as I'm anticipating I will. My wife said she'd fix dinner tonight, but she isn't home yet and I'm hungry.
In other words, my life is normal: SNAFU. (More accurately: semi-SNAFU.)
Tomorrow I'll wake up, get the newspapers, make a cup of coffee, and go into my meditation area for my morning retreat. I'll spend an enjoyable half hour or so reading some inspirational spiritual literature about how everything is happening as it should, the self/ego is a fabrication of the human mind, and my consciousness actually is one with the cosmos.
I'll meditate for a while, leave my worries behind (or above, or sideways, or beneath, or wherever the heck they go when I'm not thinking about them), and then re-enter the world of home life, web surfing, blogging, chores, errands, exercising, tai chi, and all the rest that makes up my decidedly imperfect life.
There is an anecdote, told and retold through translated Japanese literature, of a Zen master who is staying with a priest at a temple close to Kyoto. The priest is having guests over that evening, and he has spent much of the day in the garden—shaping the moss, plucking weeds, and gathering up the leaves in tidy arrangements, all in order to achieve the state of perfection the temple builders had originally designed.
“Isn’t it beautiful,” the priest asked the master…
The master nodded. “Yes…your garden is beautiful; but there is something missing…”
The old gentleman walked slowly to a tree growing in the center of a harmonious rock and moss combination. It was autumn and the leaves were dying. All the master had to do was shake the tree a little and the garden was full of leaves again, spread out in haphazard patterns.
“That’s what it needed,” the master said.
–Janwillem van de Wetering, The Empty Mirror
But there is a strong case to be made for imperfection. Nothing is ever perfect, and even when it appears to be so, we are subconsciously looking for the flaw. Because our point of connection lies in imperfection--it's what makes something unique and, ultimately, authentic. Since perfection can now be had at the stroke of a digital brush, and the food we eat can be manipulated to look brighter and fresher, rounder, and yes, perfect, we have an increasing need to know what's real.