I took a walk along the Deschutes River early this morning and thought about perfection. I evidently have a belief that if I’m not perfect something bad will happen. I won’t be loved, or someone will hurt me, or I’ll be laughed at. I know I’m not alone in this belief. Many of us are card-carrying members of the cult of perfection.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about stability as I develop a coaching program for women who are navigating change. Especially for those of us in midlife, the changes we’re experiencing tend to be associated with losses. We yearn for stability and comfort, and feel flawed because they’re elusive.
The cults of perfection and stability are intimately linked. They’re also profoundly misogynistic, rooted in a patriarchal, mechanistic, linear belief system that denigrates women’s bodies and the cyclical nature of life on earth. When we believe that our job as humans is to figure out how to get life right, and then spend all our energy keeping what we’ve built from changing and falling apart, we’re worshiping at the altars of stability and perfection.
I know that I think this thought is true. I know how much this thought keeps me playing safe and on alert, constantly scoping for what’s wrong. It keeps me small and judgmental of myself and others. Believing that I have to be perfect causes me stress that I feel in my body as anxiety and tension. This thought hurts.
When I drop the belief that I have to be perfect, I feel free and light. I’m generous with my work and my ideas and my creativity. I’m open about how I feel and what I think. I’m generous with other people and accept them as they are. Living is fun.
The obvious turnaround for “I have to be perfect” is “I have to be imperfect.” But “imperfect” is not a loving, positive word. Its English synonyms, according to Roget’s Thesaurus, are “deficient, defective, faulty, unsound, cracked, warped, frail, gimcrack, tottering, decrepit, rickety, battered, worn out, threadbare, seedy, worm-eaten, used up, decayed, mutilated.” See what I mean about the cult of perfection?? There is no English word that expresses “imperfection” positively.
So I looked beyond English to the Japanese, who thankfully do have such a word: “wabi-sabi.” Wabi-sabi is the Japanese conception of beauty as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” A rickety tea house, a roughly-glazed vase, a gnarly tree in the garden – all wabi-sabi and all beautiful because they are flawed, transient, and unfinished.
“I have to be wabi-sabi.” Yes. That’s most decidedly true. I have to be wabi-sabi because I am flawed, transient, and unfinished. What choice do I have but to be wabi-sabi? Sure, I could keep trying to be perfect, but I’d rather be a card-carrying member of the wabi-sabi cult. Here’s to us, people of wabi-sabi!