Perfection. Ahhh, me. I recently had occasion in a lovely women’s group I’ve been participating in the past four months, to come to a shattering realization of just how much of my life has been built around needing to be ‘perfect.’ From all the judgments and subtle ‘not good enoughs’ that mill around most of the time in my brain about myself and others, to the feelings of insecurity I have around people I admire, that voice of Perfection has been a relentless companion. (Though I plead less and less guilty, as my Observing Self is now watching this happen!) After that women’s group session, I picked up Marion Woodman’s "Addicted to Perfection” from my bookshelf. I had read this brilliant book some years ago, underlining, underlining! Now I opened the book to a part where she speaks of the split that occurs in many women (and men, but especially women) between their spirits and their bodies. Anorexia, bulimia, an obsession with outer beauty as defined by others, are all symptoms of a sub- or semi-conscious rejection of our own material, messy, painful, wonderful bodies.
I had read this book before, but now it took on new and greater meaning. (It’s fun how we spiral back around to re-realize things at deeper and deeper levels, isn’t it?)
In yearning for the spiritual, as some of us do, we take from our Judeo-Christian culture that to be spiritual means to reject our imperfect physical incarnation. Even if we consciously do not buy into Christian thought, it's remarkable how our unconscious self may have taken on these ideals. We split ourselves into parts and hide away those parts that are ugly to us. And in so doing, we limp along, unable to be fully, wholly (holy) ourselves.
Woodman speaks of how nature can help us heal this split.
She speaks of how, in healing ourselves, our bodies have to be prepared, be ready, to absorb the work we may do on our psyche. I take this to mean that we have to recognize and accept our bodies in order for the psyche to fully integrate its learning. She says that in (consciously) bringing our Spirit to nature,
“ . . . the psyche recognizes something of itself in the matter of nature. And the unconscious responds by becoming the perceived object [in nature]. What happens is in some sense a reciprocity in which conscious and unconscious, mind and matter, join to produce a third. That third is the meeting of body and spirit, bringing with it an act of joyous recognition."
For me, this profound insight re-affirms the power of nature to heal and whole us. By learning how to really see and feel the essence of a tree, for example, in all its imperfections (it seems that any tree of a certain age has some part of it dying or dead), that gap in our psyche that is created when we yearn for God— ”Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” — dissolves into just being who we are. Human. Alive right now. Working on perfection perhaps, but grounded in our humanity. That third thing, the integration of body and spirit, is when our true joy arises.
I went to the next women’s group meeting feeling slightly that I should apologize to everyone for being such a mess. But one wise woman in the group said, “Messiness is more helpful than perfection.”
Practices for the integration of spirit and body, of heaven and earth, can be this simple: stopping on the street to look deeply at a bug, or a small sprout growing through the cracks in the sidewalk.
Looking ”deeply” is the trick here. It’s seeing with your entire body, not just eyes and mind. It’s imagining you can feel what that bug or sprout is experiencing, having an empathic experience with that tiny being. You can do it in 30 seconds . . . but it’s often challenging to perceive with a clear and completely open beginner’s mind, the mind of a child.
If you happen to be a parent of a small child, lucky you! You have the opportunity to do this every day.
Perhaps taking 30 seconds every day to shift our attention in this way is actually a spiritual practice for integration that brings spontaneous joy. Try it and see!