Embracing Imperfection

Sometimes the hardest part of spiritual growth is overcoming the expectation that my problems will disappear once I’m “good” enough.

I often assume that I must fix myself: I am acting too disorganized, emotional, insecure, stressed. Then, I seek answers. (Enter this blog, spiritual efforts, and personal growth.) During the process of searching, I uncover some epiphany: perhaps a lesson or a quote that awakens me a little. Maybe I learn that I’ve been too self-absorbed, or that I haven’t been living in the present. Maybe this time, if I really let go in meditation, or maintain the right frame of mind, or if I stop straying from my chosen spiritual path, essentially if I do it right, then I will reach some plateau of infinite fearlessness, calm, confidence, ambition…all my issues will disappear, and I will become effortlessly loving and accepting toward all humankind.

One important piece of wisdom I’ve recently uncovered is this: a lot of my life has consisted of my searching for something I’ve thought to be missing inside myself. While perhaps my goal is to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing missing. I am a process, a work in progress, and I always will be. There is no perfection, only the beautiful acceptance of imperfection.

Goal: to embrace the natural incompleteness of existence!

When I think about it, perfection is one of the most unrealistic expectations anyone could put upon themselves. I’m learning that life is usually an uphill battle. We don’t work hard all our lives just to get to a stopping point, where we can sit and bask forevermore. The turmoil is what shapes us. You will always make mistakes. Sometimes, you will be unreasonable. Angry. Confused. Hurt. You’ll hurt others. You’ll hate people, or even yourself. But over time, we learn and gradually see through our shallow shields of defense. They will slowly subside.

But one quick-fix solution is highly unlikely.

And yet, I keep assuming that if I can find that one thing to change my perspective, then I will be cured of the human experience? No. The principles I uncover in my spiritual path help me gradually, but not immediately. Not at once. And that’s okay.

There are only a few principles I can cling to, which I know will never fail: choosing love over fear, hope over despair, and letting go over a false sense of control.

Maybe the most I, or anyone, can do is to accept our beautifully flawed selves the way we are but to never give up trying to become better.

Enneagram: Pinpointing your Compulsions

Everybody’s compensating for something.

Maybe back in the playground days, the kid you really wanted to be best friends with shot you down in rejection. Maybe you had a tumultuous home life that molded you into a peacemaker who would never cause trouble for others. Maybe you could never measure up to your dad’s standards, or maybe you always felt endangered.

When you are young, you put your trust in life and people and at some point, something fails you. You unconsciously build up a protective guard so this will not happen again. Thus, most people spend life developing an entire personality defending themselves against these fears. This is your ego: a set of defense mechanisms and insecurities locked into satisfying the desire not to be hurt. The ego is your individuality and your self-image. It’s the part of you with wants and needs, that rages when these aren’t met.

Enter: the Enneagram, a psycho-spiritual personality typing system rooted in mysticism, like Sufi thought and the Kabbalah. Unlike other personality systems, it hits the root of you. The heart of your motivations. The core of your behavior. And once you pinpoint your type, Enneagram doesn’t box you into some category. It identifies your own automatic ego tendencies so you can free yourself from them.

Enneagram views your personality as a constant cycle of wants and needs which will ultimately never satisfy you on a deeper level. Most importantly, who you are is not limited to these tendencies. You can find liberation from the constant clinging and worrying by letting go of yourself. A long but infinitely rewarding process.

Some philosophies speak of annihilating the ego, but I personally believe that we are not to destroy it (you will be an individual as long as you are alive, like it or not.) but that we must learn to see through its tricks so that they no longer control our actions.

Enneagram has helped me immensely. Since I discovered it in a workshop over four years ago, I have a pretty firm idea of what I’ve spent my life hiding from…mostly fears of unacceptance and rejection from elementary and middle school days. Frought with the notion that I was inadequately different, therefore rejectable, I tried to prove my worth to others and myself by strengthening my individuality and uniqueness and living in an inner world of emotions. The incessant effort I spent maintaining this image and dealing with turbulent emotions was NOT worth the few moments of triumph I felt when my vision was satisfied. I’ve learned to see myself as a continuous process rather than a fixed entity, and I no longer have to define my worth to anyone. I’m still trekking the road to liberation (will be for a while), but so far the process of letting go has been infinitely rewarding.

There are nine different Enneagream types: one (the perfectionist), two (the giver), three (the achiever), four (the romantic), five (the observer), six (the loyalist), seven (the enthusiast), eight (the challenger), and nine (the peacemaker).

Notice the interconnected design. All types are connected. Each one displays tendencies of other types when stressed and secure. I’m a type four, and when I’m productive and generally secure with myself, I become discerning and perfectionistic, like type one (my security type). When I’m insecure and feel inadequate, I go to people, telling them about my problems. This contains shades of type two, the giver (my stress type). You’ll see bits and pieces of yourself within the entire Enneagram, but pay attention to how well you identify with the root dilemma of each type rather than the traits. What’s causing the turmoil?

The best way to discover your Enneagram type is to talk with someone who knows a lot about Enneagram. I’ve helped a LOT of people find their types, and I have a pretty solid grasp of the system. If you need any input, I’d be glad to offer my intuitions. Just let me know, or leave a comment. The second best way is to read about the different type descriptions. Taking a test is probably one of the least effective ways to discover your type (Tests measure traits while Enneagram measures root impulses) but it can point you in the right direction. Here’s a free test you can use.

Oh, and chances are, you won’t like your type at first because no one likes to face up to their shadow side. Pay attention to that. Once, I typed another type four and when I talked about the underlying sense of shame felt by most fours, he exclaimed (while turning red), “We don’t talk about those!”

The Enneagram has a lot of depth…subtypes, variants, levels. If you are all interested in knowing more, I can totally continue to write about Enneagram in the future.

Here’s some reading: Enneagram and Spirituality, and some good sites: Enneagram Institute and Enneagram Explorations and Enneagram Book.

Happy typing! 🙂

Heavy Emotions

Emotions can weigh down like a heavy shroud.

This is something I’ve struggled with this summer, which has been a bit of a wake-up call. Normally, I don’t let my emotions control me for long. In fact, I sort of pride myself on my ability to keep my attitude in check.

But sometimes it’s not that simple. I’m not going to lie, my emotions have driven me to the point of physical exhaustion at points in the last few weeks. Dramatic though it sounds, a few days ago a pit of despair (such as I’ve rarely experienced) hit me over my head like a ton of bricks, dragging me to the point of physical immobility. Only lots of willpower got me through daily routine. I’d let stress and anxiety build up within me, then the smallest catalyst threw me into the deep end.

(Please note: I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. I’m truly fine now. Just using this as an opportunity to explore.)

I did a CD meditation on managing emotions, which helped. The focus was accepting, not resisting, negativity. Letting it “solidify.” I heard an applicable saying, that resisting duhkha (suffering) is still duhkha. Repressing those gnawing feelings is like too many strong antibiotics. It ultimately creates a stronger and more uncontrollable strain. If you’ve ever tried ignoring your emotions, then you know to expect an eventual break down (that will probably hurt someone in the process).

I find that vexing emotions -impatience, irritation, discontent, stress – evaporate when I allow them to flow through me. Honestly embracing the negativity, with no underlying intention of driving it away, can instantly dissipate the tension. Emotions are not what hurts you. Only your reaction to them does.

Looking negativity straight in the eyes is essential. Sometimes emotions are bright flashing arrows to turn around and look within. Maybe there’s a deeper root to that jealous or angry instinct inside yourself. It could point to old fears or a need for self-love. (Negative emotions usually stem from fear, I believe.) And remember that emotions are physical, not just mental…try to notice where the feeling is located in your body and to describe the sensation. Is it in your chest? Your back? Your throat? Stomach?

This is a tricky process. Perspective helps. During my downswing, the more I dwelt on the feeling as something hopelessly consuming me, the deeper I dug myself into a hole. On the contrary, the more I thought of myself as a person with temporary problems, the more manageable things seemed.

This particular doozy disappeared when I came face to face with the root cause of the conflict, but other things helped in the meantime: attention to other people, exercise, artistic release, meditation. Meditation helped me to regain touch with myself as pure consciousness, rather than overwhelming sadness.

Here’s a beautiful article on managing emotions, from a spiritual perspective.

In the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

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On Accepting People

Hatred is a function of the ego. The ironic thing about it is that it hurts only oneself.

 

I’ve found so much truth in this concept recently. In a nutshell, I’ve had some emotional clashes with someone lately. I become a basketcase when we fight.

 

But today I looked at myself and realized what kind of energy I was putting into our arguments…after they happened. How I went over in my head again and again the unjust nature of the accusations, the insensitivity of the other party…circles upon circles of thought.

 

Clinging, all clinging. Clinging, perhaps, to the idea of myself as a purely innocent victim. To my “perfect” self-concept the other person is “threatening” with their accusations. Feeding my ego won’t solve my problem.

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that we must accept other people the way they are…flaws and all…and recognize that they will NOT act the way we want them to all the time. People don’t make sense. They are self-interested. They will do what they think is best, even if it’s really not. And that’s okay. Just deal with the situation as lovingly as possible. It might hurt your pride, but pride is the enemy in the first place.

 

Accepting is infinitely easier. Lifts the cloud of anxiety and replaces  it with a light glow of contentment.

 

When you don’t chase your own happiness, it rains down. 

Concern for oneself is tight, constricted, and doesn’t let anyone else in unless convenience allows. Concern for others leaves it all behind and replaces the stresses of Self with something light and pure.

 

On presence in relationships with others.

EDIT: I don’t think I made this clear…I’m especially referring to myself as self-interested, in the wrong, irrational. The irony lies in the fact that while I am filled with vehemence toward the other party, I am blinded to my own faults. (I think this is universal.) Acceptance clears this away.

To be okay with myself, I have to be okay with this world that we are part of. I know in the seat of my soul that I cannot be okay with my world unless I am okay with you because you are a part of me and I am a part of you. Ignoring that means to let a part of our world, and therefore a part of ourselves, wither and die.