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.

Advertisements

Let go of a teardrop…gain the entire ocean

If you want something, let it go. Then, you will uncover what you were looking for in the first place.

Today I used a meditation technique to improve my concentration. My attention span typically lasts only a few- look-a-bird! -moments, and my new short-term goal is to develop focus. Here’s the technique I used: I counted each breath, flowing in and out, for ten breaths. And if any distracting thoughts invaded the arena of my focus, I started over.

This was, of course, notoriously difficult. I started over repeatedly and repeatedly. Sometimes I couldn’t even count to two breaths. With a steely determination, I continued…one (in, out), two (in, out)…and as I tried harder, a voice of authority started overseeing the meditation, “fixing” my improper technique.

You shouldn’t try so hard. You should stay in the present. You should observe yourself more. You’re sliding. You’re sliding…

Eventually, this voice became another distraction, and I re-started my counting sooner each time.

Then, I gave up. My mind isn’t used to focusing for this long, I thought. I need a break. And the moment I stopped trying, I was there. My mind was crystal clear, and I counted my ten breaths with ease. Surprised, I stopped and checked myself, and counted ten more breaths without a glitch.

As soon as I started trying again, the same voices and clutter and limitations emerged. Whenever I honestly gave up, I stayed in the present without a problem.

The object of meditation is to let go of the meditator-the part of you trying to do the meditation right. This effort is the voice of your ego (the part of you that needs, wants, desires, and hurts). But when you clear away this ego-clutter of wanting and striving, you are free. And when you are free, you achieve the fulfillment you sought in the first place. You find happiness and peace, by letting go of the need for happiness and peace.

I believe that when we trust ourselves completely instead of obsessively controlling our actions, we will naturally do right. As I wrote in my last entry, love is our very core once we strip away the rest.

Try it right now, as an experiment. Take a breath, and notice how you’re feeling. Don’t try to achieve anything. Just sit…notice that if you try to achieve anything with this exercise, it won’t work. If you’re just sitting, with no underlying intentions, you will feel peace.

What won’t work is controlling your desires- whether you want comfort, possessions, or validation. Let it be. Don’t tell yourself you’re letting go of your desire to stop craving when REALLY you’re just doing it so you can get rid of the craving, because you want to stop hurting. Letting go must be honest, and if it’s not, desire still controls you. Relax- we’re human. It’s natural. (By writing this, I do not imply that I am at some expert stage of “letting go.” It’s not easy for me at all, but it truly works.)

When you stop fearing the loss of what you want, then nothing can hurt you.

Great meditation instruction website here.

Honest Love: how to put yourself aside

Compassion

Love is not what you feel. Love is who you are when you strip everything away.

Why is love important?

Growing up, I remember reading in my first spiritual text, the Bible: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.”

Since I read this, I have consciously and unconsciously sought to fulfill this universal ideal of unconditional love. I probably always will be. Giving of oneself is psychologically healthy and oddly enough, incredibly joyful. However, selflessness is probably one of the hardest tasks we’ll ever face as humans. After all, we are biologically programmed to look after ourselves first. But the rewards of putting oneself aside are abundant. Don’t believe me? Try a random act of kindness and enjoy the happy buzz afterward.

Your endless needs and desires disappear when faced with pure love, and you enter a state of abundant,  selfless giving. There’s a reason why every major religion commands this practice!

If love were easy…

Practicing love seemed nearly impossible during my first attempts. People were irritating. Selfish. Cocky. If I didn’t like someone, I ignored them or talked down to them. I yelled at my siblings. I wanted the last cookie. Though my conscience was strong and my intentions were pure, I could only rarely bring myself to give when I didn’t feel like it, or to love someone I despised. Afterward, I felt racked with frustration and guilt.

Little did I know that those feelings of frustration and guilt were part of the problem itself. You can’t act compassionately toward others until you show compassion for yourself first. Here’s a quote (that I have shamelessly stolen from someone’s Facebook profile page). “Your task is not to seek love, but to seek out the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

These barriers are our defenses. Every time we act selfishly, we are only trying to protect ourselves.

Hate is a symptom that something is not right within oneself. Thus, I cannot rightfully condemn myself nor anyone else for selfish acts. Hatred must be treated with compassion, not more negativity.

Know thyself.

How, then, do we change direction? Compassionately, from within. I cannot stress the importance of being compassionate and nonjudgmental toward yourself. Watch yourself, observe your actions. When you notice patterns of selfish habits, explore them. Ask yourself, why did I do this? I notice that when I’m pushing someone away, I’m usually afraid of letting them in. Maybe this person’s irritating tendency to be clingy or obnoxious is a trait I suppress within myself. Maybe I’m afraid of letting them in because I don’t want to seem vulnerable and weak. Fear, in some form, is at the root, and learning to let go of that fear will bring you closer to natural kindness. Practicing meditation to help you let go of these fears.

Honestly, you will probably screw up. But wallowing in guilt and anger will only add more negativity to the mix.  Go easy on yourself. You have woven these intricate patterns of fear throughout your entire lifetime. They’re not going to disappear overnight.

Eventually, we will cease to automatically think of ourselves when faced with making a sacrifice. We will accept everyone without hesitation, regardless of the way they treat us. Without expecting anything in return (not to serve our own needs). I believe this signifies the ideal state.

Personal growth toward this goal, then, is not selfish. Ultimately, growth is an act of compassion toward everyone in your life. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Here’s a beautiful blog entry on Love & Liberation I’d highly recommend.

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! 🙂

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.