My husband called me a perfectionist the other day. I was taken aback. I’ve never really placed myself in that bracket before, thinking instead that I am simply not good at prioritising, too easily convincing myself that there is something more important that I am avoiding, and that I am focusing on the wrong thing, the easier thing. I had been complaining to him about my own procrastination on things that I have good intentions of doing, and then finding that somehow they remain undone, or partly done and unfinished. This kind of constant second guessing about what to do and when, leads to time wasted as I pause in doubt of what I should be doing with my own adult 55 year old time. It feels strange sometimes that this adult who studied yoga and yogic thinking for years, who has taken comfort from and offered comfort in maxims like “Just go with the flow”, so easily slips into that insecure space where making a simple choice just feels so hard.
But he may have a point. my husband, that is. Perfectionism can be debilitating, especially when you believe you lack that boldness, that flourish, that ability that is required to tackle the job perfectly. The sad thing is that one then ends up feeling stifled, reluctant and even unable to move on and try, and instead finding it easier to stick with things easier or more familiar. Fearing a lack of certainty, a lack of perfection, one misses out on the chance to aim for the stars (and if you miss, you may just shoot the moon instead ;)) In constantly awaiting perfection, or waiting for that perfect moment to try something, one misses out on life. So yes, perfectionism can cause procrastination, and I have at times been frozen into inaction by my own reluctance to try something that may turn out less than perfect.
It takes me back to my days as a yoga instructor. From time to time I would have a brand new student say to me ahead of class “I can’t do a headstand or a shoulderstand yet, will I be OK in this class?” assuming that they may be at a disadvantage if they can’t manage these things in class. These things, bear in mind, are postures (asanas) that no yoga beginner should be expected to master, and in fact can cause serious injury if attempted too soon. Being prepared to embark on a journey toward self-mastery is part of the wisdom and beauty of yoga. True yoga (not the yoga that belongs in glossy magazines and inside sweaty gyms) requires patience, perseverance, self-compassion and the willingness to take the necessary steps towards a desired outcome.
It’s the same with any task: for instance, I have decided to refurbish the second hand, vintage wrought-iron table that I bought for my bedroom, and I have come up with 3 options:
Do the research on doing a thorough renovation. This involves sanding down the metal to remove the old paint, and then priming, painting and finishing, using materials specifically intended for metalwork.
Sand down the table a bit, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
Use some of the leftover paint that I used to paint a small cupboard in my bathroom to paint over the table, leaving some old bits of paint visible, giving the table a deliberately distressed and aged appearance.
You may agree that option 1. is for the perfectionist, whereas 2. and 3. is for the casual crafter with little time on her hands, and a budget to stick to.
My life as it is right now dictates that option 1. is just not on the immediate horizon and that if I want a pristine job done, the perfectionist in me will take it to the specialists who are paid to do such things. But then my budget tells me that paying more for the renovation than what I paid for the table in the first place does not make sense, so I have decided to go for option 2 or 3 instead. I’m still deciding. Either way, I can accept that sometimes perfection is just not on the cards and that good enough is good enough.
We all need to feel appreciated and recognized for our efforts from time to time. We need feedback from others to know that our endeavours count for something, especially when we feel that the wheels are turning too slowly and that the things we want to achieve seem out of reach. Our family members, friends and those we consider our peers are often the mirrors which reflect back to us our place in this world, and while we should never let other’s opinions make or break us, there is no doubt that people matter, in the sense that we sometimes simply need to know that what we are trying to do is not going unnoticed. At TheFreeDictionary.com, ‘AFFIRMATION’ is described as ‘a statementintended to provideencouragement,emotionalsupport, ormotivation…‘
Our need for recognition and support is echoed in ‘No Man is an Island’, a well known proverbial expression coined by John Donne in the 17th Century. The phrase expresses the idea that human beings do badly when isolated from others and that we have a need to be part of a community in order to thrive.
All this was brought home to me whilst reading through the readers comments one of my recent postsand enjoying and appreciating the the positive feedback I received. One of the comments in particular, from hilaryhunterwriter, stood out for me. It ended with the simple statement: “Keep up the good work” and somehow this short sentence inspired me to just that. Suddenly I felt a unexpected pride at my efforts and in that moment it felt like what I had written was elevated to something more special than before. And perhaps that’s the critical issue: that it sometimes takes someone other than ourselves to recognize what we are doing and the impact that we have, because we often fail to see it at those times when we just can’t see the wood for the trees.
A few weeks ago I visited a close, slightly younger family member who has in a short space of time been through several operations including reconstruction surgery and has been on cancer treatment since. Despite having to deal with devastating emotional shock and invasive treatment, she has continued on her way towards physical and emotional recovery with astonishing energy, positivity and determination while the rest of us look on in awe. I decided to tell her once and for all that I think she has been amazing and that I admire her hugely for the way that she dealt with everything. This resulted in a long and rather tearful hug on both sides, as more words of love and appreciation tumbled out. I left with a feeling of lightness of spirit and somehow relieved that I had spoken from the heart in this way, even at the risk of becoming emotional. I think that this lightness and sense of relief came from knowing that what I had expressed had been ‘sitting’ with me, needing to be said, and that there is no time like the present, especially as Tomorrow is Promised to Nobody. But maybe that’s a subject for another post….
“Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded.” Bruce Lee (November 27, 1940–July 20, 1973)
Bruce Lee understood the power of nature. His “Be Water”quote (on YouTube)fromtheTV series Longstreet, is one of those perennials that remain relevant and powerful, and continues to attract seekers of peace looking for meaningful sustainable ways to meet life’s challenges. Even as a young man (he was only 32 when he so sadly passed away) he was committed to do so much more than be the physical powerhouse and world renowned actor that he became. He was a family man and a seeker of truth. To quote his daughter Shannon Lee, he was a “teacher, family man, martial artist, philosopher, and innovator who became a cultural icon because he actively lived his philosophy of self-actualization.”
Read more Here on the moments of clarity and conviction that led up to him becoming spiritually inspired and moved by the qualities of water in all its potential, from the power of its gentleness and yielding to the power of its force and magnitude.
British naturalist and environmental writer Michael McCarthy explores the powerful feelings nature can stir in us in our day to day lives: “They are surely very old, these feelings. They are lodged deep in our tissues and emerge to surprise us. For we forget our origins; in our towns and cities, staring into our screens, we need constantly reminding that we have been operators of computers for a single generation and workers in neon-lit offices for three or four, but we were farmers for five hundred generations, and before that hunter-gatherers for perhaps fifty thousand or more, living with the natural world as part of it as we evolved, and the legacy cannot be done away with.”
In his book The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy,Michael Mcarthy writes about his passion for nature beginning in his difficult early childhood and continuing into adulthood, and he presents us with some hard facts about our dwindling natural resources. He expresses his deep concern for the future of our natural world and his insistence that as a “resource” nature is far more than an exploitable asset but a true source of joy and connectedness.
“Our origins are of the earth. And so there is in us a deeply seated response to the natural universe, which is part of our humanity,”Rachel Carson, a 20th century marine biologist who was truly in love with nature, and unselfconscious in her “preoccupation with the wonder and beauty of the earth.”
Both of these wonderful, devoted pioneers believed that despite everything we are still essentially nature’s children, and that the natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. They believed that if we truly look out with our hearts and our minds to the beauty and realities of our precious world, we will connect more and more with our own ‘loving nature’ and become less tolerant of the neglect and destruction that is so commonly part of what we call progress.
” It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result..” _(Mahatma Gandhi)
In 2007 a woman called Beth Terry wrote a letter to her city council member in Oakland, California, opting for the banning of plastic bags from grocery stores and other retail outlets in her area. Since then she has to date turned out a total of 746 blog posts, all centered around ways to reduce the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our environment, with a strong emphasis on reducing our own individual plastic footprints. And her blog is just one aspect of her site myplasticfreelife.com, which is a comprehensive resource for plastic-free living. She makes the point that our actions matter. Our efforts count. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed into inaction does not help. Don’t be paralyzed by perfectionism; you will end up feeling discouraged and frustrated, believing that your efforts towards creating positive change are pointless. Read below to where she discusses this very issue:
The reality is that there is a lot of hidden plastic that we inadvertently consume every day simply by being alive in this modern age. If you ever eat in a restaurant, you consume plastic. If you buy anything from a store, you consume plastic… even if you buy it from a bulk bin. Because often, the foods in the bulk bins come shipped in great big plastic bags. And even if they weren’t, there was probably some plastic involved in growing the food in the first place. Organic farmers may have used plastic sheeting to keep out the weeds.
The idea of living a plastic-free life is not to become so perfect at avoiding plastic that you feel smug about yourself. Realizing just how unavoidable plastic is when you really trace back the life cycle of a product can wipe that smug grin off your face and provide a humbling perspective. Our personal actions DO make a difference, though. I know it can be tempting to say, “Oh, the problem is so big, I might as well give up.” Don’t.
Read the full post here, and take a moment to remind yourself that it’s perfectionism that is pointless, and it’s the action, the effort, that is important.
Our actions should never involve unnecessary strain, force or intervention. Keep your actions natural and spontaneous in order to find your own balance and momentum. Stay relaxed so as not to impede the process of ‘non-doing’. Our actions are more authentic, more true, if we can allow nature, rather than force, to guide us.
These are some of the central ideas in Wuwei, a key aspect of the Chinese philosophy of Taoism, and it encourages us to practice ‘going with the flow’, allowing our actions to be relaxed, spontaneous and natural, thus avoiding tension and unnecessary effort.
Seeking simplicity is for me not only about making eco-wise and efficient choices regarding the environment, my health and my home. Our thinking guides our actions, and if we find ourselves feeling under constant pressure to get things done and to get them done just right, we may want to step back a bit to a simpler, kinder way of relating to ourselves. It is all too easy to get caught up in over-thinking, which leads to tension and anxiety and can take the joy out life. We start to fear change: new opportunities are instead perceived as unwanted challenges and we start anticipating difficulties rather than possibilities ahead. I am speaking from direct experience here! And even mundane, repetitive action (housework, anyone?) can feel like less of a chore if we can relax into it rather than approaching it with a sense of dread and a feeling of tension. There is always room for improvement in the way we think about ourselves in relation to the tasks that we set ourselves and to the tasks that life itself sometimes unexpectedly presents to us.
Read Soon Teo’s fascinating posts about the power of Tao Here.
1.“The One you are looking for is the One who is looking.” (St Francis of Assisi).Beautifully explained in this post.
2. ““There exists a deep ecological tradition in Vedic culture by which human settlement, forests and water resources are carefully balanced. To achieve that balance, nature’s welfare and human welfare cannot be separated each other.” Chris Terry explains the Vedic ecology at the core of the Small Farm Training Centre, in an article from the Huffington Post.
3.“Really, to have a life of doing you need to not do.” (Will Rosenzweig talking about the Tao). Read about the four levels of non-doing, and how it may sometimes be necessary to be detached from things that you care deeply about.
4. “Animals move; people can learn about movement from animals. House pets stretch all day long, creating space in their joints. Animals sit in different kinds of positions. Monkeys and apes do things with their hands. Perhaps as humans we need to reclaim our four- leggedness. Getting down on all fours stimulates the pranic flow. Sitting in chairs tightens the hamstrings and the lower back. Animals don’t sit on furniture; they have not built things contrary to their nature.” (Denise Kaufman). From theEncyclopedia of Religion and Nature (London & New York: Continuum, 2005) Edited by Bron Taylor
5.”Whats in your cup? ….When life gets tough, what spills over for you?” fromZEN FLASH “The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step”
Many people today are interested in meditation in a more ‘functional’ way, perhaps as a means to help us to manage stress or health issues and to help us to cope with our busy, demanding lives. Meditation therefore is something we might look to simply as a tool to help us to manage our daily demands.
In his book YOGA(6th Edition_ 1983), Swami Venkatesananda describes meditation as “..the art of realising the universal self, beyond the ego-sense” and as a state of being and awareness where “..the ‘I’ has disappeared and only consciousness remains”
Swami Venkatesananda spent many years as a recluse and ascetic disciple. His yoga practice extended to serving humanity and he believed in teaching through his word and example the ideal of an enlightened life. He believed that there is a way for us all to benefit from a meditation practice and believed in a ‘common sense’ view of our seemingly complex problems.
So how CAN we use meditation in a ‘common sense’ way, in a way that helps us to feel calmer, happier, healthier and more in control of our lives?
I have used my own morning meditation routine as an example of a light meditation practice before starting the day. The practice can take as short a time or as long as you like, even five minutes if that is all you have. I sit for fifteen minutes on average. The important thing is to make it part of your daily routine so that it becomes a habit.
First, I make sure I have a hot cup of tea in my hands and I sit comfortably in bed with my back supported by pillows. The routine is more or less as follows: Continue reading →
“We all tend to see our bodies as “frozen sculptures”- solid, fixed material objects- when in truth they are more like rivers, constantly changing, flowing patterns of intelligence.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus declared “You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are forever flowing in.”
The same is true of the body…. Your adipose tissues (fat cells) …is exchanged every three weeks. You acquire a new stomach lining every five days (the innermost layer of stomach cells is exchanged in a matter of minutes as you digest food). Your skin is new every five weeks. Your skeleton…is entirely new every three months….You appear to be the same outwardly, yet you are like a building whose bricks are constantly being replaced by new ones. Every year, fully 98% of the total number of atoms in your body are replaced- this has been confirmed by radioisotope studies at the Oak Ridge laboratories in California.
This constant stream of change is controlled at the quantum level of the mind body system.”
“It is not simply a cute phrase to say we are what we eat: it is an absolute truism. Every cell in each of our bodies gets replaced on a regular basis — some within hours, some years. The bones that are my skeleton today were made of entirely different cells just a few years ago, and those new bone cells came from what I ate (and drank and breathed). We are of the Earth, and it is of us. The “environment” is not something out there, separate from us: it is a description of the continuum in which we exist.”
Deepak Chopra’s point about the quantum body is perhaps a conversation for another day. The quantum level is, according to physics, the level at which matter becomes energy, and in Ayurvedic treatment, it is at this level, including in our thoughts and attitudes, that potential for true change and healing exists.
“What is minimalism then?…it’s living lightly and gracefully on the earth. … its uncovering who you are.” Francine Jay
I like the way that this quote points to two issues, without separating them:
1)Francinerefers to ‘uncovering who we are’ which leads me to a few questions: Do I have some ‘uncovering’ to do? What are the things that I need and love? What things can I do without, and am I able to let go of these? What are my non-negotiables, the true essentials that add value to my lifestyle and to my life as a whole? What things that I own express my own true needs and preferences, and which do not?
2) She also refers to ‘Living Lightly and Gracefully on the Earth’, which for me is about living with care and consideration for the earth under our feet, and for the environment that surrounds us and gives us life. Minimalism is about living with less and implies going smaller, not bigger.
“Continuous expansion on a finite planet is not the answer to our challenges: Like our built environment, bigger is not necessarily better. Rather, we need better integration and a recognition of our proper place in the bigger scheme of things”
The use of the word integration reminds us of our deep connection to the world in which we live and that our actions and the choices we make, whether carefully or carelessly, have power and impact.
Our individual motives for Living Lightly, or becoming more Minimalist, is not really the issue here. Whether you have become tired of the clutter in your home and have started giving stuff away to a good cause, or whether your concern for our oceans means you stop using plastic drinking straws in order to help stem pollution, the result is that you are making positive change for yourself and for your environment. This is a step in the right direction towards uncovering who we are and living lightly and gracefully on the earth.