November 16, 2011

Ordinary Perfection: A Buddhist Approach to Self-acceptance. ~Sister Shamu


Small deer nibbled the grass along the edge of the pond as I sat on my porch this morning and watched. A bird sang.

The horses wandered close, keeping one eye on me as they grazed in case I decided to get up and go dump morning feed. The whole time, I was aware of a seeming duality – the joy and beauty and bliss around me contrasting with the chaos bubbling just below the surface of my psyche. I have this crazy idea of what perfection is supposed to be like, of what an enlightened person, a spiritual person, an intelligent person is supposed to be like. I don’t measure up.

The Buddhists have a teaching about “ordinary perfection.” It is about finding perfection in non-perfection. It is about recognizing that enlightenment, or mature spirituality, looks exactly like your life right now, exactly as it is. It is about recognizing that who you are before enlightenment looks remarkably like who you are

Photo: Bytemarks

after enlightenment. It is about being true to the way things are, being true to ourselves. Jack Kornfield describes it by saying that “instead of clinging to an inflated, superhuman view of perfection, we learn to allow ourselves the space of kindness.”

My whole life I have wanted the respect of other people. I have wanted them to say “what a beautiful, smart, sexy woman.” In the last few years I added “successful, generous, good and kind” to the list. I believed that by pursuing my life’s purpose – to make a difference, to make the world a better place – that people would be impressed and see me the way I wanted them to see me, the way I wanted to see myself. Even as my spiritual beliefs began to change and I saw my life’s purpose as simply learning and growing as a person, I believed that I was contributing to the learning and growth of all, which was still admirable.

In my mind, I had this picture of a gentle, wise woman who spoke with a quiet authority, who was graceful and peaceful, who was somewhat saintly, who never cussed, who never drank, who never lied, who never cheated, who wasn’t forgetful, who wasn’t clumsy, who paid her bills on time, who had only serious healthy relationships. This was the person I wanted to be. I suppose I accepted this morning that the perfect me would never exist and that the perfect me already exists. The impossible, ridiculous, unattainable ideal that I had concocted was an amalgamation of the bits and pieces of other people’s stories that I had collected and called my own in pursuit of being praised. Trying to grasp the ungraspable, I exhausted myself in vain. My own conception of spirituality put me at odds with my spirituality.

The person I am – the one who sometimes talks too loud, who snorts when she laughs, who likes hearing dirty jokes but couldn’t tell one right to save her life, who

Photo: Bytemarks

makes stupid faces when she masturbates and who finds skid marks in her lacy panties no matter how good she wipes – is the person I am supposed to be. Praise and blame, pride and self-judgment, success and failure are imposters, secondhand opinions about my experience.

To be free from the judgment of others and myself, to experience life without the critical thoughts of how it should look, to be awake to whatever is happening, to hold each moment in awareness and compassion. How perfect would that be?

Sister Shamu (not her real name) is the former owner of Oops Mental Health Services (not its real name), which was a casualty of the unstable American healthcare system and an over-inflated ego. Now unemployed, Sister Shamu realizes that what she is qualified to do bares no resemblance to what she wants to do and has become preoccupied with confronting her slightly hostile and often devious Shadow Self by sharing intensely personal blogs and writing a novel that, like her, seems to be in a constant state of edit.


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