I have an anxiety disorder and it is not going away.
One of my more exhausting symptoms is perfectionism—a magnification of the already monstrous cultural neurosis that makes us think only the best is good enough.
I am not perfect.
And when I’m holding a pose, working hard to look like I’m not working at all, and the teacher says, “You are perfect just the way you are,”—well, it becomes much, much harder work to look like I’m not working.
I get it. We are exactly as the culmination of events from the big bang through our everyday choices has led us to be. We are each Sacred to our very core and it doesn’t get more perfect than that.
But I’m fat. I’m afraid of stadiums. I have epic bouts of grumpiness.
“Perfection,” as defined by that great American curmudgeon Ambrose Bierce, “is an imaginary state or quality distinguished from the actual by an element known as excellence.”
This idea of perfection—of needing to be excellent—has dogged me my whole life. In elementary school when my poem won Honorable Mention, I took it as proof that I was not supposed to write poetry.
When I grew taller than Olympic gymnasts I gave that up because what’s the point?
In college I excelled. Finally somewhere I could get tangible feedback of perfection—straight A’s.
Everything was right with the world. Then real life happened.
I ended up an at-home mom. Nothing was perfect. My anxiety disorder took off. I developed panic disorder, OCD, and eventually agoraphobia. Cut off from the outside world, there was no feedback; there was just the cavernous echo of my own self-defeating perfectionism.
I lost track of how many times I thought dying would be easier than living.
Yoga was supposed to help. Yoga is supposed to be about self-acceptance, about being enough. Instead I was afraid of not knowing proper alignment, of not being flexible or strong enough, or not being thin enough to get into binds.
It’s taken years of practice to really understand what Yoga does, and that what my body looks like on the mat is incidental to the process. I don’t want to be perfect. I want to be peaceful, joyful, and loving. In treatment lingo, I guess you could say that “perfect” is a trigger word for me. I am trying to get over thinking that perfect is both unattainable and the only worthwhile goal.
“You’re perfect” makes me angry the same way “It’s all good” did in the 90s. Because, you know, it’s not.
There are wars and child abuse, homelessness and depression. And the way that “It is what it is” did in the 00s. Because, first of all, no shit. And second, does that mean I’m supposed to embrace everything the way it is right now just because it exists?
There are “spiritual” catch phrases that don’t irk me. “Wherever you go, there you are.” That one I get. It’s a call to attention. “Be here now” is the same. Both are saying “Wake up! Be present.”
But neither is telling me to cuddle up with the world exactly how it is.
Observe it, yes—that’s mindfulness. Accept it as reality, yes—otherwise we are in denial. I’m down with all that.
Mindful acceptance is the first step in spiritual growth.
Now I teach stress-relieving Yoga. I give a workshop called Yoga to Ease Anxiety, and I write my heart out—all in the effort to help people find peace. I receive lots of positive feedback, sometimes embarrassing amounts of it. But every single time I get a rejection letter from a magazine or website or publisher, I backslide. I am convinced that I am a total failure who is accomplishing nothing with her life, and I can stay in that funk for days.
It’s just a word: perfect. But for me, plenty would be better. I do plenty. I have plenty.
I am plenty.
In Hedwig and the Angry Inch, when his lover sees the mutilated stump of Hedwig’s organ for the first time—that the bishop has gone and lost his head and, to put altogether too fine a point on it, become the titular Angry Inch—he is horrified. “What is that?!”
“It’s what I have to work with,” is Hedwig’s simple, honest, beseeching reply.
We are all Sacred. The whole world is. But we forget that we are and that’s one reason why activities like Yoga matter.
Our true selves get cluttered over with superficial junk. That’s why there are suicides and hunger and other forms of violence. Our job is to let go of the clutter and let our radiant core shine through.
I am not perfect. But I am, at all times and at this moment right now, what I have to work with.
And that is plenty.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Amy Vaughn
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: courtesy of the author