Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries. Jung
What am I looking for this year? One answer coming from modern society and from some branches of psychology seems to indicate that I should continue to work on my self along a path toward greater development or some notion of perfection.
This drive toward change and perfection is everywhere today. Society suffers from a type of inner anorexia – continually, unhappily, looking at its shape in the mirror and seeing problems with it. It is never where it wants to be. Last evening, during a lovely celebration with friends, I listened as talk turned to the unrelenting pressure and push to reach deadlines at work. In my own work this last year I have seen the faces of people, drained, feeling cut off and empty, confused and alone – sometimes even after they have met with the success that they have sought. I feel it myself in the unrelenting message of the media, promoting, as easily attainable, a perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect friend, perfect children, the perfect lover, a perfect life. On TV or in the cinema, I see people leading perfect lives every day, not having to struggle with the unattractive realities or ordinariness of everyday living as imperfect human beings, and I look at myself in the mirror and wonder as I see aspects of my life, “What is up with me….. I must be doing something wrong.”
Everyone has their own version of the perfect image to which they cannot match up, linked to a fear of never being accepted. Often the striving for perfection is a defense against anxieties, or against engagements with others that may disappoint us. For me, it is a struggle which drains and exhausts me, because it is linked to a self-image or concept of who I think I should be. I was well grounded in this fear and internalized, while young, that anything less than an ideal was not good enough. And over the years I have applied that mainly in my relationship with others. I have linked my feeling right about myself to the amount of giving I can do - without asking for much in return – while hoping that this will remove a sense of emptiness which I experience as residing in myself. As time passes I see that it is not so much that I have new experiences, but the same pattern, over and over again. I run to take refuge in the safe haven of my mind from the anxieties for perfection felt deep in the cells of the body. However, this just reinforces the dynamics that I mistakenly think it will overcome .
So this year, rather than demanding perfection of myself or of others, this year I intend to allow myself be the “relative failure” which Winnicott has said is normal – human beings “fail and fail….in the course of ordinary care”. I do not have to be perfect in giving. I can see that we are never fully integrated, and demanding continual improvement, despite what others may say, is wrong for us. Our path is towards wholeness rather than perfection, and wholeness includes being able to live with contrasts within ourselves, such as having needs while responding to others. It also means that I can live with a fundamental emptiness without immediately thinking that it needs to be fixed. And this is the key insight of meditation practice: Opening a non-judgmental holding space around our inner experience, without taking the feelings of imperfection personally. We need to rest with our experience of ourselves, without trying to feel more than we actually do. We can live with the absence of perfection.