Recently I offered several workshops focusing on self-compassion. I began each one by saying, “This weekend is a project in non-self-improvement.”
This statement was often followed by laughter and then a slow realization that gradually revealed a premise that nearly every one of us carries: We must always be improving, forever trying to make ourselves better, thinner, more spiritual; in a word, perfect.
For many of us, it is our primary motivating concern. Hidden under this pressure is a belief that says, “Unless I improve, make myself better, bordering on perfect, I will continue to live outside the circle of welcome and approval.”
This anxiety haunts many of us. We spend a lifetime trying to get it right. We become obsessed with growth and progress, trying to muscle our way into acceptability. This leaves little room for those parts of us that do not fit the image we are trying to show the world. The weak, needy, inadequate, fearful and sorrowful parts are often abandoned, discarded and left in the shadows.
Without them, however, we lose something essential to our aliveness. These pieces bring us down into the territory of soul where brooding emotions, deep longing, an insatiable desire for beauty, startling images from the dreamtime and the wild energies of duende darken us into creatures of the earth. Without our descent into this terrain of psyche, we remain caught in a one-dimensional life, lacking the richness and textures that are found in this sacred ground.
Our deepest work isn’t about improvement or making ourselves better. Our work is to cultivate a vital relationship with life; to open our arms wide and become permeable to the rhythms and wildness that surrounds us and arises within us. This act of self-compassion makes us a circle of inclusion. By welcoming all of who we are, the strengths and wounds, the beauty and sorrows, we step into a wider appreciation of life and a greater capacity for participation: We come more fully alive.
We didn’t come here to be perfect. Perfectionism is oppressive, stifling our every breath. We came to encounter the entire wild tapestry of life. The great stories of all cultures tell us we are actually shaggy bears of desire, cavorting wolverines of soul digging in the soil, turning over stones looking for a taste of the sacred. And they are there every day; little morsels of the divine arriving in the touch of a friend, the blazing maples of autumn, times of shared vulnerability, and those delicious times celebrating the gifts we receive in our daily lives.
Life is rambunctious and difficult. Rather than spend our lifetime trying to get it right, our souls want to feel the entire range of life that we are designed to know. By welcoming the holiness that dwells in the depths, we step into the widest arc of life and feel ourselves entering the thicket of longing, looking for a glimpse of the wild soul. Let me know what you think about trying to be perfect…
Francis Weller is a master of synthesizing diverse streams of thought from psychology, anthropology, mythology, alchemy, indigenous cultures and poetic traditions. Author of Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World, he has introduced the healing work of ritual to thousands of people.