I'll admit: I am a recovering perfectionist. Yet sometimes I regress; oh, yes I do -- I slip back, and become an all-out perfectionist... before I catch myself and loosen up. For the most part, I still like things "just so." It's a struggle that I embrace, to the extent that I can. What does this "struggle," have to do with my meditation practice? Well, if I'm being honest: It has everything to do with my practice. For what I've learned, being nearly a life-long meditator is this: We tend to bring our psychological patterns into our spiritual practices. It's not as though we get to conveniently abandon our stuff while we stretch, "on the mat." It's not as though we take an all-expenses-paid-vacation when we sit, "on the cushion." No such luck! In truth, these places are precisely where we get down and dirty. Once we close our eyes, we deal with our shadows the most. In Christian talk, practice is where we "wrestle with our demons."
Again, practice is often where we face our stuff the most. And this truth applies to you if you're learning meditation for the first time, or teaching meditation to others for the 50th time. We all have our stuff -- it just plays out at different levels of intensity, as we spiritually evolve. This tried-and-true reality was validated for me, by the work of Tara Brach, Ph.D. (Tara is a psychologist, author, and the founder of Insight Meditation Community of Washington, D.C.) Most importantly, she is a teacher whom I admire, and one whom I wished to place on a pedestal at one point. Well, it turns out that Tara is too honest for such pedestal-placement.
Indeed, Tara has wrestled with, as I heard it, bringing her own Type A tendencies into her sittings for decades. Her willingness to candidly and valiantly share her own struggles through books, podcasts, and lectures, is largely why she has such easy appeal. At times, when I'm fidgeting during my practice, convincing myself that I'm not only a recovering perfectionist, but also some other undiagnosed thing... I visualize Tara. She is body-scanning on her seat somewhere, as I imagine, sweating it out like the rest of us -- even in physical stillness! Thinking of Tara, sitting in her humbling humanity, often brings me more comfort than imagining an enlightened saint sitting in a cold Himalayan cave, probably in bliss. Though that quintessential image is indeed inspiring, rarely does it encourage me to press on. On the other hand, (the earthly goddess) Tara -- like many of us -- is gloriously unfinished. Tara utilizes meditation, as I understand it, as a way to not only lean into her divinity, but to grapple with her humanity. Thank goodness I'm not alone in this endeavor!
In truth, of course, none of us are really alone. As someone who has seen clients in private practice for over a decade, I can attest to the reality that almost everyone thinks that they're "the only one." Each one of us is the last person on earth facing off with our hard-core stuff in meditation, right? In actuality, this fantasy of aloneness is just a trick of the ego to make us all feel isolated in our struggles. But, when it comes down to it, it is just that -- a fantasy. In reality, we are all grappling with our conflict-ridden humanity to some degree; struggling is part of what we usually go through, in order to evolve. It's that simple. While I do not typically endorse the masochistic statement, "No pain/no gain," I can say that without struggle, there's rarely success.
Similarly to psychotherapy, meditation is an ongoing process; this is precisely why it's called a "practice." (Nope -- there is no getting around that aspect!) Like practicing the piano, one doesn't sit down, practice 10 times, and emerge a concert-ready pianist, ready to grace Carnegie Hall. Such advancement takes years, if not decades, to cultivate. Again, meditation is a gradual process. That is why it's called a "practice." We are meant to practice the art of embodying our souls one sitting at a time. One-step-at-a-time is how the spiritual technology of meditation functions.
So, when I sit down to meditate, I know that my inner perfectionist will rear her commanding head. She wants me to be a "perfect meditator," or at least, an accomplished one. But that subconscious rhetoric keeps me off of the seat, and on the internet; so what's this well-intentioned gal to do? Well, what's helped me the most is recalling a phrase that popped into my head recently, as I coaxed myself into attempting an a.m. sitting. The phrase was, "The good enough meditation." I heard my soul whisper it with stunning authority. And then I heard my conscious self reply, "Yes -- that's all that I need to do-without-doing."
After all, if I can't be average in my practice, where else can I be average in my life, and become OK with it? Meditation practice is (ideally) an opportunity to dismantle that inner perfectionist -- or whatever you may call your unfriendly ego voice. As we acknowledge, then dismiss our ego-voices, we can finally loosen up and relax. Once we're well versed in this sort of kindness towards our selves, we can then carry that good enough attitude, into the rest of life. Now that sounds like a relief... Excuse me while I turn off my laptop, allow this to be the good enough blog, and witness my breath for a bit.