Perfectly Imperfect: Parenting, Yoga, 15th Century Japanese Philosophy & Leonard Cohen
Perfection is elusive
We live in a society and a time that promotes perfectionism. This is amplified by the curated “perfection” we see on social media. I have three daughters so this terrifies me. The world insists they must be physically beautiful, impeccably dressed, and above all, thin, in order to have perfect friends and a perfect mate. The world insists that they get perfect grades to get into the perfect college to have the perfect job to have the perfect life. The world doesn’t have a solution when, invariably, perfection is elusive.
While I don’t particularly encourage my children to be mediocre or to sit back and let life happen to them, I do believe that happiness frequently coincides with feeling content with where you are. If my girls learn to do and be their best selves without overwhelming need for societal approval, to cut themselves and others slack generously without judgment (judgmental people suck) and that being kind to others is paramount (as is being kind to oneself), this Mama will be happy.
You see, I am a recovering Type A person and regardless of whether I blame it on my upbringing or society, it made me fairly miserable. It began in my adolescence and lasted a long time. Constantly measuring myself against others or against the ideals in my head and coming up short was exhausting and stressful.
Then, I discovered yoga and it saved me and all was “perfect!” Just kidding.
Look beyond the yoga mat
Little by little, I began to recognize that I was responsible for my own happiness and that it didn’t come from outside myself or from living up to some false ideal, either my own or someone else’s of how to be perfect. This did coincide with becoming serious about my yoga practice (along with therapy, motherhood and some lessons life handed to me).
Connecting with my breath and body allowed me to slow down and become more aware of my true feelings. It grounded me in the present moment where there is much less space for the mind chatter of not being good enough. Yoga also offered me an opportunity to see measurable results in strength and flexibility in my body. Not surprisingly, I started to see those results off the mat as well.
But what about perfection in yoga? What about the glorification of advanced poses and skinny bodies contorting themselves into impossible shapes? What about Instagram yoga? What about the fact that my 52 year-old body cannot do all of the things my 27 year-old body could? I don’t look like the models in Yoga Journal and neither do many of my students. Some of us are older, some of us are larger and most do not practice with a full face of makeup.
Find beauty in the faults
Consider the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi that prizes authenticity over perfection. It encourages the celebration of the way things are rather than how they were, could or should be. The concept has its roots in traditional tea ceremonies with the example of a well-used and well-loved teacup that has become cracked or chipped over time. Rather than throwing away the cup and purchasing a new one, Wabi-Sabi celebrates the age and faults as an important part of the beauty. Intrinsic in this way of thinking is acceptance and celebration of the body that we wake up with each day and not the one we used to have or see in a magazine or on the yoga mat next to us. This can apply equally to the life we are living, imperfect and chipped though it might be. This really resonates with me.
As for the asanas (yoga poses) themselves, their value is immense both on the yoga mat and off. Yes, holding Warrior 2 for a long time builds strength, but it also builds the capacity to stay present when things are difficult and you want to run away. Yes, it feels amazing to hold Handstand in the middle of the room but how about the way that you speak to yourself when you fall out of the pose for the twentieth time. That’s some good practice for living. In other words, measure a yoga practice not by a fancy pose but by how well you are managing life off the mat out there in the real world where the stakes are always higher.
Ultimately, the problem with pursuit of perfection in appearance, achievements, relationships and possessions, is that perfect doesn’t exist. And if it doesn’t exist, what exactly are we chasing? We can never reach the impossible bar that has been set by society and our own expectations and this invariably leads to unhappiness.
Isn’t life both beautiful and difficult enough without these false goals? What if the invitation is to accept yourself, cracks and chips, beauty and warts and start where you are.
Ring the Bell
This brings me to Leonard Cohen, the prolific songwriter and poet. There are various interpretations of his song, Anthem. Like all good songs/poems/novels/yoga themes, it feels both personal, as if he were singing just to me, and universal, is if it could apply equally to everyone.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”
Let’s choose to accept the cracks and let all that beautiful light in. Let’s make certain to send light back out just as brightly. And let’s keep ringing that perfectly imperfect bell, until those proverbial cows come home.
Namaste and Cheers!