Saturday, March 26, 2016

What a jagged little pill

I've been watching a meditation course on DVD. The first half of the course was about technique and history, but the second half, which I am currently in the midst of, is getting to the meat of the matter, and the topic that I'm most interested to talk about today is the one that hit me the hardest earliest this past week when I was watching: perfectionism.

There's a part of me that strongly identifies with perfectionism, this tendency that exists in varying degrees in all of us to want to do "better"...but then there's a part of me that doesn't. After all, I consider myself above average at acknowledging my faults and admitting my failures. In fact, it's that very self-awareness - that very willingness to admit my flaws - that led me to the point I am right now, writing this entry. I wouldn't be writing this if I hadn't been on this mission of making the most of March, and I wouldn't be using March as I am if I hadn't thought I needed to course-correct.

I was talking with a friend of mine last week about these very sorts of things, and we talked about how I was trying to better myself. How that was good. How the laws of karma reward such behavior by attracting the right sorts of things to people who try.

I know, Alanis. This is some deep shit.
And then I came home. And watched the next lecture in my meditation course. And the topic of the course was perfectionism.

And here I am.

The thing is (I learned while watching) is that the sort of person who is drawn to watching a DVD course on meditation tends to be the sort of the person who is into self-improvement. Unfortunately, the lecturer admonished, there's no such thing as self-improvement, or at least not in the sense that we want to believe there is. Meditation and mindfulness, he said, aren't about "being better" but about cultivating awareness. We've all got what we need inside of us already; it's just about cutting down the noise of all the rest of it, all of that stuff that distracts us into oblivion.

Personally, that's what I'm going for as I walk down this path. For a long while, I had this misconception that if I dug too deeply into this, I would shut down my emotions or I wouldn't think as many thoughts or something. But that's not it at all. There's no way to stop thoughts or emotions, but there are ways to learn not to be so attached to them. If we can think a thought or feel an emotion and recognize it as something that will pass, something that might not be grounded in reality, something that doesn't have to be taken seriously just because it popped into your head, then we can reduce the amount of suffering we burden ourselves with.

Or at least that's what we can aspire toward. (If this was something we could all just do on a whim, then I probably wouldn't be watching a 24-lecture DVD course about it.) It's just that it doesn't really work when you have an agenda in the background that's being driven by your ego.

Of course another side of it is that trying to rid yourself of perfectionism is, in and of itself, a symptom of trying to better yourself, and therefore just another form of perfectionism. (See second paragraph of this very entry for evidence of me trying to be a better perfectionist by not being a perfectionist.) THERE'S NO WAY OUT.

But you know, that's a dead end I can work with. I've feel like I've fallen down a mental rabbit hole, but sitting at the bottom, I'm getting something that I think I once knew but then forgot. All of life comes down to noticing. Noticing what's going on around you, noticing what's happening within you, and noticing how every single person you meet is just as self-absorbed, just as confused, and trying just as hard to get by as you are.


  1. But think of all the adventures Alice had by falling to the bottom of that rabbit hole! She showed up, paid attention, told the truth, and (mainly) wasn't attached to the outcome.

    1. Alice is the example we should all look to! :)