Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Banish Perfectionism & Welcome ‘Good Enough

Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is…It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything.  Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best.  Sir Laurence Olivier

Swami Muktananda Santa Monica tent, 1981
Over thirty years ago, around sunset I walked up to big tent on a parking lot on Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.    At the entry room were a gaggle of devotees wearing saris and other Indian garb, who said Namaste.  Next to the door was a huge glass barrel about 10 feet high which was filled with hash pipes, cigarettes, syringes, and whiskey bottles.   I inquired ‘what is that about?’  She responded, “Baba absorbs karma because he is a perfected being.”  Firmly in my ‘prove it’ attitude, I sat through the program of chanting and discourse in Hindi translated into English by his comely assistant later to be his successor.   

Finally, I had the opportunity for darshan (blessing) and walked up to the podium and looked in his eyes.   What I saw was beyond the mind or the material world.  This little, old Indian man with the orange beanie was the first and only person I have ever met who was ‘perfected’.  From then on I was on a quest to know and to achieve awakening or perfection.

Perfectionism: a personal belief that anything less than perfect is undesirable.  
After Swami Muktananda died, stories came out about his less than perfect behavior with underage devotees.   Like the rest of us, it turns out he was a bit less than perfect.
Throughout my life I have oppressed myself with perfectionism in the important domains of life:  mate, job, home, health.  Never fully satisfied, I too often changed the job or the girl because it or she wasn’t perfect.  Never satisfied, the grass was always greener.  I once had a therapist who admonished me to not drop a girlfriend as long as positives were more than the negatives (providing there were no deal breakers).  I dropped him, not the girl.

American culture is suffused with perfectionist ideology; 'winner take all, second place is for losers, die trying.  What if there is no perfect, no absolute, and that date or job or house or suit of clothes was good enough.  Would it change your life?  Would you be happier?  Goals motivate us to improve and are important component of happiness.  But more and better may lead to constant striving, never arriving.

Let's back up a bit.  As Boomers we have been exhorted to live our dreams all of our lives.  The Boomer generation was often indulged by parents who had grown up in the Depression and World War II.  As youths we felt entitled to be, do, and have what we wanted.  We wanted perfection.  That zeitgeist fit with the traditional American can do spirit of self-reliance.   We wanted decided to work on ourselves. The self-improvement industry expanded into the mainstream in the 70s with the est training which promised instant transformation.  Naturally, after you’ve been transformed you want the perfect mate, job, house, and body.   Self-help reached some sort of zenith with Oprah Winfrey and her massive following.  Not so coincidentally, Oprah ended her show in the aftermath of the Great Recession.   Perhaps that shift heralded a new perspective on the search for perfection. 

Rev. Ike, 70s televangelist
American self-help did not start in the 60s or 70s but can be traced all the way back to Jefferson’s ‘pursuit of happiness’ as enshrined in the 1776's Declaration of Independence.  Throughout our history, salesmen of perfection have achieved huge success, from James Allen’s ‘As Man Thinketh’ to Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ to Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich’.   In the 80s these classic American success teachings came together with religion with televangelists such as Rev. Ike and Rev. Terry Cole-Whitaker.  They offered a spiritual basis for enjoying ‘heaven on earth.’  Rev. Terry's slogan was ‘Prosperity Is Your Divine Right’ and Rev. Ike declared, ‘Green Power.’ 

We deserved a perfect life.  When one brand or mate turns out to be a bit difficult, maybe it’s time to recycle.  After all wasn’t I promised heaven on earth?  When a boss tries to get me to come to work on time, shouldn’t I be following my divine right livelihood as an actor?  The twin traps of choice and perfectionism ensnares the ungrounded, the gullible, and the dreamers.  There is always another slick entrepreneur of optimal living waiting down the street with a new program or miracle mineral to cure all that ails you.  With effort anyone can have perfection, just take another seminar or potion.
Meditation teacher, Akasa Levi
Pursuing the carrot of excellence has a place but you have to know when the donkey has gone far enough.  Now tired of looking for the ultimate job, mate, home, or health, I am done with constant working for perfection and thereby never being content.  For me it's time to stop, assess, and appreciate what is present.   As the renowned meditation teacher, Akasa Levi of Santa Monica calls it…’good enough enlightenment.’

Pursuing heaven on earth may be as valid as any other life purpose.  But after that last seminar/ sermon and that last 'back of the room book table,' I don’t want to say I’ve missed real life in all of its glory and imperfections.  These days when I am tired of reading, studying, and workshopping about life, like Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek, I get up and sing, play, and dance.  That is Good Enough!