There are any number of well-worn epithets to comfort us when we blow-off that fad diet, or when we screw up at work, or hurt our loved ones; yet for some reason, many of us often get right back on that treadmill and keep on keeping on, with the illusion that if we can just achieve that perfect state of something or other, then all will be milk and honey.
Striving for perfection in life, whilst admirable from a certain perspective can be deeply problematic. It’s often accompanied by a persistent sense that you are never good enough, or that you are only as successful as your last fleeting triumph. Having to constantly defend a sense of perfected completeness, is an exercise in ego-manipulation which demands that your successful achievements, whether they be physical, intellectual, creative or spiritual, be considered inviolable.
The problem with such an idea is that it’s built upon an illusion of static completion, of inflexible idealization, that tends to vigorously exclude other possibilities. The more vehement we are in our quest for perfection, the blinder we are to our failings. History has demonstrated just how disasterous the quest for unimpeded ideological or spiritual perfection can be, and in terms of contemporary mass-consumer culture, it has produced nothing short of an epidemic of insecurity, cosmetic self-mutilation, self-loathing and aggressive competition.
So while it’s crucial to be enthusiastic about living and to strive for quality and meaning through achievement, the closest we can get, or should want to get to “perfection,” is through the realization of a reasonably balanced flow of energy and activity in our lives. Of course, what is reasonable varies from person to person. A bank clerk certainly has different needs than a professional sportsperson; but there does need to be highs and lows, ups and downs and round and rounds: this is the stuff of life! The trick is not to allow the highs to become too high, or the lows to become too low. This way, the inevitable transition between one or the other isn’t so destructive and energetically wasteful, that it stops empowering our ongoing process of personal evolution.
An important first step is an acknowledgement that enevitably things must go out of harmony so that they may return to harmony, and that this ever-changing process is part of the natural way of the universe. The processes of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, are inherent in all phenomena, from the atoms of our body’s cells through to the formation of galaxies. In all these cases, balance cannot be achieved without the possibility of imbalance, and frequently the nature of disharmony can give us vital clues as to what obstacles we most need to confront in order to move forward in our lives.
In a manner of speaking, imbalance is nature’s great stimulator, and nourisher. It brings us back to ourselves, to our fallability and mortaility, to our need to adapt in order to flourish, to express gratitude for impermanent good fortune, to be kinder, gentler, more forgiving and humble in aid of a bigger vision of health and harmony. The list goes on, but in short, imbalance is nature’s way of saying hi! Sometimes she’s delicate in her greetings, and at other times earth-shatteringly forceful. It all depends on the extent to which we choose heed and integrate her lessons.
Excessive attachment to perfected modes of achievement, can lead to stagnation and deprive us of valuable energy and opportunities for natural growth. Of course, we don’t want to live in extremes of constant upheaval or bliss-seeking escapism either, because personal growth does require a certain level of stability and centeredness upon which to integrate new ways of being. However, rather than reflexively fighting change, we need to confront it and courageously work with it, in order to avail ourselves of it’s creative potential.
In spiritual terms, achieving balance is not a wishy-washy affair: simply blissing out and absolving oneself of life’s responsibilities in order to find a steady, perfected path to peace. Spending time in spiritual retreat can be extremely beneficial, but like anything it can be overdone. It is for this reason, that the monestaries of even some of the most devout spiritual faiths, send their young practitioners out into the world to engage very directly in material life, in order to learn directly from it and integrate it into their spiritual path. This clearly indicates that the best kinds of spiritual practices are ones which are developed not only for the prayer mat, but are also practical enough to be useful for the mad-house that material life can so frequently become.
The nature of material exsistence is such, that disharmony unavoidably arises; therefore genuine personal growth demands an awareness that one of the primary purposes of incarnate life is to experience and creatively work through obstacles which the living intelligence of the universe throws at us in order to motivate our process of self-realization. Spirituality is not about constantly drifting off into some sublimely detached spiritual state or utterly disintegrating the ego. This kind of escapism was one of the dominant messages of the flower power generation of the sixties. However, there is a significant amount of indigenous wisdom from around the world, which teaches us that the ego is far less the enemy and more simply just the consciously directed portion of the self. We need some form of ego to focus our awareness into the physical dimension, and as a platform upon which we can integrate our process of self-realization. Therefore it becomes a matter of the cultivation of a healthy and balanced ego and not excessive effort wasted at uncecessary dissolution. The addictions that can arise from obsession with extremes of spiritual perfection or spiritual escapism, can be as much of a cop out into unconscious living, as any of the idle distractions that mass-consumption can offer.