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Perfectionism as an Incidental Guru

Another page turns, and 2015 is upon us. Before I say any more, please accept my heartfelt wishes that you have a peaceful, prosperous, healthy and happy new year!butterfly

Prompted to obtain a theme word for 2015, what came to mind for me was, “embody.” Embody experience, really practice what I preach, set the example wholeheartedly, integrate what’s in my head into the physical world, and live life fully!

So why is it that I have delayed this newsletter so many times, wanting to have certain things confirmed, others in place, and the timing just right?

The fog lifts and then I see the pattern. I must nod to the underlying perfectionistic tendencies with which I have worked diligently over the majority of my lifetime. There are so many layers of emotional aversion and attachment that underlie my need to have things just right. Minutes, hours, days can pass and many states of mind endured before I see that I have been held captive by a demon residing within me, my shadow side.

(In what follows I will use words like battle, crusade, struggle, striving, fall prey, entrenched. These all hint of a warrior’s life and yes, I think the analogy fits. But there is also a theme of greeting and being with. I challenge you to recognize these and see how they sit for you.)

The crusade against falling mindlessly into meticulousness has called upon and developed, at least to some extent, qualities of dedication, awareness, inquiry, discrimination, insight, intention, self-kindness, patience, humility, and surrender, to name a few.

My relationship with yoga has paralleled my struggle with perfectionism. Yoga was attractive because it was mysterious and seemed like a relatively easy way to be active. I knew I was supposed to be active but I really believed I had no affinity for physical pursuits and didn’t think an active lifestyle was as important as my more-heady, studious activities. Likewise, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be a perfectionist but the upside of being almost obsessive-compulsive hugely outweighed the negatives. Striving toward perfection infused me with passion, like my life depended on it. Often the tangible results were beautiful, praise-worthy, and elicited much adoration and respect.

But that little bit of mystery and an accessible format l appealed to me enough, and by chance I found hatha yoga, specifically an Iyengar-based style, and I was hooked. I think the precision of the alignment in Iyengar yoga that served to outweigh any concerns I had about being unathletic or that I was wasting time in non-academic activity. It was a perfectionist’s doorway in to a path that would eventually lead me gently away from the need for scrupulousness.

But this might not have been the case. It’s easy in yoga, particularly the physical practices such as poses, breath work, cleansing techniques and diet, to fall prey to perfectionism.

Iyengar yoga was my medicine for over ten years. It was so beneficial in so many ways and I am grateful for it. But at some point I was guided in a different direction. And I am glad. Had I had stuck with Iyengar yoga through the various levels of certification I believe now that I would be even more entrenched in my obsessive hell. Although I can’t quite put my finger on what has helped to balance my doctrinaire tendencies in the practice of yoga, when I look back, I can see a number of events and influences that came together.   I got injured doing things “the right” way. Loved ones struggled, suffered and in some cases, died. Yoga philosophy encouraged me to look at what I was doing with curious eyes, hinted at deep challenges faced by many over the centuries, and promised some relief with concepts riddled with paradox. And the contradictions and difficulties that came up in my hours and days of silent meditation were partly quelled by my study with scripture and learned teachers. Physical yoga practice, in spite of my disenchanted state, kept me grounded.

There is a popular saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Of course, the teacher need not be a person, but in fact can be a life event, an opportunity, a larger situation. This has been my experience. The various tools of yoga have mingled with my life circumstances and an overriding desire to know my purpose on earth. Together they have led me to a place where I know that my life’s purpose is to live fully and wholeheartedly regardless of circumstance and my yoga fits me instead of me trying to fit the yoga.

Am I free of perfectionistic tendencies? By no means. These propensities are like the “thorn” in St. Paul’s side, the “incidental gurus” or touchstone elements that launch profound transformation.

1 comment

  1. Glory

    Your words are so beautifully written and so true. I also fight the demon Perfectionism. It is in my cellular being. Awareness of it, however, allows me to find ways to calm the water.
    Thank you Lonnie
    With Love, Glory

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