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Permission to be imperfect
Yesterday I came home after our Buddhist group feeling grumpy. I had led a service, and a study group, and I knew that the talk I had given for the study group wasn’t as good as it should have been.
I sat on the sofa, blaming myself for not having done a good job, and also blaming the group for not being receptive to what I had to offer. (I could see that blaming the group wasn’t reasonable, but that’s what I sat there doing.)
Satya was confused as she thought I’d done a good job. Not great, but good. She asked me to score my performance, “5 out of 10” I said.
Satya said it was a 7.5 but that I often deliver a ‘9 out of 10’. I was pleased to accept the compliment but it didn’t stop me feeling upset.
Usually when I admit my own part in a situation I notice that as I accept myself (and my flaws) more completely I relax and can move on. I felt like I had made the admission that my talk wasn’t good enough, but I was still tense. I had made the admission, but there wasn’t the usual letting go… What was going on?
I had identified some of the causes of my rushed delivery – the group had some beginners and some experienced practitioners and I wanted them all to get something from the talk. I especially wanted the new-comers to have a good experience. At the same time I wanted to carry on from where we’d left off last time, instead of covering the same ground again. And of course, there were my expectations based on how well I’d thought the first talk in this series had gone a few weeks ago.
But knowing all of that didn’t relieve my tension. Earlier in the day I’d been talking with a friend about how we can sometimes fall into thinking, “If I can do this one thing well, it will excuse the rest of my life… ” I realised that I’d fallen into this trap again. It’s our first week back since we were away on retreat and I haven’t accomplished as much as I’d wanted to by now, but if I could just do this one thing well… I could excuse the rest of my dysfunction.
So the talk wasn’t as good as it usually was, people weren’t bored, but I didn’t excite them either. That’s okay. But this small failure keyed into my old self-story about not being worth very much… A story which had already been floating around this week. In fact the only thing keeping that story at bay was the idea that I would be able to do a good job in the group last night. That didn’t go as well as I thought and the self-story took hold. Why was it so powerful? Because for me that story (about my own worth) is much more about how I am seen, rather than what I actually do.
So all the good things I have done this week weren’t enough to disrupt that self-story, as they weren’t as visible as the talk I gave last night. These two things came together – the reliance I have on other people’s view of me for my sense of value, and my belief that running the Buddhist group is the one area in which I know what I’m doing, and can make up for all the other areas in my life where I don’t.
Neither of those beliefs are particularly helpful.
When I realised that it was those beliefs that I was clinging on to, I finally felt the relaxation and letting go I’d been waiting for. Will I fall into those traps again? Probably, but hopefully I will have a little more awareness next time.
Last week my Buddhist teacher was talking about his own spiritual journey and how when he first started out he was interested in self-perfection. As time went on, he said, he realised that his journey was not about spiritual perfection (which is impossible) but about coming to terms with what is real, both in the world, and in one’s self.
Yesterday I tried to conform to some ideal that I had in my mind, and failed, but that led me to coming to terms with parts of me that I’d rather not admit to.
I’m sure there are plenty of other parts waiting to be exposed – the journey goes on.
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