“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, “What if I fall?” Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?” Erin Hanson
When I was little, like so many children I would try anything. I would attempt to fly, bake a cake with mud and flowers and paint and draw whatever inspired me at that moment. None of it attempted for money, praise or recognition. The beauty of childhood is that we do these things purely for the experience of the experience, for the ability to try something new, for the challenge of making the unknown into something known. It is a beautiful Divine existence that sadly, for many of us, will last a few of our precious early years of life before the flame is all but extinguished.
Readers of this blog will know of the angst I’ve felt as I’ve tried to negotiate my way through the maze of man-made thoughts ought to and shoulds, and back into the beautiful valley of Divine inspiration. My old ways of doing this was to simply become way too busy to make time for anything remotely creative, but a brush with poor health forced me away from the drone-like activity that had become daily life, and turned me back towards the winds of inspiration. Back into that time of childhood exploration.
Let me be upfront here and announce that while my intellect knows the process, knows the deal and the pitfalls, it’s still a challenging path to walk. I absolutely know that the only way to become better at something is to make a start and practice, practice, practice. Makes sense right? No one, not even Einstein was born knowing how to ride a bike, and yet, my loopy thought processes believed that it’s ok for others to be beginners, but just not me. Can anyone else relate to this kind of thinking? No beginners mind for this gal.
Being the ‘thought detective’ that I am, I wondered, why am I so damn hard on myself? Why do I expect to be perfect from the get go? What kind of unrealistic expectation is that, and where did it come from? And, how did I even realise there was a problem?
Well, I recently took up sewing and joined a class of beautiful sewing soul sisters. I love the therapeutic way the machine lulls you into ‘the zone’ and I get to play with beautiful fabrics which nourish my soul. I recently completed the main part of a small child’s quilt which I make to donate to a kids in need. The almost completed item just needed a few lines of decorative sewing to complete it, but the lines are random and require the sewer to let go and just sew a few swirly lines. The completion of this quilt hinged on six random lines of sewing and yet, I couldn’t do it. I procrastinated for days until I had to take action. The first attempt was ok as was the second but then I sewed a rather bad line. I stopped and felt myself tensing up, then without missing a beat, my brain, affectionately called ‘Tofu man’ started up. “You should have spent more time practicing. Look at the complex work the other ladies are doing and you can’t sew a few lines that don’t look like you’ve been binging on booze. You should just stop before you embarrass yourself”. On and on it went and worse still, it became more vicious as it continued. I took the quilt home and just stared at it, feeling numb. How could such a simple thing leave me feeling sad, defeated and empty?
I love sewing, I love being able to use my hobby to make things that I can gift those in need. I love the companionship of my sewing classes, but if I didn’t take control of Tofu man and his insatiable appetite for cruel criticism, I would end up giving away yet another thing I loved, all because of a bunch of inherited thoughts and beliefs. Wow, this was tricky territory. In the past I blamed my parents, after all, they were highly critical but to them, it was their way of helping me make the right decisions, to avoid mistakes that I would later regret. However, their fears were not my fears. They grew up during a long and brutal war, they never fulfilled their childhood dreams, they knew the world as being unpredictable and scary and so they sought to arm us kids with the necessary defences to protect ourselves. Problem is, all this does is lead to living life in fear, always waiting for something to go wrong, which it does if that’s what you focus on, and it removes any sense of trust that things might go right. It also blocks creativity because the act of creating requires imagination, courage and trust in oneself. So blaming parents was not going to get me anywhere. Instead, I found forgiveness and compassion more helpful, but it still didn’t remove my angst.
This is where the leap is required. I’ll be honest and say I hate the leap! I’d become so used to my companion of many years called the ‘Control freak’ that I’d developed that horrible condition called Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which a hostage develops empathy and positive feelings towards their captor. Despite the pain and suffering my control freak heaped upon me, I preferred to remain in the comfort of the know as opposed to leaping into the unknown, even though, deep down I knew that it was bound to be better than where I was, that I would be removed from the stale breath of the one who speaks words of ill towards me and instead find a new and invigorating companion.
To leap is to leave Control Freak behind. But leap I had to. As I took out my slightly imperfect quilt, I reminded myself that the child that receives it will be joyous and grateful and will not have grown into a critical adult yet. The imperfect lines mean a human made it and not a machine, and if I was honest, as a first attempt, it was pretty good.
The healing begins
I won’t lie and say that I am cured of perfectionism, I was after all quite perfect at self-criticism. No one could catch me in the self rejection stakes because I was a world champion. Not a great claim to make but an honest one. Re-wiring the brain of old habits isn’t always easy but I’ve found a few techniques that help.
- Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
- I remind myself that I am exploring new territory and like an explorer I may stumble over rocks, then walk easily through green valleys and possibly find a gem during my travels
- If I notice Tofu man trying to edge in, I’ll tell him to go sit at the back of the bus because I’m now in the drivers seat.
- If I feel like I’m not doing well, I’ll close my eyes and breath again, and really feel into it. I’ll remind myself that this is an exploration of the heart and soul and not a “real” life and death situation, and no matter what the finished product looks like, it’s living in the process that really matters.
- I also remind myself that the healing that results from overcoming this debilitating perfectionism condition will lead to better mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. I’ll focus on health, not squiggly, imperfect lines.
- And most importantly, I remind myself that in 100 or even 50 year’s time, that no one, absolutely no one is going to care if I sewed a straight line or a crooked one!
So dear perfectly imperfect friends, don’t bow down to a bunch of neural circuits that will cut you off from joy and fulfilment. Instead, join me and gather up your shield and sword and embody the warrior princess or prince. Then go in to battle with your old nemesis, your old you, and fight to regain that childhood part of you that loved creating, without the monster and megaphone that was always trying to correct you, to stifle you, to accuse you of wasting time and money, all of which you may have taken to mean that you weren’t good enough. I know most parents never intended for this to be the message but as children, we lacked the cognitive skills and life experiences to truly understand what was being said, but now we know better. Now we can make a truly remarkable change.
I encourage you to release those old, outdated fears and walk a new path, even if the way isn’t absolutely clear. What’s one step you can take towards reclaiming your right to full expression living, faults and all?