Beginners Perfection Curse

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Image: theseeds4life.com

 

“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.

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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?

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Image: pinterest.com

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.

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Image: sewhandmade.info

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.

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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.

  1. Before I begin something new I take a few deep breaths and try to centre myself and close the door on Tofu Man.
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

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Testing Space and Stillness

Life is so much kinder and wiser than your mind imagines. Trust and be still. – Mooji

Some days, I wish my bed would swallow me whole, incubate me for a while, then spit me out, rearranged, refashioned and with the “Forward” button firmly pressed.

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Instead, I’m having to do it the hard way. Get up, get dressed and face the ever mounting brick walls that seem to expel themselves out of the ground, like rogue weeds. They appear each time I do something that I think will move me forward. It seems my idea of “forward” or progress needs redressing.

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Today is just another in a long string of days pushing me into muddy swamps and endless questions. As someone who’s suffered with long term chronic illness of an undiagnosed kind, I did what many people who seek answers do, and that is read self-help books, do courses, workshops, seminars, study counselling – you name it, I’ve done it.

So I get that my thoughts affect my life, that my anxiety has an undercurrent of distorted childhood thinking and these two need to be remoulded into something new and useful. For many years I thought that if I found my “thing”, then the ensuing passion would thrust me forward like a massive tsunami, dumping me on the shore of everlasting happiness, wealth and abundance. That’s ‘The Secret” right? No actually, it’s not.  You see despite uncovering that I make a good counsellor, and awakening my deeply dormant creative interests, these discoveries are not facilitating the miraculous healing I was after.

Instead, the past weeks have brought a hormonally challenged body, a strained back muscle, aches in new places and a bewildered mind that couldn’t understand why my health had suddenly shifted into reverse, again. I felt like I was the passenger in a vehicle with a crazy and evil driver at the wheel. I was sure that doing my artistic pursuits like sewing would provide the answer, but instead both my overlocker/serger and sewing machine simultaneously quit working, with little or no explanation. It seems, my machines are mimicking my physical body. So if I strip away the desire for perfect health, my work as a counsellor and artistic pursuits, what am I left with? Nothing, and therein lies the answer.

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At various times in our life, we are called to strip back, spring clean, sanitise and deodorise our old houses to make way for the new. Years ago, I would have thrown a tantrum the minute my life went AWOL, submerged into a sloppy pool of self-pity, crying, “foul” at the umpire. The gift of being a long-term wellness seeker means that I’ve learnt to look at these obstacles with different eyes. No longer do I seek to blame the universe, or simply think I’ve been cursed for some kind of karmic indiscretion. Instead, I see that failing machines, failing bodies and failed attempts at keeping busy are all attempting to keep me still. Enlightenment can only be gained by being anchored and going within. As long as I’m writing, sewing, gardening or counselling others, I’m not allowing me to be my ‘self’, I’m not creating the space to be still and enter the void, that place that I’ve tried to a-void! But the signs are there. Stop or be stopped. Time to rest and not achieve. Time to be still to be refilled because only then can creativity flow from the great cosmic cauldron of inspiration and creation.

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So if you find yourself suddenly up against an endless row of barriers too high to leap over, step off life’s travelator for a while and just be.  Just as Star Wars heroes Hans Solo and Chewbacca set their intention to enter another dimension, they hit the “warp speed” button and then sat back and watched the light show, knowing that as their craft enters that space between worlds, that they are no longer in control but instead at the mercy of “the force”. They have in mind their destination, but only greater cosmic forces will determine if they reach their destination and their prize.

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Image: dailytech.com

In reading the galactic map around us, stargazing and meditating under a full moon, we will come to know those moments in life that need warp speed and those that need us to be suspended in the void.  Allowing ourselves the gift of stillness means we can expel the old and then refill with the new, giving us all we need to be thrust into the new and unknown frontiers of our evolving life.

Have you found a way to tune in to your soul’s navigational system?

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Shopping for Enlightenment

Image from http://www.sheknows.com

I always thought spiritual enlightenment sprung itself unannounced during long meditative retreats, drum beating workshops or arduous vision quests, but for me, it was the fluro-illuminated isles of a supermarket that lit the light of insight.

I used to hate supermarket shopping, the repetitiveness of it dulled my brain.   While I love food, the thought of having to push a cold metal basket with directionally opposing wheels frustrated me, it seemed like a time waster, a chore and a bore.  Something you just had to tolerate.  One day, life gave my own trolley (body) a heavy push in the opposite direction to which I thought I was travelling.  The push was a gift in the form of a sudden bout of very poor health, and with it, my view of supermarket shopping, and other similarly “mundane” tasks suddenly changed, they became highly coveted chores.

The Gift of Illness

How is being ill a gift?  Because being sick for almost three months straight, helped me learn  the art of appreciation. I know three months is nothing compared to the long-term illnesses faced by many, but it wasn’t the duration but the severity of the confinement that had me take notice. Bed and house ridden for weeks on end, I was unable to do more than sit up to sip soup and wait for the sun to set on what I thought was another empty, and completely wasted, precious day;  where nothing was achieved other than being able to say I made it through another 24 hours.

Image: galleryhip.com
Image: galleryhip.com

It was during the darker moments, you know, home alone while the rest of the world buzzed away in never-ending hives of activity, that I had my own buzzy Aha! moment.  I suddenly coveted  those previously dull and repetitive activities like ironing, washing and yep, the once dreaded supermarket shopping.

Small achievements are important milestones

When getting out of bed is the greatest achievement of each day, a simple, previously annoying activity like supermarket shopping suddenly becomes a highly desired goal.  A sign of progress, little signposts showing you’ve made it from bedroom, to lounge room, from indoors, to outdoors, from home, to shop.  Progress, no matter how small, is progress.

Image: healthblog.dallasnews.com
Image:healthblog.dallasnews.com

Forget visualising sitting on a tropical beach eating coconuts, all I wanted was the familiarity of a visit to my local supermarket, a place where I could be “normal” and not that sick woman, hidden from the world.  A place where I could smile at the friendly checkout staff, and know that when asked how my day was,  I would reply with an overenthusiastic, “Brilliant!” and really, really mean it.

Suddenly, I felt joy at the prospect of gliding down each aisle, marvelling at the 20 plus varieties of crisps, or the ingenuousness of Banana flavoured milk, which contains only 1% banana and yet, can still be labelled Banana Milk. I would nod approvingly at the precision with which heavily laden shelves are stocked with the useful and the useless. I’d smile like an idiot at other robotic shoppers, carrying out the “dreaded chore”, but wanting to stop and say, “Hey, you should enjoy this because you don’t know how awful it is to have it  taken away from you”.  I’ve realised that to be able to do even the most mundane of chores really is a privilege.

So my first return visit to the supermarket called for some skipping past the pasta and a twirl into the table salt, ending with a backward twist and the skilful throw of a cereal box, landing smack in the middle of the trolley.  OK, it landed in someone else’s trolley but the look of bemusement on the shopper’s face made it all worth while.  At least, I’d awoken them temporarily from their dreary, repetitive chore. It made me realise that with appreciation, our everyday tasks, even the seemingly mundane, can be as precious as those more eventful moments in our lives.  It’s all about perspective.

Image: idonotno.com
Image: idonotno.com

So what did I learn in the supermarket aisle of enlightenment? I learnt that a chore need no longer be a bore when you think you will do it no more!  And finally, my advice is next time you go supermarket shopping, give thanks that you can, because there are so many people who simply can’t.

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