Saturday, 7 September 2013

The Missing Piece: Practising Imperfection

Please watch this clip before reading the rest of the blog...

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

I love this story by Shel Silverstone. I really relate to it as I’m sure many others can too. It can be understood in many ways and I’m sure people take something different from it. What fascinates me about is this search, this struggle for completeness, this drive for wholeness and yet when it happens, when the piece is found that creates the perfect circle it does not bring happiness at all. In fact the circle rolls on at an ever increasing pace. So much so that it can no longer sing; it can no longer sing its little song nor can it appreciate all that surrounds it; it could no longer talk to the worm, or smell a flower, the butterflies could no longer land on it. Eventually it saw that it was no longer happy in its completeness, because it could no longer appreciate and or relate to life. So it rejects the missing piece and continues on imperfectly and once again begins singing its song.

"Oh I'm looking for my missin' piece
I'm looking for my missin' piece.
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin' for my missin' piece."

Like everyone it didn’t really learn his lesson, it’s still looking for whatever will complete it.

There is a fear that haunts so many of us; it’s certainly taken its toll on me over the years. This is the fear of criticism. It can squeeze the life out of us and stop us doing whatever it may be that we want and need to do in life. I have often been held back myself, less so today, but it still lingers. It’s part of being human I suppose.

I was talking with a friend on the other day who had got herself in a bit of a "tizzy". She was starting a new job the next day and had basically driven herself mad in her attempts to prepare for it. She bought a new computer program to practise because she wasn’t sure she’d be up to the job and all kinds of other things. She wanted to be perfectly prepared for her first day and was terrified she would not make the perfect first impression. She had sought advice from all kinds of people and had desperately tried to download the program but it had gone horribly wrong. To calm herself she had practised what seemed like hours of meditation, but to no avail. In the end she stopped and realised that what she needed to do was to be with people, to sit with people and to simply say I can’t do this on my own. Within ten minutes of her simply sharing her troubles, it didn’t seem so bad at all. She had calmed down and realised that all would be well, she just needed to get a good night sleep and step into the new place of work the very next day.

The conversation brought to mind similar experiences in my life. A friend recently reminded me that I vowed I would never drive. Truth be told I only actually learnt because I had to. Now I can come up with a thousand and one reasons why I never learned, but the truth is I was terrified. I never thought I would have the right kind of co-ordination. Not true, it turned out; I got there in the end. It was a hard slog, a painful slog, but I got there in the end. I remember when I was learning I drove myself almost mad with anxiety as I got ready to begin my lesson. Each week I tried a different pair of shoes or trainers, the ones that would give the best feel on the clutch. After about 10 weeks I reckon I stumbled on the perfect ones. Truth be told, on reflection, I had probably just about learned about clutch control by this time. Each week I would spend an hour in prayer and meditation trying to get over the anxiety, which never really subsided. The only real cure was walking in the park and connecting to life. After about twenty weeks, the fear seemed to subside, as I found I could actually handle the car.

I did eventually pass my test and have been driving for over three years now. I’m never going to be Nigel Mansell, but I can drive. I stuck at what I needed to do; I found the courage to keep on going, despite my fear and error strewn early days

The biggest difference about my life today, compared to the first thirty some years is that I have faith and courage. I have found that something that sustains and holds me and guides me despite my doubt and fear. I can practise imperfection, incompleteness these days. There is far less fear of the criticism of others.

I love the following meditation by Forrest Church, it really chimes with me. It is titled “The Imperfectionsist”:

"The reason I’ve been able to produce so much is that I’m not a perfectionist – I’m an imperfectionist. I’m confident that everything I say can be improved upon by others, and that’s my great strength, because I know that it won’t be improved upon by others unless I take the first step. When we only do things which please us, or don’t frighten us, after a while fewer and fewer things please us. Over time, our circle of options diminishes until we are prisoners in gardens of our own making. The more decisions you make in your life, the more times you act, the more certain it is that you will be wrong. To be fulfilled we need to recognize, all of us, that the world doesn’t owe us a living – rather we owe the world a living. And in the brief time that is given us, we must somehow learn to give ourselves away."

I really believe that what we need is more imperfection, more incompletion. More people who are unafraid to do what they can, however falteringly so that others can improve on their beginning. Think about it if we all held back until that perfect moment, nothing would ever get done; nothing would ever happen; nothing would ever change. We would just sit around complaining about our lives and the state of the world where in, I have wasted a lot of my life doing precisely this. These days, thank God, I have enough faith to practise imperfection.

It is ok to be imperfect; in fact I would suggest that it is rather lovely. It makes us fully human. No aspect of life is perfect. I do wonder where this drive, this need to be perfect comes from, to escape our humanity. Maybe that is exactly where it does in fact come from? It is an aspect of that drive to somehow transcend our humanity. I am reminded here of the text from Genesis I. When God looks at his creation he does not suggest that is perfect, he sees that it is good. Some translations suggest that it means “fit for purpose”. This fascinates me. Perfection is not part of natural life and yet we so often cripple ourselves in our attempts to strive for it, to prove ourselves worthy of life. We forget that to be imperfect is to be incomplete and that there is nothing wrong in this, it is to be fully human. To be incomplete simply means we have not yet created the perfect circle and thus we can roll through life singing and enjoying all that is life, with all that is life. We can journey together in love. In our perfect imperfection.

I believe that by practising imperfection we can bring ourselves closer to one another and encourage one another to be all that we can be; imperfectionism gives us the courage to be all that we can be. If we can learn to celebrate imperfection within ourselves, then we can learn to celebrate it in one another. It will bring us closer to one another and we can begin to encourage one another to be all that we can be. We can then work together to build a better life for us all. Perfectionism is a manifestation of selfishness, it’s all about the individual. Where as imperfectionism draws us out of ourselves and encourages us to encourage one another to what ever we can. You never know we may end up doing more than we ever dreamed was possible, for the good of ourselves and the good of all.

I say lets practise being perfectly imperfect children of life, children of love, children of God. Let’s continue singing our song.

"Oh I'm looking for my missin' piece
I'm looking for my missin' piece.
Hi-dee-ho, here I go,
Lookin' for my missin' piece."


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