Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The holy grail of perfection

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Striving for perfection will be futile unless we recognise and accept the faults in ourselves, writes SAROJA SRINIVASAN

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These days, the chasing of perfection is almost a religion in itself. Self help books abound and just about everything you can think of is given a thorough workout with the aim of perfecting it. It is almost reaching the point of obsession with many people in our society. Even the smallest undesirable aspect of their life cannot be allowed to prevail, whether it is physical fitness, appearance or material possessions. They carry self-improvement efforts to the extreme. Added to these efforts is an undeniable urgency which means that the problem is not in just wanting to improve oneself, which is commendable, but wanting to do it instantly.

The very nature of self-improvement implies the lack of perfection. Many individuals are constantly critical of themselves to the point that they do not acknowledge their competence or achievement, however obvious it may be to others. They seek self-improvement strategies to change even trivial aspects of their life. Self-acceptance requires a careful close look at oneself, warts and all. It is having the capacity and willingness to look at both the positive and negative qualities we possess with equanimity.

We have to be open and willing to accept drawbacks as willingly as the more desirable aspects of ourselves. This will require time, patience and a willingness to persevere. It cannot happen overnight. When things that we find hard to accept repeatedly present themselves in our life, we need to question and seek an understanding. This could very well lead to a realisation that often what we have attributed to others as being the cause of our unhappiness, failure or misfortune in fact, begins within ourselves. When this understanding is not reached with feeling and true acceptance, it is but at the surface level and cannot lead to substantial change.

The holy grail of perfection is not out there. We are intrinsically perfect. It is just that the veil of ignorance about our true nature conceals itself from us. In chasing perfection as a goal in many self-created aspects of our lives, we ignore the awareness of the true nature of being a human being first. A being in whom the fundamental values of truth, compassion and loving kindness are in abundance. The differences in our individual make-up, achievements, abilities and opportunities is what makes us different, but also unique. Some of these are changeable, yet others are not.

We often come across people who are so immersed in getting everything perfectly right that they are oblivious to the stress they may impose on others around them and on themselves. For the perfectionist, no imperfection however trivial is tolerable in themselves and in others. They become so rigid in their thinking and in their actions that they literally tie themselves up in a straitjacket with no freedom to move. Quite often such people over-react to the most trivial of instances. It is not long before they begin to experience frustration, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.

Like happiness, the more we chase perfection in everything all the time, the more unreachable it becomes.

It is important that we maintain the all-important quality of acceptance, have the courage to change what we can and develop the wisdom to know what is changeable and what is not. This should be a daily practice.

As the serenity prayer so beautifully illustrates,

God or The Higher Power

Grant me the Serenity

To Accept the things I cannot change

The Courage to change the things I can

And the Wisdom to know the difference.

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