For a long time I labored under the semi-unconscious delusion that to “be spiritual” or to be a “spiritual teacher,” I had to be – well not exactly perfect, because I knew that to be human is to be imperfect – but somehow on the way to perfection. I have been admitting this to myself lately – and how this manifested in two main ways: 1) hiding parts of either my past or my present that seemed messy, embarrassing, and/or terribly imperfect and 2) holding back on sharing my fullest, most radiant parts. In a conversation with a spiritual companion recently, I recognized that I was stuck in a kind of dualistic paradigm – either I am a “good spiritual person” or an “imperfect fraud.” She offered the idea of polarity instead of dualism. I have been thinking about this, using the definition from Merriam-Webster: polarity: “attraction toward a particular object or in a specific direction.” Sometimes I am sitting squarely in my imperfection, and sometimes I am manifesting radiance. But perhaps it is more of a spiral or a prism – not two opposing poles. A prism that turns to reveal my messy, imperfect self and holds, at the same time, the parts of me that have matured and are flowing. Or maybe it is even less of an opposing tension than even this reveals. Perhaps our whole selves simply contain everything all at once, and if we could take a picture that revealed this, the mess and radiance would simply light up as it manifested, sometimes even at the same time!
To what end are these meanderings? Underneath all our “stories” – the family into which we were born, the history of our lives, the specific joys and pains, whatever our soul brought in this time around, and there is a whole, heart-centered, connected, pulsing being, who exists without striving or regret. It both seeks out and responds to experiences as a way to grow and, more specifically, as a way to recognize others’ inner, light-filled selves. The “awakened heart” of Buddhism or the “pure soul” of Judaism or the Hindu concept of “atman” or eternal soul, point us again and again to this interconnected web of being-ness.
In our attachment to our stories or our striving for improvement, we often miss the present moment of noticing what is. Even if what is is very challenging, the aliveness and vitality of being with can bring us to this pure, awakened, eternal inner self. More importantly, when we notice exactly where we are, we can become more aware of the ways in which we are attached to our “stories,” even when they no longer serve us. I was speaking with someone today, who said she is embarrassed to be receiving financial assistance from a family member because he is younger than her. Culturally and psycho-dynamically, this is considered shameful in her family. What if, I offered, you looked at shame as a coat you put on mistakenly? One that looked like it was going to fit but actually didn’t? What about trying on a different coat? It could be just a plain coat of neutrally noticing. Or it could be a shiny coat of gratitude. But whatever coat we put on, we have to notice it first before we can choose to either keep it on or try on a different one.
In Jack Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Kornfield writes: “…it is in a deep and honest listening to whatever has been feared or left out that our freedom will be found. And if we don’t choose to look, that which is unattended will come to find us; the lost parts of ourselves will present themselves, knocking even louder if we don’t hear their cries.” My soul is calling for me to notice that I have been wearing the coat of perfectionism, and it no longer fits (never really did, of course, but now I am noticing how itchy it is!). In removing this coat, I am actually picturing just standing upright without any coat at all – just me – sometimes embarrassed and sometimes proud; sometimes skillful and sometimes clumsy. Would you like to join me in this dance of just being?