I am not going to finish everything before I die. Neither are you.
Allow me to introduce you to a friend. The Perfectionist and her alter-ego, The One Who Blesses
A quick reminder of our Monthly Gathering at the New Moon.
You are always welcome.
I am not going to finish everything before I die, I thought and instantly, my body calmed. I felt so relieved - so entirely off the hook of responsibility that I had to notice. Had to realize that a moment earlier, I was not calm at all. I was stressed.
I’d been pushing myself again. Arguing with how I am. Pressing against the limits of time and my older body. Forcing myself to work harder, even though I was exhausted. Making myself write, even when I had nothing to say. Like a taskmaster with a bitter voice, I made myself show up, keep going. After all, I reminded myself: Time is running out.
I used to call this inner taskmaster “the Perfectionist” but I don’t label parts of myself any more. Also, she’s not a perfectionist - she’s a response to the pushing, pressing, forcing nature of our culture. She learned how to push me and she does it because she’s been conditioned to believe that without that pushing, I won’t ‘keep up’, I won’t ‘accomplish’ anything, I won’t ‘cross the finish line’ in time to leave a dent in the world.
What’s new is that recently, I am arguing back.
What’s new is that I no longer believe her.
What’s new is that I love her.
In our hurry up and worry culture, we’re all conditioned to believe that success (at least the appearance of success) matters more than our own well-being. We’re all trained to commodify and sell our ‘valuable’, marketable and potentially profitable bits. We all learn early to hide anything that signals our wild and awkward realness.
Though my inner perfectionist cautions and dampens my most wildly creative offerings, she’s not doing this to hurt me. She’s doing it to protect me. She pushes me to prove myself, to demonstrate that I am worthy. Because then and only then can SHE relax.
The perfectionist is SO misunderstood. She’s not a problem to be solved, not a personality quirk that needs taming or clearing or fixing. She’s a lonely, frightened trauma victim who needs support, acknowledgement and care. She doesn’t need to be silenced, controlled or killed.
She needs to be held. She needs to rest. She needs to wake up from the trance of the cultural spell that keeps her on that hurry up and worry treadmill.
Waking up from the trance
To break the trance (and the spell of that pushing, pressing, forcing culture) all i had to do was notice it.
Noticing is the medicine.
Noticing how I felt. Tight. Rushed. Anxious.
Noticing what I was thinking: I have to finish. Time is running out.
Noticing and then, responding from blessing.
Now I could turn that noticing toward the perfectionist. When I did this, I realized something new: The other side of the Perfectionist is the One Who Blesses.
The One Who Blesses says: I love you as you are.
The One Who Blesses says: You are not behind, not unfinished. You are right where you are meant to be. How could this be otherwise? Here you are.
The One Who Blesses says: You are not meant to finish everything you start. Not meant to tough out every bad situation. Not meant to perform and perform until you collapse. You don’t need a perfect body, perfect manuscript, perfect performance. It would be impossible. It’s not necessary. You don’t HAVE TO. Breathe.
What a liberation.
I am not going to finish everything before I die, I thought and instantly, my body calmed. I felt so relieved - so entirely off the hook of responsibility that I HAD TO notice. Had to realize that a moment earlier, I was not calm at all. I was stressed.
When I noticed, I was able to turn toward myself with blessing. The trance of perfection cleared. I returned to agency, to center, to fullness.
The One Who Blesses lives in the same part of my consciousness as the Perfectionist. They are two sides of the same part of me.
The One Who Blesses is also aware of perfection - the perfection of things as they are. The perfection of the present moment. The perfection of the balance of heaven and earth, in breath and out breath.
The One Who Blesses knows that all that she looks upon is good — including the Perfectionist.
She responds to the cues of our “hurry up and worry” culture with gentleness, not anxiety, with generosity, not withholding. She soothes rather than scolds. Where the perfectionist hardens her heart and perseveres, the One Who Blesses softens, welcomes and opens to things as they are.
Like the Perfectionist, the One Who Blesses IS that aspect of our consciousness that NOTICES. She is the untrained, unconditioned part of us that was born pre-set to acceptance. She came in loving the world as it is, even if how things are is imperfect.
When I was able to notice how I felt, I was able to notice this dance between perfection and blessing
How did I feel? Tight. Hard. Anxious. Normally, when I get this way, it gets into everything - giving me the notion that I have to look better, try harder, finish all of my projects NOW!!! It wakes up my shame reflex and makes me irritable and cranky with people I love. Tighter and tighter, there is no more room for me. Only for how I look to others. This makes me believe that my entire purpose is to help others. To give them my attention, my time and my resources. To ease their suffering, often at the cost of my own. When I am like this, it happens with every being I encounter - from my mother to my clients to the zucchini blossom that made its way out of the green plastic fence this morning.
When I noticed how I felt, things went differently.
So, let me tell you about that zucchini blossom because it was through her attempt to expand outside the too-small perimeter of the garden that I began to think about all of this.
The first thing that happened when I saw the zucchini blossom reaching beyond the protective boundary of the garden was that I noticed that I felt maybe more protective and more afraid than I should have. I had to protect it- had to push it through the too-small grid of the green plastic fencing - so the groundhog and the deer and the sweet (hungry) little bunnies did not eat it.
I was afraid I would break it.
Once I noticed myself doing this —how I was bracing, over-feeling —I knew what to do. Take care of the Perfectionist. And I knew how to do that: I could ask her alter-ego, The One Who Blesses, for help.
I took a breath. I calmed my body. I found the thought that was making the panic rise: I don’t know how to help here.
And the One Who Blesses told me: Open. Tell the truth. Do the best you can.
Of course, I realized. All the worry fell away.
I crouched beside the blossom and spoke with it. I told it what I was doing and why, understanding, as I spoke, that though flowers don’t speak human words, the DO sense and understand and respond to our loving intention.
Then , gently — oh so carefully — I closed the blossom back to bud shape and pushed it back inside. When it fanned open, it was bruised but it was mostly okay.
I blessed my sweet heart for its tenderness. I blessed myself for doing something that was hard for me. The next day, seeing the blossom there, safely inside the enclosure, I celebrated the zucchini (or possibly, the cucumber) that will come of it.
The notion that we (and our zucchini blossoms) should live perfect lives, free of limiting fences and bruised petals and clumsy gardeners is an impossible standard. One that’s kept me stuck inside a different sort of fencing - fear. When I stopped trying to erase struggle from my experience, it turned out that — Eureka! — struggle was one of my great teachers.
Stubbed toes and skinned knees, growing pains and menstrual cramps. Life in a body is inherently challenging. Now, this body is aging - it aches where once there was fluidity. Blessedly, mostly only when I eat non-organic food. Turns out, I’m VERY allergic to glyphosate. When I stick to organic and reduce my consumption of grains to one serving a day (again, organic) my symptoms disappear.
The challenge of aging, as it turns out, is also a teacher. I will never stop learning. Never stop noticing.
In other news, I rescued a spider last night.
I’d just climbed into the bathtub when I saw the tiny creature - no bigger than a poppy seed — making its careful way upward, away from the rising water. You can do it! I silently coaxed as it moved up up and … oops, down it slid. I put out my palm, offering a landing spot between hot water and oblivion but the tiny brave being regained its footing and began again. This happened again and again until I offered a dry washcloth and I airlifted it to safety on the bathroom counter.
Why do I share this? I don’t know. It made me smile. Life is full of these little things to bring us joy: zucchini blossoms, tiny spiders.
There is a teaching here. There is always a teaching. Something about co-existence, about offering, about how we are related to everything - and not only to one another. Life is teeming with relationship. At my lowest, loneliest moments, it’s often been tiny creatures who have drawn me out. Birds, bees, butterflies - and spiders.
It’s recognition - my body greeting their bodies - the gasp when I realize: Oh, hello. I see you AND ALSO you see me. Recognition makes the world real around us. In a very real way, recognition IS blessing. Two living creatures meet. We notice one another. We respond with greeting - tolerating the unique qualities that make us different. Celebrating what makes us similar.
A spider is not a person. I am not a spider. Yet we co-exist in this space at this moment in time. I let you be. You let me be.
I’ve written about the things in this post before: here and here and in The Well, over here. I find my way to contentment through the simple recognition of what’s here - even when I don’t understand why it’s here. In this way, I live in friendship with the world around me, quietly blessed by everyone and everything I encounter. Blessing all of them - and all of this — in return.
I’m so grateful that you’re here, reading my work, supporting me with the gift of your attention and interest. Thank you.
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I wish you ease and quiet contentment.
And all the love that you deserve.
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