Hope for a recovering perfectionist

Western thinking is set up in a dualistic manner.  We have pairs of opposites: good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, body and soul.  Things are separated and put into boxes.  I was raised on this philosophy in my Judeo-Christian upbringing.   Human nature or sin nature is in opposition to divine nature.  We are told to die to sin and human nature and live out of divine nature.  It’s an either/or proposition.  And it’s impossible to do.  I simply cannot stop being human – and I don’t really want to.  When I think I ought to because of some person’s judgment, then I end up hating my humanness, and hating myself.  I feel guilty for being imperfect and human.  It is a cause of suffering.   When Jesus comes along to take the blame for my sins, the system isn’t really undone, it still seems like we are the Bad Ones and he is the Good One.

Eastern thinking is not dualistic.  It is both/and.  Good and bad are not separate.  Nor are right and wrong, body and soul, etc.  Every decision is somewhat good and somewhat bad.  Joseph Campbell talks about this in The Power of Myth.  The great mythic tales often point out this seeming ambiguity and emphasize that this is the real nature of life.  Yin and yang are not separate; two sides of a coin are not separate.   I am not separate from my human nature, from my mistakes, from my less effective parenting episodes.  They’re all me, and they do not need to be separated from me and judged.  We tend to get all up in arms about issues and pick a side, thinking that this is the obviously correct side.  Really, things are about 60/40 at best.  I often bring this up when one of my children is fretting about a decision and terrified that they will make “the wrong” choice.  Nonsense, I say.  You will make “a choice”, and if things don’t go in a way that seems beneficial after that choice, then you can make other choices.   Steve told me that when he was a kid, he had a plastic bowling set and used it to play a game that he made up.  He’d set up the pins in the usual pyramid arrangement, then bowl the ball and scatter them.  He would then set the pins up exactly as they had fallen, and bowl the next frame in the new arrangement.  Each time, he would just set the pins up where they were and start from there.  He never knew how the game would play out…I suspect that his pins were all over the yard after a half an hour.  I suppose the object of the game wasn’t the traditional “Knock ’em all down, Daddy”, meaning knock ’em all down at once.  It became more “Knock ’em all down eventually”.  After all my years of living, I rather think this new model is more like how life plays out.

So Steve & I have adopted a metaphor of decision-making that we call “Pointing the Canoe”.  We make good decisions, I believe, ones that take some time and try to consider many aspects.  They are not perfect decisions that knock all the pins down at once, but they are decisions that we hope will bring us closer to the light on the horizon.  I don’t know how to make a perfect decision, and if I live in fear of that, I most likely won’t make any decisions at all.  I make a good decision, and then I look up at the horizon.  If I’m not heading toward the place I want to get to, I make another decision.  I point my canoe and paddle on one side or the other, and I get there eventually.

Every week, we get together to have a Summit Meeting.  This is where we discuss the decisions we are making and how to point the canoe so that we’ll be living the life we want to live.   We put our values out on the horizon and see how we’re lining up.  We want to live more simply and sustainably.  We want to be spending most of our time, not on “small fires”, but on things that we find very important, like Spirituality, Music and Nature.  We want to be kind.

Today, I got to live out of a decision I made last week.   I interviewed at a county park that has a Nature Center.  I wanted to volunteer to be an interpretive trail guide and be involved in educating people about nature.  Today, I spent 5 hours at Astronomy Day telling kids (and their parents) about NASA’s Discovery program and the Dawn Spacecraft that is sending back information about asteroids.   I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this volunteer work; it’s not a perfect answer to “what should I do with the rest of my life?” (because it’s not paying me anything and won’t sustain me), but it’s closer.   I am also a Certified Teacher with TakeLessons.com now.  This means that a music lessons match-up organization in San Diego is trying to get me private voice students.  I’m not sure if that’s what I want to be doing with the rest of my life, but it is teaching and it is music, so it might bring me a bit closer.  I have yet to get my first student.

I still spend a lot of time wondering about who I am and what I “should” be doing.  It feels good to be in the canoe and moving toward my horizon, doing my own paddling.  I have been so fearful about how to live my life after being widowed.  Not so much any more.  Recovering from perfectionism helps.

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