Embracing Imperfection

^z 29th August 2023 at 8:17pm

A gently self-referential suggestion for letting go of excess perfectionism, in Lecture 16 of the 2011 "Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation" by Prof Mark W. Muesse of Rhodes College:

Trying to be perfect takes a massive amount of energy, and in the end, it's a futile effort. Therefore, why not just accept the fact that perfection is completely unrealistic and yet you still want to be perfect? Be mindful of both your imperfection and your perfectionism. After all, perfectionism is part of your imperfection.

Prof Muesse expands :

You probably see the flaws in human nature everywhere — in other people — and you probably already believe that imperfection is a human quality. The difficulty is in accepting that you're human like everyone else. For some reason, you think you're exceptional.


The Buddhist-influenced aesthetic ideal known in Japan as wabi-sabi seeks to highlight the beautiful aspects of impermanence, incompleteness, and defectiveness. Wabi-sabi values things that are rustic, asymmetrical, irregular, simple, and understated.

Objects that are worn or in the process of decay are appreciated both for their beauty as well as the spiritual truth they express about the transience and unfinished nature of life. Many of the classical art forms of Japan reflect this aesthetic sensibility — practices such as raku pottery, ikebana flower arranging, and haiku poetry.

Wabi-sabi invites us to look at life through a lens different from the one offered by perfectionism. The wabi-sabi view of life encourages you to feel more at home in the world, a world where all things, including yourself, could be regarded as aesthetically pleasing just for being what they are — subject to change, incomplete, and less than ideal.

To help ease your perfectionism, consider surrounding yourself with a few items that embody the wabi-sabi aesthetic to remind yourself that so-called flaws and defects can enhance the beauty of an object. These need not be pieces of art specifically designed as expressions of wabi-sabi. Rather, just take the time to look deliberately for objects that are conventionally flawed and yet bespeak the beauty of the flawed world in which we live.

In addition, try to embody the wabi-sabi ideal in what you do. Perhaps there is some activity you've wanted to pursue, but you've been hesitant for fear of not being able to do it right. Do it anyway.

Give up your attachment to success and failure and, instead, focus on the pure joy of what you are doing. If you're a perfectionist, you should find at least one thing in your life about which you can relax your need to succeed.

We can accept our common lot with humanity and we can try to rethink our understanding of perfection, but the greatest challenge may be embracing our own perfectionism. Trying to eliminate perfectionism is likely to prove counterproductive. There is a massive paradox: Wanting to get rid of perfectionism, if you think about it, is just another form of perfectionism.

Rather than responding with belligerence to the voice that's constantly criticizing and blaming you, why not try getting to know it better? Let it speak. It will probably do so whether you want to hear it or not.

Your inner critic is just a voice. You don't have to believe it. You don't have to do what it says. The critical voice of our perfectionism only causes us to suffer when we give it more authority than it deserves.

Our practice of mindfulness teaches us to allow thoughts to arise and fall on their own — like all impermanent reality. The thought that tells us we must be perfect is just a thought like any other.

Because trying to silence the critical voice hasn't worked, try to welcome perfectionism as a friend. Treat it with courtesy. Show it some compassion. Appreciate what it's trying to do for you.

Sometimes, the inner critic says valuable things. It's probably helped you achieve some good things in your life. Sometimes, of course, what the voice of perfectionism tells us is rubbish — but don't most of our friends tell us nonsense from time to time? And we still love them.

... all part of nonattachment and acceptance and being open and soft toward the constantly changing world — saying may and if to possibility, rather than deciding and choosing and finishing ...

(see [1] for a copy of the booklet "Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation" by Mark W. Muesse, Ph.D. in the "Great Courses" series; cf SocratesDissatisfied (2003-05-24), Worst and Bad (2008-10-28), Perfectionism vs. Individualism (2009-03-30), No Drama (2015-01-15), Six Bodhisattva Activities (2015-03-27), Without Anxiety about Imperfection (2015-05-21), Symmetry in Physical Laws (2015-12-12), Perfectness versus Goodness (2016-02-21), One Step at a Time (2017-08-17), ...) - ^z - 2019-04-13