Presence not Perfection
Mr. Rogers once said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It's an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person, exactly the way he or she is, right here and now."
This feels deeply true about what it means to love oneself, too. So many of us, one way or another, got the idea that there's a "right" way to express love for others or for ourselves. At the same time, most of us also believe that we need to be perfect in order to deserve love and approval.
This set-up for self-criticism makes Mr. Rogers' words so relieving. He deconstructs the belief that most people have about what love is. And he doesn't sugar-coat things, either. He recognizes that love isn't a static state that one arrives at, finally. He tells us that love asks us to be actively, humbly engaged in our relationships with others, and with ourselves. The fact that we don't know how to do it "right" is not evidence that we're defective, it's evidence that we're alive.
Much of what I've come to understand about self-compassion is that while it's an active practice, it's not about "doing." This can be confusing, especially when we're so accustomed to problem-solving in our daily lives. Cultivating a more compassionate relationship with oneself is not a self-improvement project. It's a self-acceptance project. And, really, even to call it a project is to overstate things. It's more a shift in perspective that ripples out subtly and powerfully, enabling us to have a more compassionate relationship with all aspects of our lives.
Once you begin to question the assumption that there's something wrong with you, you begin to orient toward your life in a fundamentally different way. You recognize that your own willingness to be present with yourself is one of your greatest strengths. With that in mind, here is a three-step experiment for cultivating loving presence the next time you notice that you're stuck in perfectionism:
1. Notice your experience and your reactions
2. Stay present; tolerate what you notice
3. Ask, "What if nothing's wrong with me?"
Ram Dass said, "We're all just walking each other home." I believe that we're all just walking ourselves home, too. Or at least we can choose to use the challenging aspects of our experience as opportunities to do so. As we cultivate self-compassion, we open to the possibility of accompanying the aspects of our being that have been excluded, and welcoming them into our lives with loving presence; learning to trust that all parts of us belong.