This is not a blog post about perfectionism. It is not intended to help you with perfectionism or even to give you insight into it. It is a metaphor of how a particular kind of thinking looks with an understanding of the principles. Let me explain.
When you see Thought, the principle, the fact of it in the moment, you feel differently about your thinking. You still have your thinking and it’s generally the same thinking but there’s a distance from it. Take for example my tendency for perfectionism. Everyone has their favorite flavor of thinking, perfectionism has always been one of mine. I’ve know this about myself to varying degrees over the years and I’ve related to it differently. Generally I have traveled the spectrum between fighting my perfectionist thinking and accepting it. Both ends of that spectrum have their pros and their cons. For a long time I was pretty sure that fighting it had the bigger list of cons but I was never really sure because acceptance didn’t seem a great strategy either. I guess I was choosing between the lesser of two evils.
Then one day I had a moment where I came face to face with my thinking and there was a pause. I didn’t do my efficient assessment of “oh, here’s that old pesky perfectionism, I’d better choose a tactic…”. Something different happened. I considered it. Not as a pest or a flaw or something needing to be dealt with. I considered it for what it was. But what was it, really? That, in and of itself stopped me. I would have said it was thought. I was a student of the principles, of course it’s thought, what else could it be? But truly, that would have been my intellectual answer. I had never really looked into its eyes with nothing on my mind. No assessment, no plan of attack. I just spent a moment with it, an honest, timeless moment. And I saw my thinking in a new light. It was benign but it had a presence.
I realized that when I normally interface with my perfectionist thinking I get tense. In the stillness of this moment I saw the tension and I saw the tension coming from me! It was a little like getting all freaked out by an ant. In this moment I saw the freak out separate from the ant and the freak out went away and I was face to face with the ant and I realized that I had never considered the ant for it’s own sake. It was just an ant.
So here I was face to face with a familiar thought that I was seeing for the first time. What I thought next surprised me. The next thought that came through my mind was “I don’t know what to make of this”. I had stepped out of all of my normal ways of thinking about myself and I realized that I don’t know. I could see the pain that perfectionism caused me sometimes, I could see the role my thinking played in that pain. I could also see the value that perfectionism brought to my life. And, I could see the ultimate arbitrariness of the whole thing.
I wish I could express how profound the experience of “I don’t know” was for me. I realized in that moment, how much I thought I knew. I realize now how much I think I know pretty much all of the time. And I realized how the feeling of “knowing” came from my thinking and comes from my thinking all of the time I’m feeling it (which was pretty much all the time!).
This insight changed me. I don’t know how.