As far back as I can remember, I have felt hopelessly behind. School felt like a race I couldn’t win, and now life as a 50-something has the same flavor. Then it was AP Latin, now it’s taxes, a leaky roof, etc. Most weekend mornings, I open my eyes and feel energized, motivated to conquer the world. I feel capable, in control, and the day feels young… that is, I feel like it’s early in the game and I have a decent shot of tackling the To-Do list that has already built up in my head. By mid afternoon, the energy lulls, and I start to feel the Sunday blues, even if it’s not Sunday. As the afternoon sneaks up on me, the feeling of dragging hopelessness creeps in. I’ve wasted another day, I think to myself. I haven’t gotten ANYTHING done (even if I have?).
I woke up with the thought this morning... will I ever get caught up? The answer came quickly... “No.”
No, the to-do list will never stop growing. No, life will not stop getting more complicated, with peace staying just out of reach. And No, I will never stop living under the delusion that fulfillment (success, satisfaction, Nirvana, whatever you want to call it) is around the very next bend, as soon as I finish “X.”
The Pursuit of Perfection
On a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains, I found myself in the backseat of an SUV driven by our host and long term close friend Jay. He was driving us over the Loveland Pass, a steep, winding two-lane highway which strikes the Continental Divide at around 12000 ft with a surreal, expansive view of the Rocky Mountain range & valleys below. Jay, having seen these sights many times before, was not in the mood to pause and reflect on the grandeur. The view I got, therefore, from the middle of the back seat, was a blur, as I was thrown from side to side by Jay’s tire-squealing turns. As we crested the Pass, with the car straining to maintain 50 mph, I frantically pawed at my iPhone to unlock it so I could snap a few pictures through the closed car window. I leaned across my wife’s lap and just started clicking shots, not knowing what I’d captured. Most were just a smudge of window frame & glass reflections. One came out just right:
I spent the rest of the hour long trip back to the vacation home deleting the poor shots I had taken. It’s a compulsion of mine to clean up the clutter on my phone during my spare minutes. My iPhone photo album, therefore, looks like what I am trying to get the rest of my life to be like: sparse of imperfections, beautiful, concise, majestic. In fact, I tried to find some “real” photos of the day that represented our actual trip (bouncing around in the back seat, crammed in between two people, scared for my life), and there were none. All the “messy” photos with blurry guard rails, window frames, and the sides of peoples’ faces were gone: I’d removed them as unnecessary clutter
On a whim, I asked my wife if she had any “bad” pictures from our trip, with unwanted blur or glass reflections. “Of course!” she said... “Here you go.”
“Why did you keep these?!” I asked, bewildered that she hadn’t deleted them as I had my poorly framed shots. “Why would I?,” she said. “I live with my imperfections everyday. To me, these pics aren’t bad, they’re just accurate.”
I had to admit, her photos were our day. My “perfect” picture looked more like a postcard in a convenience store; it had little to nothing to do with our actual experience on the trip.
The Price of Perfection
I couldn’t stop thinking about how different our road trip experience had been for my wife and I. I had spent the day trying to fulfill some ideal that I had in my head, and she had just experienced it, as it happened. So my day was about “capturing,” as if that is even possible, some perfect occurrence that I could reflect on in the future. I had obsessively aspired to some wisp of attainment that I could revel in achieving, and her day had been about... wait for it... living the day. And worse, I had spent even more time deleting the undesirable images (and the corresponding experiences). The end result? I had missed my own life that day by trying to attain some silly idea of what my life “should” be.
The price of perfectionism is living it all behind. It means never getting caught up, since life is never quite good enough to settle into.
My meditation teacher, the late Dr. Herbert Smith, had a favorite quote:
“If you rush through dinner thinking about dessert, you won’t enjoy that either.”
It’s pretty simple, really. Just start where you are. I don’t mean in your present job or relationship. I’m thinking more immediately than that. I mean in this breath, this moment. There’s nothing else to it. There is nothing more important “out there.”
Be here, now.
Take a deep breath, and enjoy what it feels like to fill your lungs with this life giving substance that we all take for granted. Savor it for a few seconds, then release it; along with it, release the need to be somewhere else, doing something “important.” Stay with the moment, even if only for a few seconds. It’s the first moment of the rest of your life.