I had an epiphany recently in yoga class, or more accurately, an epiphany had me. The instructor was suggesting what’s known as an intention for the class (something to focus on in your practice for that hour). She suggested that we were not, and didn’t need to be perfect. Now, she was saying this in relation to our yoga practice–many postures are challenging to achieve, and it’s easy to not try one for fear of not doing it “right”. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you try to do it, and try to do your best at it. It doesn’t matter if you get the posture absolutely right, or bend as far as your more limber neighbour. I was lying there on my mat, and literally what she was saying hit me like an epiphany: I don’t need to be perfect! This was as applicable in my life as it was there on my yoga mat.
I thought about how much the idea of perfection above all else had been drilled into me my entire life as a Christian Scientist, and how that has affected me, still to this day. In Christian Science, it’s always hammered into you that you’re perfect, nothing less. As “God’s perfect child” you are perfect, and anything less is unacceptable. Following on to that, in Christian Science culture, there is often an extreme intolerance of anything less than perfection (which, of course is in the ever judging eye of the beholder), even though in this human experience we’re all partaking in despite how some may think, none of us are perfect.
Now, to my parents’ credit, they weren’t overly crazy or radical Christian Scientists, and I avoided some of the emotional traumas in childhood that I have heard about from some of my ex-Christian Scientist acquaintances. My parents acknowledged that I was as good as I could be, and accepted that. Other Christian Scientists in my life experience were not always so charitable. I have heard some horrible stories from other ex-Christian Scientists of parents literally yelling at or berating their children when they dared to get sick.
In the past, when as a Christian Scientist and I worked with fellow Christian Scientists on various occasions, I often saw and experienced an extreme intolerance of even the most minor mistake or oversight. Small things were blown way out of proportion, and that made me and others paranoid about any sort of mistake on our part. It’s made me an almost obsessive perfectionist, and sometimes I even find myself criticizing myself and others for the smallest of imperfections. I also have a deeply abiding fear that I am incapable of performing assigned tasks correctly and that I will let everyone down.
In the spirituality I follow now, some Elders refer to all of us humans as “pathetic beings”. I’ll be honest, I don’t always like to use the word “pathetic” to describe myself or anyone else, but it is used in this context of evoking an understanding that we are not perfect, and we do make mistakes, and humbly asking for forgiveness. “Pathetic”, to me, is too harsh and demeaning, so I prefer to say that we all are “imperfect” beings. We do the best we can, we learn from our mistakes and we just want to be understood and forgiven. I think the Elders who use the term “pathetic” use it as not necessarily a demeaning term, but as a term to evoke and ask for a deep empathy on the part of their higher power.
I’ve often heard it said from Elders, yoga instructors, and many of my friends to “take what you need, and leave the rest.” This is what I like about being a spiritual person rather than a religious one. It’s not a cookie-cutter path; it’s an individual path. I know some will critically call me a “buffet shopper” when it comes to the faith realm and so be it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I look at every teaching and I evaluate it carefully. A lifetime of blindly accepting what has turned out to be false teachings (in Christian Science) has taught me to do this.