The Gift of Imperfection

July 16, 2015    BY B Grace Bullock, PhD

This week I drove to the Oregon Coast with my dog to write a eulogy for my stepfather. He died after spending well over a year in the hospital following a debilitating stroke. There are lessons in death if we’re willing to engage them. Here was mine.

I apologized to him for two stressful cross-country moves in 16 months, and for being less than perfect.

As I sat on the beach watching the waves break and dissolve back into the sea trying to find the right words to describe the man who’d spent over 20 years in our family, I reflected on how fleeting and impermanent life is and how important it is to be our best selves in our relationships. I looked at my dog, Beau, sleeping at my side with his head draped across my leg; I apologized to him for two stressful cross-country moves in 16 months, and for being less than perfect.

Less than perfect? Did I really just say that? “When am I ever not less than perfect?” I asked myself. If I regret being less than perfect, I’ll spend a lifetime apologizing for who I am and most every one of my actions. I can’t be genuine if I’m forever seeking forgiveness for being who I am. That’s just another form of death—the death of my true, authentic self—a senseless and unnecessary death.

When you think about it, perfectionism is like a hamster wheel; you run incessantly with the hope of achieving something, but won’t jump off for fear of failure or mediocrity. You do the same thing time and again, expecting different results. It is exhausting—trust me.

Yoga is an exercise in befriending our imperfection. You stand up, wobble, resist, thrash about, and fall down. And in that struggle you discover one absolutely perfect truth—imperfection is liberation.

Imperfection is the essence of being human. It is what motivates us to engage in svadhyaya (self-study), to change what isn’t working, and to accept what we can’t change. It makes living authentically possible.

Yoga can also teach us about perfection. We are each facets of Indra’s Net—infinite reflections of the divine. In that sense we are nothing but perfect. We occlude that reflection by striving to be, or do, or become that which is in disharmony with our true nature. We jump on the hamster wheel looking for something more when, in truth, perfection already resides within us. It just doesn’t resemble the image that we’ve set out to become.

Imperfection is the essence of being human.

The sad reality is, many of us spend a lifetime resisting our imperfection until we are hit with injury, illness, aging, or death. It took a bad hip fracture for me to realize the futility of running on the wheel in pursuit of the elusive moment when everything in my life would be just as I’d dreamed. Maybe everything is OK just as it is. And when I pull out my yoga mat, stand up, wobble, thrash about, and fall down, maybe it's OK to embrace the imperfection of the journey and enjoy the ride. Life is too short not to.

In loving memory of Gordon Egerton 1934-2015

B Grace Bullock, PhD
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, organizational innovator, inspirational speaker, science journalist, and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success - Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain (Handspring Publishing, 2016). She is dedicated to empowering individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication, and to... Read more>>