Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Spirituality of Imperfection

"Blossoms and Thorns"
- in my meditation garden -


Students in this part of the country went back to school a few days ago, and now that summer is coming to an end most schools across the country will once again resume classes. As I drove behind a school bus yesterday I remembered some good “back to school” wisdom I once came across in an op-ed column in a local newspaper:

At this time of year many of us will probably be
looking to sign up our kids for after-school programs,
so here’s a piece of advice:
Whether your kid loves Little League football or soccer, gymnastic or swimming,
always ask the program organizers this one question:
'Which kid gets awards?'
If the answer is, 'everybody gets a trophy,'
find another program.

At first this may seem like an odd piece of advice, especially in an age where building a child's “self-esteem" is so highly prized. Furthermore, isn’t school a place where you learn how to succeed in life?  

The problem is that when everybody gets a trophy, nobody ever experiences failure and so when these kids do inevitably run into difficulty in life, they are unable to handle it. And yes, I believe that school should be a place where students learn how to succeed and thrive in life, but the fact is that we all need to fail in order to learn how to succeed.

This is never more true than when it is applied to the spiritual journey.

Like many if not most people, I was always taught that the spiritual path is a "journey of perfection." God was often portrayed as a super-parent, a demanding "Father" who constantly expected right behavior and right thought in all I said and did. The rules were clear, there were commandants, laws and obligations, and I was expected to be an obedient son and do what I was told to. When I made mistakes, disobeyed the rules and "fell into sin," I was a failure and a disappointment. 

Interestingly enough many people still continue to hold this attitude today, clinging to the belief that you need to be perfect to walk a spiritual "way." This is why many religious people feel that they are "hypocrites" as they profess to be religious or spiritual. They are well aware of their own flaws and acquainted with their demons and yet they place themselves in religious circles where "supposedly" only the angels dwell. 

As a matter of fact I know plenty of people who keep away from religion or avoid a spiritual path because they don't think they can "make the cut." They have too many sins, too many secret failures and hidden warts in their lives to dwell among the company of the "righteous" ones. 

But this idea of "spiritual perfection" is a myth - no human being is or is even capable of always being "perfect." Human beings are an interesting mix of shadows and light, beauty and beast. We sometimes are guided by our better angels and sometimes by our darker sides - our angels and our demons always dwell side by side as we make our way on the path of life. 

I think of a piece of wisdom from priest and author, Richard Rohr: 

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong then by doing right.

When I recognize my failures and acknowledge that at times I am angry or judgmental, sometimes lazy or apathetic, and when I can embrace that part of me, I come to a knowledge that I am not a "cast-away" because of my faults – my failures are part and parcel of my humanity and the all-embracing power of LOVE ("God") enfolds every part of me, the beauty as well as the beast. 

It also seems to me that when I can embrace my own failures I am far less likely to judge the imperfections and failures of others. Paradoxically, by embracing failure we become more successful along the “way.”

A healthy spiritual life necessary embraces a spirituality of failure - every human being needs to fail from time to time. I think that maybe we give out too many trophies?

1 comment:

  1. It is the embracing of our own imperfections and accepting that these are a normal part of being a human being that is transformative in enabling us to relate to ourselves with compassion and understanding. And as you say, and through my own experience, it makes us much more tolerant and understanding of others. We are all the same, in our different ways. We can hide our failures and our darker sides both from ourselves and others, yet they are just normal. Part of our evolution, conditioning, and how our minds work. This blog post is fantastic for helping me to remember this. Thank you xxx

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