Discovering the Natural Perfection
I meet with many people who are either living or working with perfectionists and struggling in those relationships or, who are “self-proclaimed” perfectionists struggling with this particular mindset.
A perfectionist can walk into a room or enter a situation and immediately see what is wrong. Many, many things seem wrong right off the bat. A perfectionist often believes that things are inherently wrong, as if the “wrongness” has nothing to do with her thoughts.The wrongness feels deeply embedded into experience, into things, people, and situations themselves.
A friend, who is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, told me the story of coming home from work each day and finding himself complaining immediately to his spouse about how the day could have been so much better and how the house looked messed up in his eyes. This friend found himself experiencing difficulty in many relationships, not just with his wife. He found himself in conflict with his boss, some of his co-workers, his spouse, family members, and friends. In his mind, he is always just trying to help! He is trying to assist everyone in getting it “right.”
To a perfectionist, things seem inherently imperfect.
- Perfectionists deal with anger a particular way. They suppress it. It’s still there, under the surface, but it never quite expresses itself fully.
- Perfectionists often recoil away from conflict, choosing instead a more familiar mode of interacting—complaining and judging. The anger right under the surface turns to judgment before it reaches the point of being expressed. And this is how the suppression happens. All that energy of anger just lies around, tucked away, fueling more and more judgment.
- A perfectionist is often totally blind to how harsh her energy appears to others.
But the perfectionist’s tendency to judge outwardly is really only a symptom of something else—an inner view of herself as imperfect. “I am imperfect” is the core wound of the perfectionist. And this is precisely why so much of the conditioning is geared towards trying to make things right. The outer imperfect world is a reflection of the inner imperfect self.
Sometimes perfectionists are aware enough to see this going on, and sometimes they are operating more blindly.
In resting in brief moments [without thoughts], frequently during the day, a perfectionist can start to notice the non-conceptual perfection that is inherent in existence each time she rests in presence. In Dzogchen, this is called “the Natural Perfection.”
In a moment of relaxing all viewpoints, a perfectionist is invited to just look around the room and in her environment and notice that, when thought isn’t arising, nothing is really wrong. It can be incredibly powerful for a perfectionist to see this perfection inherent in thought-free presence.
When a perfectionist is taking such a moment, she is likely to begin seeing something in the room or in her experience or life as “wrong.” But right when something seems wrong, she can notice that it is a thought arising. The thing itself is not wrong. It is the thought about the thing that delivers the message that the thing is wrong.
There is a layer of conditioning constantly operating in the mind of a perfectionist. And it’s a bunch of thoughts that essentially say the same thing, “This is wrong.” By merely seeing these thoughts, as often as possible throughout the day, and resting in thought-free awareness, the natural perfection of life starts showing up automatically. This relaxed view about the outward environment is reflected inwardly as a quieter mind, which dispels the false, thought-based story, “I am imperfect.”
In the moments of noticing judgment, one of the most important things a perfectionist can do is bring attention into the body and feel the frustration, tension, and anger directly, without any stories or labels. This is a deep healing.
In recognizing this non-conceptual perfection, does this mean that the perfectionist no longer discriminates, no longer judges, and no longer uses her mind?
This new-found way of perceiving reality is a huge breakthrough for a perfectionist! Energy gets released. A deep relaxation takes place. A perfectionist often has no idea just how much energy is being spent on judgment until that energy starts to relax. As each judgment comes to rest, the repressed anger can flow through temporarily and naturally without a need to label or suppress it. Suppression of emotion only happens when there is judgment of that emotion.
Even the thoughts of imperfection, if they continue popping up here and there, start to be seen as perfect as they are, which allows the voice of self-judgment to quiet.
The desire to perfect “resting in non-conceptual presence” as a practice releases as one begins to see more and more that everything, from rest to thinking, is seen to be perfect as it is. There is no way to “get experience wrong.” Experience is as it is, whatever the form. When perfection is seen even in the thoughts and emotions, the perfectionist is no longer trying to improve (perfect) himself. The perfectionist identity is seen through.
*Photo by Evan Ludes