I consider myself a beginner at meditation. I've been practicing and teaching yoga for years, and for a long time successfully convinced myself that striving for mindfulness in asana or general day-to-day life was sufficient.
And I suppose for a while it was. It helped me feel better in my body and made my stress levels go from "I HATE ALL THE THINGS. WHY IS THIS SO HARD?" to a tolerable "I've got this. It will be OK. I'm sure it will."
Most of the time.
There was still a lot of impatience there though. And if things weren't just right, a lot of frustration and an unnecessary (and unhealthy) amount of effort trying to get them there.
The thing was, I didn't know the frustration and effort fueled by my perfectionism weren't an appropriate response. It made complete sense to me that if my husband shrunk my wool sweater in the dryer I should be annoyed and share that annoyance with him so that he understood what he did wrong. Of course I should be so concerned about how perfect our food is that I don't enjoy sharing it with my family. And if I didn't have time to do something perfectly, then why bother doing it at all?
I'm sure you can see how a tendency toward perfectionism was impacting my life.
At a certain point, I'd gone as far as I could with this way of thinking. I was worn out trying to impress people. I was so tired of trying to do everything the right way. There was no joy. And very little peace.
When I started a daily yoga practice that prepared me for and included meditation, I started to notice that this tendency of thinking was perhaps unusual. And I started to see that it wasn't really helping me, and limiting my happiness much of the time. Not to mention causing stress and unpleasantness to those closest to me.
So now I'm in a place where I see the habit. I'm not exactly pleased with it. But there's a part of me that still holds on so tightly to the identity of being right, good-enough, and perfect-as-possible.
From Wikipedia, here are The Four Stages of Competence:
- Unconscious incompetence: The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
- Conscious incompetence: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
- Conscious competence: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
- Unconscious competence: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.
On the yoga path, you could say there are four stages though which we move toward consciousness* as a life skill:
- Unconsciously unconscious
- Consciously unconscious
- Consciously conscious
- Unconsciously conscious
* I wish I knew who to attribute this to. I only know my teacher said it and it was useful, but I don't know who said it first...
So here I am, at level 2 with my perfectionist perspective, and feeling extremely uncomfortable.
This is really not a pleasant place to be. My yoga practice has gone from a feel-good, stress-relieving respite from daily life, to a place where I confront (one of, I'm sure) the roots of the habitual responses that put me at conflict with the world around me. There's a part of me that's urging me forward, and I know that doing the work to get through this hard part is going to bring me to a better place. But there is a stubborn, very loud part of me that says, "NO, YOU CAN'T! YOU'LL LOSE EVERYTHING WE'VE WORKED SO HARD FOR."
But I trust the practice. I trust myself. The path ahead of me is lit by the experience of all the teachers and masters who have gone before and beckon us toward the promise of fulfillment and joy.
Every time I practice is a step forward. Some of the steps are harder than others, I'm beginning to learn. But they say it's worth it, so here goes.