Updated: Mar 7
“Realisation is not the acquisition of anything new, nor is it a new faculty. It is only the removal of all camouflage.” ~Ramana Maharshi
Do you remember the first time you tried on a pair of sunglasses? Shaded ones? Either tinted black, or blue or even one of those funky ones that were purple, green or rainbow. Every time we put a pair over our eyes, the whole world in front of us would change shades to match the colour of those glasses. Put on a neon yellow pair, the world would appear neon yellow. Like things a tint of green? Put on a green one. How powerful a pair of lenses can be to warp our sense of reality, at least visually, before our eyes.
Now imagine waking up every day, with one of those pairs of sunglasses over your eyes. Moreover, imagine putting on a new pair every few hours, changing your sense of what’s real and what isn’t, moment to moment. Each of us wears a different lens, and therefore have a different perception of what the world is, of what other people are, of what we are. This perception then influences the way we think and behave in the world. Is it true? Or is it just a camouflaged false reality we wear unconsciously.
Well, that’s how most of us live these days, just without the physical sunglasses of course.
Let me explain.
The Current Lens
Depending on when and where you were born, you were raised in a certain manner. Depending on the privilege of your household, you were (or weren’t) provided with certain resources and experiences growing up. Depending on the financial status of your family, you were told what’s important and desirable in today’s world. What amounts to ‘success’ in today’s world, or at least, what their society’s understanding of success was. For some, success might be x amount of money in their bank account, x number of followers on social media, x number of clothes or sneakers in their wardrobe, getting their dream house and dream car, or x number of friends they can call for help. For others, success might be something totally different. Finding a job that makes them ‘happy’, finding a soulmate and starting a family, and so on. Success cannot have an objective definition, because as much as we try to define it, everyone’s idea of it will differ, based on their experiences, their priorities and goals.
The concept of ‘perfection’ is no different. All of us have an idea of what ‘perfect’ is or should be. Something without ‘flaw’, ‘faults’ or ‘defects’; or something with all the ‘desirable’ elements, qualities or characteristics. Add in social media, and this view branches out to further sub-categories of what makes up a ‘perfect’ individual. A certain body type, or a certain lifestyle. With more people getting exposure to this view, they begin to see the world in this manner, i.e. they wear a particular lens. With time, this lens gets shared with more people, as more people begin to use social media platforms, and observe how their communities are all striving towards the same thing. A new job, more money, more fame, more clothes, more friends, more relationships, more everything. The quest never stops, and it never will, as long as the lens is covering our eyes.
In this article, I’m going to try distinguishing the idea of perfection to that commonly mentioned in certain organised religions around the world, specifically pertaining to the existence of god. Some religious sects believe that a supreme god exists, and is the only perfect being that exists. This article is not about this, nor does it intend to challenge this belief. Now while the idea I’m going to be talking about does correspond to that similarly stated in another religious practice, I’m going to talk about it independently, as I can best describe it.
Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash
The Name Game
Throughout the beginning of time, our species has created its own version of the world, as a means to try and understand it. It started off by labels, giving everything a name or a title, followed by a purpose, to understand what is and why it is so. This is particularly true for anything natural, that exists independent of human society such as trees, oceans, mountains, the wildlife inhabiting each of these, and so on. Think about it, what makes a tree a ‘tree’?. We’ve grown up to learn that trees are called trees, they produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide, they’re essential to all life. Do you think trees know this? Do you think trees know that they’re called trees? And that they have different forms such as pine, birch, oak, etc? Similarly, do you think the Pacific ocean knows that it’s called the Pacific ocean? Or that it has a ‘deepest’ point called the Mariana Trench? Talking of animals, do you think dogs know they’re called dogs? Or birds know they come in types called Eagles, Pigeons, Cockatoos, etc? We as humans love putting things in boxes. For example:
“What is a crocodile?”
“It’s a reptile.”
“What’s a reptile?”
“Reptiles are a category of animals that are air breathing vertebrates. They have cold blood, lay eggs and often have dry skin with scales.”
“Where are they found?”
“Crocodiles can be found in regions of Africa, Asia and Australia, with a few in the Americas.”
From a crocodile’s perspective, it doesn’t know or care what it is, what it’s called and where it’s found. All it cares about is walking, swimming, eating, and repeating, i.e. surviving. We’re the ones that give it the identity. You see where I’m going with this.
We have given these natural creations a name and an identity, and that’s not to say there’s something inherently wrong with this. The labels are a necessary part of of a functional society for us. Similarly, if we apply this to anything human-made, like cars, furniture, buildings, technology, the internet, we’ve given them an identity and a purpose, because we have created them. They’re not the same as something existing in nature, that exists independent of us. Like I said, we’ve created identities to help us function in our daily lives. So how does this apply to the idea of perfection? Well, the first step, is to identify the labels that we have, and acknowledge their existence in our minds.
The idea of ‘perfectionism’ is one associated with a state of ‘flawlessness’, or ‘free of impurities’. The first note to make, is that like the ones above, ‘perfectionism’ is a label, it’s a concept we’ve created. It doesn’t independently exist outside our minds. Similarly, ‘flaws’ are concepts that have names and meaning we’ve attached to them. The ‘flaw’ of having one pair of clothes in your wardrobe versus 10, one or two friends as compared to hundreds, staying at home on Christmas or New Year’s Eve versus partying or going out, living a life consisting of work and family versus travelling the world every day, or driving a small hatchback as compared to a luxury sedan or a sports car; ‘flaws’ are they? These circumstances exist, but we have given meaning to them. Because of this, we identify ourselves with this co-created meaning, and so we’re the ones who feel like we’re flawed, that we’re living in an undesirable manner, because we’re ‘not perfect’.
If we take it one level deeper, we can talk about character traits that may pertain to the idea of ‘perfectionism’. For example, anger, greed, lust, envy, incompetence, vanity, arrogance, etc. If one has any of these traits or flaws, they’re “not perfect”. This dials back to what our own created definition of ‘perfectionism’ is. If we collectively believe that in order to be perfect, one must be free of all these traits, of any negative behaviour, then the idea becomes one that can be perceived as unrealistic and unattainable. We feel like we need to look better, to dress better, to earn better, to be better. While there is nothing wrong with striving for improvement, the line can be drawn if it begins to dictate our lives and take over our mental peace and contentment. When it comes to managing any of these traits, one approach that helps is to understand that by harming other people, we’re harming ourselves. Any actions taken out of greed, lust, arrogance will not make us happy or satisfied.
In fact it’s often the opposite.
The more we try to attain the unattainable, the more dissatisfaction it’s going to lead to. Think of a dog chasing it’s own tail. It’s a never ending cycle. Funnily enough, even if the dog manages to bite it’s tail once every few moments, it’ll realise that it doesn’t feel very good. It would probably hurt a fair bit too. It’s not hard to see this play out in real life either. Think of every time you’ve wanted to do something more, to be better because you feel like you’re not good enough. Is any attempt ever enough? Or does it merely give you momentary satisfaction before something else comes up that brings you back to ground zero again.
The chase will stop, when we realise that there is nothing more to attain. The world is not a means to an end, and it never will be. Living like a means to an end is not what we do in our daily lives either. Think about it. Do you ever make a plan to meet your friends or loved ones, thinking that you’ll be happy after you’re done hanging out? No. Because simply being with them, is what feels good. That’s why with some people, especially those we love, just sitting and doing nothing is enough to have a good time, because we’re not trying to attain anything. Or, think of anything you love doing. Anything you do for fun, to unwind, that you do just because you enjoy it. It can be anything relating to arts, entertainment, physical activity, something you love. Do you ever do it thinking that after you’re done, you’ll be happy? Or is just the activity itself fun. When we’re fully engaged in it, we lose track of time because our minds are fully immersed in the present moment, what is, rather than what can be.
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash
Open your Heart
The way I see it, ‘perfectionism’ is a state of acceptance. Not ‘self-acceptance’, just acceptance. Acceptance of what? Acceptance of what is, not what can be or should be. Perfectionism is accepting that flaws are concepts, and that if we have them, it makes a part of what we are, it doesn’t completely define us because nothing can. Perfectionism is complete immersion in the present moment. In this state, we acknowledge that we already have everything. Anything more is just, cherry on the cake. Everything that makes us, us; is part of what our reality is.
The line can become grey here though. One might pose the question: “How do I distinguish between being ‘content’ and ‘fulfilled’ and striving for improving my life, being more successful and living a better life?” Change is constant, and our ability to adapt to change is what separates our species to others. To zoom in a bit, yes we change to keep up with the times. Economical changes, political changes, and social changes are a part of our lives. To keep up with them, we change our present, which in turns changes our future. In doing so, you may notice that your today, may very well be better than your yesterday. Ask yourself, if you were to compare yourself today with how you were yesterday, last week, last month, last year, or 2-3 years ago, what do you see? Is there a visible improvement in the way you think, the way you feel, the way you see yourself, the world and those around you? Forget about concepts of age and maturity, just think of the improvement. If you were to rewind to the past, do you think you imagined that in the future, you’d be ‘better’ than what you were back then?
Similarly, everything you do now, today, does it hinge on necessarily having a better tomorrow? If yes, then how do you determine what’s going to happen? We can make assumptions, but we can’t say for absolute certainty what can and what will happen. We simply put our best foot forward in this moment, and hope that our actions will have our desired consequences. The improvements come, 1% at a time. Even if something goes wrong, we often find ways to deal with it, learn from it, and try not to make the same mistakes twice. Either way, our present is all we have, and is often the best we have, until it’s replace by the future, which is nothing more than another present, just at a different point in time.
Reflecting on our core values can help with this dilemma of finding the balance between accepting what we have, yet being open to improvement and change as well. Practicing gratitude for everything we’ve been blessed with can also help, which brings contentment that can in turn, help us resist the constant urge to be better, even if doesn’t naturally occur to us. We are often our own harshest critics, judging ourselves for our perceived flaws and shortcomings. By treating ourselves with kindness and understanding, we can start to let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the reality of who we are.
Ultimately, the journey to acceptance is a deeply personal one. It requires us to be honest with ourselves about our own fears and insecurities, and to be willing to let go of our attachment to perfectionism. The moment we take away from what is and focus solely on what can be, we take away the light in our hearts and close it off to what we have in front of us. We give in to the lens covering our eyes and forget what’s real. True contentment, true perfection comes when we accept the world in all its radiance, in all its authenticity. We’re no different. Open your heart to what is, and embrace the change that comes naturally with it.
It truly is, a sight to behold.
Check out this podcast episode for the Ideas & More show on Apple Podcasts & Spotify.