Striving for perfection is the greatest stopper there is.…
It’s your excuse to yourself for not doing anything. Instead, strive for excellence, doing your best.
– Sir Laurence Olivier
My wife tells me time and again, “better done than perfect” — apparently an old expression common in quilting. It is interesting to consider yoga in light of this expression. Someone said “yoga is not about self-improvement, it is about self-acceptance.” What a difference from having a goal of perfection. Perfection is something that will come about when, and if, we can fully accept ourselves, warts and all.
We can strive for excellence, for sure, but that should not stop us from trying to do it a little at a time.
Striving for excellence must also allow in our flaws, mistakes, failings, offenses. In Kripalu yoga we do this by following the protocol Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow, known by its abbreviation BRFWA. “Allow” may happen at anytime, but as beginners we have a better chance of allowing when we can release judgment and this comes more easily when we follow BRFWA step by step.
We must welcome in our flaws. This is not easy. It requires opening the doors and windows and letting fresh air in to clean out the staleness of the rooms where we lock our “bad” aspects away.
We shun our faults and offenses, denying those aspects of ourselves. But as they say, “what you resist, persists.” This shadow side is locked up as a secret that we try to hide from the world, but also from ourselves. For more about this I refer you to any of Debbie Ford’s books, beginning with The Dark Side of the Light Chasers.
Recently, I helped send out an email invitation for a party. I didn’t have current emails for all of the recipients, including some close to the guest of honor. I sent it out anyway following the adage “better done than perfect.” I never expected this to bite me in the butt, but it did. Someone close to the guest of honor took offense that his brother had not been invited and shot me an insulting email from his iPhone. Granted, he thought there was “tension” between me and his brother and that this was a deliberate snub. To my knowledge, the animosity only came from one direction–the brother’s.
What unfolded was an exercise in personal growth for me, though at the time it was a frustrating exercise in futility. We return now to an old theme: Ahimsa, the yogic practice of non-harming in deed, word or thought, including to oneself.
I wrote several angry emails in response, but did not send them. Each time I realized that they would inflame the situation even more. Each time I used restraint and pressed the “Save as draft” button. I finally chose to send an email that would offer a face-saving response. I pretended that the insulting email was a joke and laughed it off.
My attempt was rebuffed with another insult-laden message from him. (My inner critic says that my email was admittedly lame. Practicing non-judgment, I bless my inner critic and embrace this teaching.)
Three email drafts later that also went to the Drafts folder, I sent off a defense of my actions and offered an olive branch. I carefully worded my email with as much humility as I could. I tried to write my email from love and peace.
Guess how it turned out? More insults flung back at me.
I gave up.
Looking back at what went wrong, one thing that seemed to irritate him more than anything else was my defensiveness. I still can’t figure out why; my armchair psychology has not provided a good answer. When I retreated, it still inflamed him. I was trying to be classy, take the high road, be the better person. He took it as superiority and conceitedness. I thought I was being Zen and Yogic and Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Beings.
He was right, wasn’t he?
Notice how sappy my explanation of my behavior seems–even without giving you all the pointless details.
The fact is, while I was trying to explain to him how well I treated his brother, even though the brother consistently mistreated me, it might have dawned on me that he was right. It does take two to tango. I know that from my separation and divorce about ten years ago.
I was busy trying to explain that if (a) I didn’t offend someone on purpose and (b) was never told how I had offended them, that (a) a reasonable person would not carry a grudge for years and (b) I would never know what to apologize for and what behavior to change. Makes sense? Perhaps not. Emotion, not Reason, was at play here.
However, he was right that if he perceived “tension” between his brother and me, then it was there, and I was a party to it, whether I liked it or not. In terms of yoga, I was not tuning into my own prana–my life-force energy, my “love-light”. In the yoga philosophy of the koshas, or concentric bodies, the aspects of ourselves, the pranic or “energy” body is where Feelings reside. In this instance, I was not practicing BRFWA and getting in touch with the truth of what was going on in my own pranic body–my feelings.
I was not able to Watch myself with Witness Consciousness. I was not giving myself an opportunity to practice acceptance through non-judgmental awareness — Allowing. I will try to explain this jargon more below.
Why not? Because I did not interrupt composing my emails to do the following: Breathe, Relax and Feel. This would have undoubtedly allowed me to RESPOND appropriately, rather than REACT emotionally.
While I was busy trying to suppress my anger–at him for his unfair accusations and insults, at his brother for his unfair treatment and insults–I was writing a lot of angry emails. To my credit I didn’t send them. But even when I thought I had suppressed the anger to write a humble email, the anger came through as defensiveness. I tried to write from a loving place, sort of a yogic version of “What Would Jesus Do?” No doubt the animosity was still apparent between the lines. See how my disdain continues to creep into my “reasonable” argument (above), a week after the fact.
What might I have done instead? If I were to follow Debbie Ford’s advice, I would have embraced the shadow.
What might I do in the future?
- Notice the anger, the rising feelings.
- Connect to my divine self
- Connect to the divine whole, including those who offend and see the divine in them. See that they are a reflection of me, an aspect of me which I have not embraced and forgiven.
- Remember that the proper relationship to all things is blessing.
How does one accomplish this? Here is one meta-methodology using BRFWA, but also including some refinements I received from a Siddha Yoga swami a few years ago:
- Catch myself: Be conscious. Practice BRFWA.
- Breathe: Breathe easy for five completely present, undistracted breaths. Keep going back to the breath until I am able to accomplish five easy consecutive breaths. That means succeeding in total concentration on the experience of the breath without any daydreaming or distraction. Otherwise start over with “Catch myself.”
- Relax: Check in with my physical body.
- Feel: notice the sensations that arise in my body and my consciousness: feelings, emotions, images, sounds, colors, textures, tastes, vibrations, discomforts.
- Watch: Offer a blessing to the situation or person that is causing upset. Be a witness of what is going on. Know that I can be conscious of the prana as both observer and observed. Label the thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in their drama; without drifting off into daydreams or scenarios.
- Allow: Proclaim “I am not a victim.” “I create my own reality.” Welcome in acceptance and equanimity.
- Serve the situation with the appropriate response.
- If I get stuck anywhere along this process, go back to the first step: catch myself.
While the email flame war was uncomfortable to go through, I appreciate the opportunity it provided for me to examine myself in ways I had not given myself permission to do since I went through my divorce–but that is a story for another time, if ever. Let’s just say in therapy I learned that my divorce was an opportunity to process–to learn from strong emotions–the dark emotions–including despair, hopelessness, grief, loss, protectiveness of my children and my livelihood and brief glimpses of homicidal–or, more generously, accidental death–anger fantasies.
It always comes back to disconnection from God/our higher selves. For me, coming back home to that connection usually means practicing ahimsa and forgiveness, starting with myself before I can bring it to others.
Serve the situation.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it is better to get it done.