Authenticity versus perfection

Published: 8/23/2016 8:01:41 PM

I’ve become wary of telling people I’m an interfaith minister or a reverend. If I do, it’s as though an unspoken expectation is hatched that I must then be this “perfect” role model of a human being.

Does a “perfect human” even exist? Our cultural conditioning is so steeped in the quest for perfection, I can’t help but experience the associated shame that’s unleashed when the reality that I’m far from perfect is inevitably revealed.

This quest to be the “perfect human being” seems to simply create suffering. (And I don’t confuse the quest for perfection with the quest for excellence — the latter lights me up.)

Plus the whole “minister” thing makes me think of Catholic priests who were idolized and supposedly beyond reproach — meanwhile they sexually molested young boys.

If we try to suppress or disown anything, any part of ourselves — any negative seed, as the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh would say — it will come out sideways.

The older I get the more I realize I need to simply observe both the negative seeds and positive seeds within myself, and then I get to make an aware choice to cultivate the positive seeds.

I’m far more interested in being with people who love me as a whole person, including my gifts/positive seeds and my negative seeds or my ‘muck.’

To me, it feels great when friends and family give me a hard time or tease me about my ‘muck.’ It shows me that they know my ‘muck,’ and they love me anyway. There’s a love, a kindness, and a compassion that I experience when this occurs.

Recently I heard one friend ask another, “Where’s Camilla?”

And the response was, “Oh she’s probably praying, or chanting, or something.” When I overheard this, I smiled. It made me feel loved. My friend knows me and all my quirks, and loves me because of, not in spite of.

My favorite learning in interfaith seminary was, “We all have our muck, and like the lotus flower we blossom because of, not in spite of.”

It’s as though our ‘muck’ is a kind of compost that we need to flourish.

Simply an awareness that every single human being has both positive and negative seeds, stops me from judging myself or others.

It helps me to make observations without condemning. It helps me to stop demonizing or idolizing other people. It helps stop fear of the “other.”

It was a revolutionary concept for me to learn.

“Wait, I don’t have to be perfect? I need my muck? It’ll help me grow?”

What a relief!

And I find this carries over to my practice of the craft of writing. If I write a piece where I present myself as this “perfect” narrator and character, no one is interested.

It’s not authentic. It’s not real. No one resonates with the narrator’s experience. There’s no vulnerability, no juice, no authenticity.

The older I get, the more I realize it’s about authenticity versus perfection. Authenticity and enjoyment. I’m choosing to cultivating the joy.

Rev. Camilla Sanderson lives in Temple and is presently practicing the art of creative nonfiction writing in a low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of “The Mini Book of Mindfulness.”


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