Updated: Mar 8
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Sometimes in our healing process, we forget that we are learning. There is a tendency to apply our perfectionism to the sacred healing path.
This is normal for a lot of people. It was for me. And if I am to be honest with myself, the drive to improve and the push of ambition may have helped me in the beginning. However, as hindsight is 20/20, I can reflect on the very beginnings of my healing and see where I was leading with unworthiness, perfection, and clinging to love and light, disregarding the whole picture. I just wanted to feel better and applied what I had known to be true, which was that to achieve something you must work hard. It was logical in the beginning. At first, it was control and strategy with a heaping side of unconscious perfectionism that leads me towards rigid practices; feeling like a failure if I couldn't keep up with them. I thought I could fall in line and become disciplined in my mediation, and yoga practice, I would free myself of depression, cleanse past karma's, and stop myself from repeating the patterns I so disliked in my family. And this worked for a time.
Perfectionism is sneaky. It has a way of pushing us to get things done, accomplish goals, and it makes us lean towards discipline which can be helpful when trying to implement new habits. It also feeds competition, unworthiness, vanity, toxic masculine drive, and it can have us spinning from one training to the next training to learn all the things, to be perfect at all the things, and to ignorantly think we can master them right away. We can inflate the ego, even more; the fragile, insecure unworthiness that pushes us to be the best, furthering our mask and puffing up our projection. From this push to prove, there leaves little room for the student mind(humbly curious), rhythm, surrender, compassion, softness, or integration. Perfectionism drives out the feminine nature of gestation, creation, nurture, and noticing rhythms.
Think of your beautiful heart as it beats inside of your chest. It has a basic rhythm. It contracts, it expands it has a rhythm like a drum. The expansion and contraction are taking place everywhere in the body. On a cellular level as well. Think about your menstrual cycle. This sacred cycle holds all four seasons in one month. Our bleeding time being our winter. We are not in our expanded season when we are shedding. We can experience more expanded states of being during our ovulation when we are biologically wired to be more open to socializing for instance. Even if we no longer have a bleeding cycle as women have a rhythm that can be reflected back to us by the moon herself. These cycles have a ton to teach us about healing. We are always in flux.
What worked today may not work tomorrow.
When we start down the healing path and perfectionism gets to lead the way, we miss the opportunity to get to know our cycles of contraction and expansion. There is healing intelligence in these cycles that we can tap into. We begin to see that we are co-creators, rather than being large and in charge and in control. The push to achieve may also leave us deaf to the needs of the body. We tend to push for results rather than listen and recover.
Those lost in perfectionism equate what they can accomplish with their self-worth. I see this a lot in others because this is what I have been healing now for the last five years. I recognize the push on the healing path, as though healing is another accomplishment. It can make us feel worthy and smart, wise even if we can master healing and prove to the world that we are healed; signed sealed delivered! Healing is not like another certification to add to your Instagram bio. Healing is not linear, and that can take a while to digest. Each person will have their own speed in the learning curve that is healing. It is a whole new world for some. It takes time and patience will be necessary.
I believe it is possible to be in a relationship to healing. And I also believe that it is a lifelong relationship, with many contractions, and expansions, rhythms, and cycles. Rather than something to accomplish, the healing journey can be like that of learning a language. A subtle language that requires plenty of connection, and deep listening. Using all of the sensory systems to receive messages from within. We have to recognize the huge learning curve and give ourselves space to learn. Learning cycles are natural, beautiful, and each person will have a unique process of learning what healing is to them. Healing is learning something new. It develops compassion and a curious student mind. And here is the opportunity to befriend the inner perfectionist who is determined to get healing right, to do it as quickly as possible. We can learn to love the perfectionist and see her for who she is. She is insecure, afraid of being seen in her fumbling process, she wants to appear strong, weakness is a threat, being seen as anything less than perfect feeds procrastination, or the pushing to been seen. It feeds the all-or-nothing attitude. Many of us don't feel safe showing our soft belly to the world or even our closest partners and friends.
The inner perfectionist tends to berate, criticize, and can become addicted to the practices that when used with intuition and balance may really help us. It is easy to spot the inner perfectionist by listening to how we talk to ourselves, especially when we are learning something new. Or when we "fail" at the strict new lifestyle plan we started on Monday that will surely save us from ourselves; insert sarcasm.
Healing is like the tango. Few steps forward, few steps back. It is learning and unlearning, and this requires integration and compassion.
We have to be willing to be guided by our healing instead of pushing to prove we can heal. There is a real difference here. The push drives us into creating a mask for the world to see. The healing cracks us open and usually breaks down the masks. Pushing creates more ego-driven identities and healing leads us to surrender these identities. Healing can be and is usually painful and beautiful. Healing can also require us to rest from doing all the things that make us feel powerful and in charge. That can be challenging for the proving perfectionist, to be mediocre. That is like the worst thing for a perfectionist, the idea of being mediocre.
Who would you be if you couldn't do the things that make you feel worthy?
How do we move towards a more compassionate approach to our healing journey?
We can get radically curious about our self talk. We can look at our self-care practices and identify the payoff we are getting from some of these practices. If we tend to criticize ourselves if we don't do all our "self-care" right, then we may want to get curious about our lack of self-compassion.
For three years I played with the following idea, the hypothetical scenario of...What if I was physically unable to do anything for myself? Would that make me less deserving of love? Would I be able to love myself if I couldn't prove how valuable I am? Am I finding my worthiness the things I can accomplish? This questioning allowed me to see just how much I was feeding what I thought was my self-love cup with the things I could accomplish. I was seeing for the first time that I am worthy of deep self-love even if I couldn't do anything at all. Holding these questions in my mind for years allowed me to notice that I didn't have a lot of self-compassion. Noticing how I was pushing in my practices and trying to be perfect, opened the door to a new way of looking at my healing journey.
I started to see that for me, I needed to relax the idea that healing was a goal, and instead, I learned that healing is a relationship that ebbs and flows with its own rhythms and cycles. I started to see that healing was more about paying attention to these cycles rather than being rigidly disciplined. Learning to soften the edges, allowing for the rest my body was craving for so long allowed self-kindness to unfold. Rest used to feel like failure and shame and now it feels loving and kind. If we are willing to get curious about who we think we are, we can give ourselves space and time to learn the languages of self-healing.
I also feel it is very helpful to learn a new skill that you know will take years to get good at. Something you aren't selling and something you don't do for work. A skill that is just for you. For myself I choose gardening. I am learning about growing food. This skill takes many failures to learn, it is also cyclical. Patience is a real gift in the garden. I get to watch the pressure to be perfect and meet it with a humble humorous tone, as I know nature will forever be teaching me. I will never master nature. I love this! It's frustrating. I can then be with the frustration. It is physically demanding. I get to be with my body and my fatigue. I have an opportunity to listen and rest and watch the weeds come in. Managing an autoimmune disease I can't always do the things I want to. I can't always dig and weed and plant when I want to. Sometimes I find myself staring out the window at all the things I have to do in my garden, and I watch the inner perfectionist. I watch her try to berate me. And I can offer her some love. The garden will be there tomorrow or the next day. Gardening also provides long timelines. Which is good for the healing the inner perfectionist. I know my garden will take at least 15-20 years before it is the way that I'd like it to be. I can learn to love it as I go. Things take time to grow! Especially trees. The whole process of watching things grow, and watching things die, puts me in touch with my cycles of expansion and contraction. Healing is awakening to our own nature.
Choosing a practice that you know you will be a little bad at is great for the perfectionist! Also, pick something with a long learning curve. We, perfectionists, want to master everything right away, and if we can't master or be the best at it we may think of ourselves as failures. So putting ourselves in the position to learn over a long period of time, allows lots of time for success and failure. YAY!
In a long learning curve, we are put back in our humble place again and again, providing an opportunity for softness that comes from practicing compassion over and over again.
Healing wants to teach us, not the other way round. We don't teach healing, healing teaches us. The healing path asks the ego to be submissive in this process, healing the goal-oriented mind of the perfectionist. Healing is not a goal. It is a relationship, and like all relationships, it requires intimacy, safety, love, understanding, patience. We get to offer these qualities to ourselves.
Instead of goals, we could look at how we would like to feel. Perhaps we would like to feel less pain, and this can be motivating to move towards nutritious whole food, as well as moving the body in a way the feels good.
What if we approached self-healing as a relationship? How do we want to feel in this relationship? A relationship to learning, to listening, to feeling, to our intuition, our softness, our badass self, and the awareness that brings us into a relationship with our whole selves.
Healing is lifelong. It has no end. It is not a goal to be achieved. Or a box to tick off. It is an invitation to walk towards self-compassion and self-awakening. Slow and steady wins the race. Although this race isn't one to win, it's one to surrender to.
In healing and revolution,
Patricia MacNeill RHN, C.CHT