The West is in a constant war with reality.
Perpetually dissatisfied with what is, we are desperately trying to perfect it. This one and only reality seems never enough and we feel ever entitled to more: bigger houses, bigger (hybrid) cars, bigger (Anime-sized) eyes, bigger market shares, bigger tax deductions, bigger incomes, bigger bonuses, bigger breasts, bigger penises, bigger egos, and bigger wars. We have been culturally programmed to endlessly optimize and supersize, to constantly perfect ourselves and everyone else around us. Our appetite for more has been kindled to the level of insatiability. No wonder we feel psychologically starved and existentially empty.
We have been taught to chase the unattainable: to be more than what we are at any given point in time. We are a culture of idealistically naive strivers unable to be content with what is if only for a moment. This absurdly unrealistic goal (to be more than what we are at any given point in time) comes with the high cost of psychological dependence. Feeling chronically imperfect, we sell out for reassurance, validation and approval. Feeling chronically incomplete, we compete in consumption and stuff ourselves beyond measure.
This chronic deficit of self-acceptance becomes a matter of national deficit and undermines the socio-political independence of our society. Long-term sovereignty of a nation rests with psychological independence of its constituents. A nation of psychologically insecure denizens is at war with itself, and is, thus, divided.
On this 4th of July, 2012, and onward, I encourage you to proclaim your psychological independence – from a hollowing-out and incessant desire for more. Your individual psychological health is part of our collective wealth. Self-help, self-care, self-awareness and self-acceptance are patriotic. Stop waging war on yourself: you are doing your best, nonstop, all the time. On some level you know it. Make it official. And as soon as we do, as a nation, we will shift the paradigm from conspicuous consumption of goods and calories to the era of conspicuous compassion and moderation.
Proclamation of Psychological Independence
1. We confuse perfection with imperfection, but there is no difference (between these two) unless, of course, you compare what is with what isn’t.
Explanation: What’s real is real, what’s not is not.
Here’s a brief inventory of what exists on this planet at any given point in time: the planet, of course; the animal kingdom; and you (the humankind) with its fantasies of what still could be. My point is this: there is no other reality at any given point in time aside from the one that actually is. We can now envision and imagine a theoretically better world and we can compare it to the real world that exists and we can say: “I don’t want this actual world, I want that theoretical world.”
Suffering is borne out of this very comparison: the ideal always beats the pants off the real. In any comparison of what is with what isn’t, in any comparison of reality to fiction, fiction always looks prettier. So, as we envision what still could be, we ignore what still is. But here’s the existential glitch: there is only what there is at any given point in time. If we don’t know how to be content with what is, we are stuck chasing the tail of desire, constantly optimizing, supersizing, perfecting.
Bottom-line is this: perfection is a state that is beyond improvement; reality is the best that it can be at any given point in time (even if it had been better at some point in the past or if it can be still perfected at some point in the future); if so, then whatever is, at any given point in time, is the best that it can be, i.e. perfect. If this momentary reality (the one and only we have at any point in time) is perfect, then it is only not enough when we compare it with what isn’t (i.e. our idealistic and naïve visions of still could be).
2. If I could be this very moment better, worse or other than what I am right now I wouldn’t be myself. But I am, perfectly imperfect.
Explanation: At any given point in time, you are what you are. That is self-evident.
What this means is that at any given point in time (like right now) you are not less, not more, but exactly what you are, i.e. all you can be (right now). If you were in any way different right now, you wouldn’t be you, but you are you, exactly as you are. What this means is that right now you are the best that you can be. Why? Because you cannot be any better right now. Sure you can be better at a later point in time, but we are talking about this moment, the one and only moment that there is, in which you are exactly what you are, not worse, not better, but just you. Doing the best that you can (at any given point in time) = being the best that you can (at any given point in time).
I see this as inevitable perfection. You have arrived in this moment, perfectly imperfect, with nothing amiss and fully realized. Self-realization isn’t when you are more than you can be at any given point in time; self-realization is when you realize that you are this real you, not the perfectionistic figment of imagination of what you should be right now. Understand this in your bones: you are what you are and that’s enough. Accept your inevitable perfection at this moment and perfect the future if you still so desire. Self-acceptance isn’t the end of striving (no, you can still strive, just without that overcompensating urgency and rushed desperation) but a beginning of psychological independence.
3. It is always like that, not just during this now but at any now that you are alive. Present is perfect.
Explanation: You are doing the best that you can and, therefore, being the best that you can be, not just now, but always.
Sure it might not seem so when you compare you to not-you (i.e. to some theoretical you that never exists or to others who are, by definition, not like you). But if you compare you to you, as you are, then you are always doing the best that you can do and, therefore, being the best that you can be, non-stop, without fail.
Think this through until this becomes self-evident: there is no past right now nor is there any future in this moment, there is only this, this moment, this now, and it’s always like that. You are always in some kind of now, in which you are only what you are, not more, not less, but just enough. Reality does not short-change us: there is no celestial lay-away in which the reality is withholding better versions of itself until a later time. Right now, which is always, there is only this, this moment, however it is, not less, not more, such as it is, perfectly imperfect.
Look around for a moment: everything is what it is, if a door is half-ajar, it is half-ajar, if it is closed, it is closed, if it is open, it is open; if the sky is azure blue, then it is, if, however, it is overcast, then it is overcast. And so are you – in this moment, which is always, – all you can be, perfectly imperfect. Accept this ordinary, self-evident perfection of what you are in this moment and, if you still need to, perfect the future. Savor the new unhurried calmness of this continued self-optimization: when perfecting yourself from the platform of self-acceptance, you take your time living.
From Conspicuous Consumption to Conspicuous Compassion
Am I oversimplifying? Hell, yeah! My mind is still green (and I do hope it stays this way), but it does (fortuitously) know that the greener pasture on the other side of the hill is just an optical illusion, just the Jungian shadow of our insatiable, culturally-kindled appetite for more.
I’ll be writing and talking about all this jazz of self-acceptance and inevitable perfection as long as I breathe. My motive has nothing to do with altruism but self-preservation. You see, the world of self-rejection is a merciless jungle. If I can help you accept yourself, my guess is that you’ll be kinder to others, which, in turn, will translate into a hopefully less hostile world all around. Self-acceptance means psychological independence, i.e. a world in which people mostly mind their own business, meeting their psychological needs in-house, without psychological blackmail or relational warfare, without surface-deep resource-intense contests of egos and psychological careerism.
When we realize that we are doing the best that we can and being the best that we can, at any given point in time, eventually it dawns on us that everyone’s like that and that, my fellow mind, becomes a platform for forgiveness and compassion. When you stop attacking yourself you automatically call a truce on the world at large. It is for this and only this reason that I keep jabbering about self-acceptance: self-acceptance powers compassion and compassion – at the end of the day – is just another form of self-care. On this July 4th and every day onward, be psychologically independent, even if you are in debt otherwise!
Now, somebody, toss me a veggie hot-dog and a couple of sparklers. Time to light up the sky!
Adapted from Present Perfect: a Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need to Control