The Gifts of Imperfection
April 2016 Graduate Meeting

Videos for this meeting:
The Price of Invulnerability by Brené Brown [16 min]
How My Son Ruined My Life by Selma & James Baraz [7 min]

Brené Brown is a Sociologist known for her 2012 TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, viewed over 5 million times. We showed a talk she gave a year before that one, called The Price of Invulnerability. In it she ends with a message about the power of gratitude, so it was fitting that we end the meeting with How My Son Ruined My Life, the 7-minute video which shows James Baraz's 91 year-old mother talking about how seven simple words transformed her life at age 89.

I had the chance to talk to James last year and I told him that his mother seemed really delightful to me, had she really been that much of a complainer? He said, yes, she complained constantly, and that after his stay with her when she was 89, the difference was so striking that his sister asked him shortly after, "What did you do to Mom?!?" She died two years after the video was made, and the day before she passed, blind and nearly totally deaf, she said "I feel so lucky. Lucky to have you all here, lucky to have had the life I've had."

    Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
           - from The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown (see also TED talk and interview)

    What is your name – who are you – and can you find a way to hear the sound of the genuine in yourself? There are so many noises going on inside of you, so many echoes of all sorts, so much internalizing of the rumble and the traffic, the confusions, the disorders by which your environment is peopled that I wonder if you can get still enough … to hear rumbling up from your unique and essential idiom the sound of the genuine in you. I don’t know if you can. But this is your assignment.
           - from The Sound of the Genuine by Howard Thurman

    Once upon a time there was a boy who had a dog. The boy and the dog loved each other and played happily as dear friends. But one day the dog did something that the boy's parents didn't like. To appease his parents, the boy had to send the dog away. Years passed, and the boy forgot there had ever been a dog. But inside him there was still a place where something was missing. When he was a man, the missing place called to him so strongly that he had to go in search of what it needed. His search brought him to the edge of a forest.
    Not knowing why, he found himself just sitting, waiting. Slowly, gradually, two burning eyes appeared in the darkness of the forest. The young man waited. Slowly, gradually, a long pointed nose emerged. The young man waited. Finally, out of the forest, slinking, there came an animal: thin, scarred, muddy, matted with burrs. You would hardly know it had ever been a dog.
    The young man greeted it softly: Hello. The ugly dog stopped, untrusting. The young man felt in his body the memory stirring of the good and happy times with his friend. He said to this animal before him: I want to know how it has been for you, all these years in exile. And in its own way the dog told him, this, and this. Sad, lonely, scared, bitter ... The young man told the dog that he had heard it. He heard all that it had gone through.
    And with the hearing, the dog visibly softened, became warmer and more trusting. After some time, it came close enough to be touched. When the young man touched the dog, he could feel the missing place inside him begin to fill in. And soon after he took the dog home, and gave it a bath and a warm place by the fire - after it felt loved again - it was no longer ugly. It was beautiful.
           - from The Radical Acceptance of Everything by Ann Weiser Cornell

    In order to speak - and hear - "rightly," false assumptions about spirituality must be shattered... The first supposition that requires revision is the belief that spirituality involves perfection. Spirituality has to do with the reality of the here and now, with living humanly as one is, with the very real, very agonizing, "passions of the soul." Spirituality involves learning how to live with imperfection.
    "If you see someone going up to heaven by his own will," counseled John Kolobos, another of the Desert Fathers, "grab his leg and pull him down again." The search for spirituality brings down to earth, plants the feet firmly on the ground, and allows a vision of self as it is, as we are - imperfect and ambiguous. "Earthly spirituality" may sound like a contradiction, but it is instead paradox, and paradox is the nature of spirituality, for paradox is the nature of human beings.
    The core paradox that underlies spirituality is the haunting sense of incompleteness, of being somehow unfinished, that comes from the reality of living on this earth as part and yet also not-part of it. For to be human is to be incomplete, yet yearn for completion; it is to be uncertain, yet long for certainty; to be imperfect, yet long for perfection; to be broken, yet crave wholeness. All these yearnings remain necessarily unsatisfied, for perfection, completion, certainty, and wholeness are impossible precisely because we are imperfectly human - or better, because we are perfectly human, which is to say humanly imperfect.
    This is the essential paradox of human life: We are always and inevitably incomplete, on the way, slipping and sliding, making mistakes. But the ancient voices insist that this is not failure; it is rather the necessary reflection of the paradox that we are. Paradox is the nature of be-ing human, of human being; paradox is the way it is meant to be, the way it should be, for it is the way we are made.
    At least some forms of therapy - and of religion - tend to imply that we are either "all bad" ("total depravity") or "all good" (''I'm okay, you're okay"). A spirituality of imperfection suggests that there is something wrong - with me, with you, with the world - but there is nothing wrong with that, because that is the nature of our reality. That is the way it is, just because we are human, and therefore limited, flawed, and imperfect. The name of the game, according to this vision, is I'm Not All-Right, and You're Not All-Right, But That's Okay - THAT'S All-Right.
           - from The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

Closing Thoughts
[ contributed by Palouse Mindfulness graduates ]

from, and by, Gail (California):

    Showing up as your authentic self is tough work and the best invitation to belonging.

from Jan (South Dakota):

    We come to love not by finding a perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.
           - Sam Keen
    There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let others get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.
           - unknown

from Hilary (U.K.):

    To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.
           - John Ruskin

from Susanne (Idaho):

    Loneliness is not a longing for company. It is a longing for kind. And kind means people who can see you who you are, and that means they have enough intelligence and sensitivity and patience to do that.
           - Marilyn French

from Sue (New Zealand):

What's in the way IS the way
by Mary O'Malley

Life is set up
to bring up
what has been bound up,
so it can open up
to be freed up,
so you can show up
for Life.

from, and by, Annie (California):

    Maybe knowing that you don’t know is the best knowing of all.

from Charles (West Virginia):

At a conference I attended years ago, an expert in codependency named Ackerman addressed 200 social workers and asked:

“How many of you like to sing and dance?”
(a smattering of hands go up).

“Now, PRETEND YOU ARE FIVE YEARS OLD. Remember what it was like to be 5 years old. HOW MANY OF YOU LIKE TO SING AND DANCE?”
(almost all the hands go up)

“Remember when we were five years old in school they gave us those big thick green pencils WITH NO ERASERS, because EVERYTHING YOU CREATED WAS GOOD.  Now as adults, we never live up to our expectations, we draw something, we erase, we draw, we erase… WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO US???” 

from Venetia (Georgia):

    See the book FLAWd: How to stop hating on yourself, others, and the things that make you who you are. It's written by a teenager but the message is very accessible and applicable to all ages..

from, and by, Michelle (Madrid):

Just me

Many a year I wear on my sleeve
With probably just as many versions of “me”
Who am I, really?
I’ve always been who you’ve wanted me to be.

I’ve found a path and I’ve shed my skin,
To uncover the version of me that’s within.
I’m not perfect and I’m learning to just "be",
So the world can accept who I am, just me.

from Kate (Ontario):

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.     The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
           - Teddy Roosevelt

from, and by, Joanne (Idaho):

    if your friends have to be perfect you won't have any friends..