Perfection

The hero comes down from the mountain,
Radiant with the power.
Yet one tussle with a dusty old man
quickly tumbles him into the dirt.

In olden times, young men and women who wanted to be extraordinary trained in the mountains with a famous master. Away from all the distractions of society, isolated in the cleanliness, they remained on a high peak and did not come down until they had attained great ability.

Such people were heroes, the pinnacle of cultivation. However, in their subsequent wanderings in the world, such heroes would often come upon some oldster who could quickly best them. Whether in philosophical debate or physical skill, there was always some obscure wanderer who could outshine even the greatest of heroes. Why? Because the hero only had perfection, the strength of youth, and courage. The oldsters had the advantage of experience and wisdom.

There will always be people in the world better than yourself. Learn to recognize those elders who are wiser than you, and respect them. Know that you yourself will not be great until you have lived a long time.

To perfect oneself is difficult but not rare. To have perfect wisdom is rare indeed.

Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao

Accomplished, beneath an imperfect exterior. Giving, (of himself) without becoming worn out. Filled up, without appearing to be so, And pouring out without being emptied. Very straight, beneath a bent air; most able, behind an awkward appearance; highly perspicacious, with an embarrassed exterior. This is the Sage. — Tao Te Ching 45, Weiger translation

Why is the root of wisdom so deep?
Because it must be planted in our lives.
The road to the precious capital is not for the inattentive.
– Loy Ching-Yuen

The Tao cannot be avoided.
By attuning to its way, we seem to move less and less with a disturbing wilfullness;
We move with rather than against the nature of things.
Self interest gets in the way of the Tao.
When we move selflessly, we move with grace,
ease and harmony amid apparent confusion.
– Ray Grigg

“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.” — Adam Smith

Sorry for the lack of an image, but I couldn’t find one perfect enough….

I suffered from perfectionism in my earlier years – nothing was ever good enough for my mom, it seemed. If I brought home 4 As and a B, it was “So, why did you get a B?” I really loved my mom and miss her wonderful qualities, and maybe she couldn’t find anything else to say and was just teasing me, but the little nagging criticisms always got to me, since I always wanted to please my folks. If I made a mistake doing a project with Dad, it was always, “That’s ok – you and I are the only ones who will know.”

So for a long time I tried, of course, both to be perfect and to be like my dad – I became an engineer, got my MBA, and wanted to be as good an engineer and manager as Dad was. But, I am not, after all, a manager, although I was a pretty good engineer. So I worked as a software QA and process consultant, telling other people how to make things work better – not perfectly, but better.

I pretty much lost my perfectionism once I quit working to raise the kids. It was really tough to handle two kids and a full-time job plus keep things as perfect as I wanted them! So of course something had to give. I thought giving up the job would let me feel better about things. It didn’t. So I started seeing a most excellent shrink, and we worked out all kinds of kinks – the perfectionism, the sarcasm, the whole gamut of things I had collected that weren’t really working very well for me. And I thought all was well. Until…

It turned out, I couldn’t be the perfect friend, either. And after losing three wonderful friends of over a dozen years aquaintance each, I fell apart pretty much completely, feeling like a complete failure at life. And got my body chemistry overhauled. Wow. What a difference. No more perfectionism, no more obsessions, no more stupid demands on people for the sake of whatever I happened to think was best. It wasn’t just the drugs of course, but the whole thought process and therapy and lots of yoga and then, most of all, Tao. These days, I find myself happy with life, content with who I am, and content with pretty much whatever happens in my life and what is going on around me. It is really nice to feel good.

And is it perfect? No, of course not. Do I feel I am anyone “great” or “important”, or “perfect”? No, of course not. I think I’m all right, nothing special. But I don’t think anyone else is special either. Or, more accurately, I see everyone as special and unique in their own wonderful way. This is how life is, how it works. We all move through life and learn orur lessons (or not) and move along, with things and people whacking us on the head until we figure out that very little in life will ever be perfect, that perfect-seeming things are usually fragile, and that on your best day, a dusty old man can tumble you into the dirt, no matter how good you are. Or as one of our favorite sayings goes, “Age and treachery will always defeat youth and skill.”