I’ve been without inspiration for a good post for nearly a month now, and tonight it finally hit me. I went back to my old standby for introspection, a book called Cave of Tigers: Modern Zen Encounters. It’s full of fascinating and powerful exchanges between students and the teacher at a Zen monastery in New York.
Student: When my son was born it was obvious that he was perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Now he’s four and a half, and it’s getting so complicated that the only time he’s perfect and complete, lacking nothing, is when he’s sleeping. During the day I get very angry and frustrated with him. This is the peril. How do I deal with it?
Teacher: Are you perfect and complete, lacking nothing?
Student: Oh, no.
Teacher: That’s why he’s not.
Student: I have to start with me?
Teacher: No, you have to realize that you’re perfect and complete, lacking nothing, and then you’ll see the perfection and completeness that encompass everything.
The answer given from the teacher was beautiful. The child is still perfect and complete, lacking nothing – as is the parent. Coming to terms with that, and true understanding of that concept, changes the way we interact with the world around us. We are perfect and complete, lacking nothing, and will be just so tomorrow when we learn the next lesson and gain the next skill. We do not gather these things from others, from relationships and the adoration of others, but from acceptance of ourselves as we are. We are perfectly flawed.
This is, in my mind, a beautiful example of human wabi-sabi: the aesthetic world view that finds beauty in the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. We all have weaknesses and flaws and gaps in our knowledge and understanding. Instead of seeing those as negative, though, we can fill the spaces with compassion and love, repairing the empty cracks with gold to make a complete and unique whole. We are as flawed and lacking as we should be at this very moment, which means we are truly perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
How does this translate into relationships, though? Of course we need support and love from others. We need human contact and social interaction and emotional connections!
I don’t, however, need those connections to fill in my cracks. I need them to polish and tend to the gold I already have. I need them to hold up the mirror when I’m full of self-doubt and my mending is nothing but shiny dirt to remind me that I am strong and amazing. I also seek out partners for whom I can do the same thing – remind them how perfect they already know they are in their deepest hearts. The core of fluid steel that’s as strong and bright as it is flowing and compassionate.
It’s hard to come to terms with the concept that our flaws are perfect, and at the same time they are there to be worked on in the eternal pursuit of self-improvement. I’m struggling with this contradiction daily, and I’m working on being more conscious that others are doing the same. Not everyone sees it the same way, but we all face the same balancing act.