Perfectionism is often the opposite of vulnerability. Why do I say this?
Let me be blunt: I have often been accused of being a perfectionist.
Notice that this is an accusation, rather than a compliment, pointing towards the general feeling that perfectionism is not an attribute that one should strive for.
Often portrayed as relentlessly pushing toward a goal in an unhealthy and possibly even pointless manner, perfectionists are derided for their effort and sniffed at for their overly-pursued focus.
This accusation has never sat well with me, leading me to question myself, my focus, my actions, my way of living.
Am I as unhealthy and obsessed as the accusation intimates?
Time to chill out and let go?
Yet obsessed with my obsession, I can end up questioning the very core of my being simply because someone believes that I am overly focused in some way in my life.
I have tried hard not to claim this accusation as one of my stories about myself.
But, I have often doubted myself and my passion for learning and life simply to avoid feeling that this accusation of perfectionism might be true.
The good news: In my heart and mind, I have recently transformed this insidious accusation into an amazing compliment, releasing myself from this doubt-inducing obsession.
Two weeks ago, a good friend told me about a movie that I just had to see, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
I immediately found the movie online, watched it and felt my life irrevocably transform.
Jiro is a sushi maker and owner of a sushi restaurant in Tokyo.
He has been making sushi for a long time, 30, maybe 40, years.
He works every day except national holidays.
He is single-minded in his passionate focus on creating the very best sushi he can every day.
You might think after such a long time, Jiro would claim to have perfected his sushi.
But you would be wrong.
Every day, Jiro gets up to learn in this day how he might make sushi better than he did the day before.
He believes he is a life-long learner and in each moment he has the opportunity to understand something about sushi he has not understood before.
This determination and intense focus surely brings him the label “perfectionist.”
However, I saw something different in Jiro.
I saw vulnerable absorption.
And by seeing this in Jiro, I was able to see it in myself, allowing a deep shift within my heart and my mind.
What does this mean and how does it remedy perfectionism?
In this context, vulnerable is the ability to be open to the possible wounds of life.
Taking risks and seeking new learning while remaining flexible and open to new possibilities puts you in the position where failure may be the outcome.
However, to close up and resist learning as unnecessary, keeps you stuck and unable to move forward in your life.
Vulnerability is needed as the fuel for the passion of your heart.
With this flexible attitude of openness, you have an outlet for the passions of your heart. You can focus your passion and its seriousness toward the joy of your heart.
Like Jiro’s dedication to make the best possible sushi in each moment, your vulnerability leads to your absorption, to the drinking in of all that makes your heart sing.
Vulnerable absorption is the mindful, heart-driven, serious, consumed focus toward your life’s passion despite the possibilities of disappointment and failure.
Guided by your complete commitment to life-long learning, vulnerable absorption leads to the joyful anticipation of how your grateful passion will express itself in this moment and the next.
You are consumed by the pursuit, you are driven to absorb all you can about the passions that entice you.
You seek out technique and theory, knowledge and experience.
You read every book you can find, follow every expert you discover.
You try, you experiment, you say “what if?”
You eat and breathe all you can, absorbing the very essence of your passion, allowing it to enter and inform you.
Your heart and your passion are one, absorbed within the motion of this moment as it weaves the fabric of your life, open to the infinite and the eternal.
Vulnerable absorption also requires intention with attention.
In other words, your absorption comes from an awareness of purpose or objective.
This intention may shift over time, but there is always a clarification process involved in your absorption that helps you to remain connected, learning and living from your intention.
In the same way, your absorption has direction, awareness, consideration and regard. It does not lazily attend to its passions.
Instead, the motion in your life’s passion comes because of clear intention and conscious attention.
Finally, vulnerable absorption is supported by a sense of flexibility and gratitude.
Learning is possible simply because you acknowledge that you have something to learn.
The longevity of your passion and the depth of your knowledge do not cause you to limit yourself and pull back from the possibility of further expansion and understanding.
Your vulnerability allows you the opportunity to live beyond the rigidness and doubtfulness of ego.
And within your absorption is a growing sense of appreciation for possibility both met and yet to come.
You feel in your heart the fortune of this moment meeting you within the joy of your passion.
Awe swells in your heart and happiness spills from your eyes as you absorb the learnings of your journey and the experiences of deep connection created along the way.
Within vulnerable absorption, perfection is not, cannot be, the goal.
The learning, the improvement, the understanding — these are the goals.
Like life, vulnerable absorption is a journey without end, a journey enjoyed not for the destination but for the absorption in this moment of life fully lived.
Watching Jiro, I am no longer tempted to the self-denigrating idea that I am a perfectionist.
No! No more!
I am, instead, vulnerably absorbed.
This article is part of the articles I have written on the personal aspects of growth through spiritual practice. To read more like this, check out What is Spiritual Practice?