When we hear about the importance of being in the present moment, the “now”, and hear that it is the only truth, newbies can feel quite inadequate!
This makes a great deal of sense to me. Oftentimes, I find myself distracted by thought about the future. Or, I replay past experiences in my mind, often unproductively.Being in the moment frees us to experience life more fully, which is a good thing. But might this edict have a shadow side? Like any rule or declaration, it has limitations and is prone tomisunderstanding.
Discursive thinking — going around in circles with our thoughts — does not get us far. We often haphazardly stray from one thought to another; the chain of association may keep us spinning our wheels without gaining traction.
Self-critical thoughts are also common ways that we stray from the present moment. We may be operating from core beliefs that we’re not good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough. We may notice self-talk such as, “What’s wrong with me?” or “That comment was dumb,” or “When will I ever find a good relationship?”
Meditation and mindfulness practices may offers instructions to simply notice our thoughts. The practice of “mental noting,” perhaps saying quietly to ourselves, “thinking, thinking,” may guide our attention away from unhelpful thoughts and back to the breath, our body, and the present moment.
Rather than being plagued by self-critical thoughts, we might labor under a pall of shame — a sense of feeling defective or unworthy. Unhealed shame keeps us lost in a haze, preventing us from being present with people and life.
Honoring Our Thoughts and Feelings
Being distracted by our thoughts doesn’t mean they’re always unproductive. There may be times when we need to think something through — perhaps a business decision, retirement planning, or how to communicate our feelings and desires to our partner. Meditation teacher Jason Siff offers this refreshing take on meditation:
I see clinging to experiences and elaborating on them, or thinking about them, as being quite natural and nothing to be alarmed about. . . . I have heard many reports of meditation sittings where someone has written an article, composed a piece of music, planned an art project, or redecorated her house, and it was actually very productive and efficient to be doing this in meditation.
Sometimes we need to allow some spaciousness around our feelings so that they have a chance to settle. Rather than hurl an angry or blaming remark and thinking we are living in the moment, we benefit from reflecting on our deeper, truer feelings. There may be sadness, fear, or shame beneath our initial anger. Can we allow ourselves to be in the moment in a way where we allow our deeper feelings to emerge? Noticing and sharing our authentic feelings connects us with ourselves in a way that can connect more intimately with others.
Spiritually-inclined people often overlook the importance of being with feelings that are arising in the moment. If we think that being in the moment means regarding feelings as distractions, then we’re no longer in the moment. Trying to be somewhere we’re not takes us away from the moment. Mindfulness is the practice of being present with what is, not trying to be in a different moment.
For some people, the edict to be in the present moment may be a subtle way to avoid uncomfortable feelings. As soon as an unpleasant emotion arises, they may try to yank their attention back to their breath in an attempt to be in the moment. But then they never get to the root of their feelings, which will keep recurring.
Just as a hurting child will clamor for attention until heard, our feelings need attention. When welcomed and listened to in a gentle, caring way, they tend to pass. We are then freed to be in a new moment, now freed of the subtle pull of unattended and troubling emotions.
“Being in the moment” can be a helpful reminder if we understand it in a more expansive way. It can remind us to be more mindful of wherever we happen to be. When emotions, thoughts, or desires are arising within, we can notice them, be gentle with them, and allow them to be just as they are. We live with more inner peace as we make room for the full range of our human experience.
“There’s nothing perfect about me, and I’m okay with that… now.
As early as grade school I wanted perfection. I remember asking my mom to buy me a stack of lined notebooks and colored pens. I spent hours neatly labeling each notebook by class, date, and assignment deadlines. If I made one mistake, like a jagged cursive letter or a misspelling, I’d rip out the page and begin again on a fresh sheet. This was a tiring task but it was also a compulsion — I insisted that everything had to be neat and orderly. Or else… ??? Or I’d be out of control, scared, and overwhelmed.
When my parents divorced I was shocked because they rarely fought. I had no idea for how to deal with my intense emotions. I couldn’t do anything to stop it, and I intuited that anger wasn’t a acceptable in our family, especially for women. It wasn’t ‘Christian’ enough or loving enough… or good enough.
I felt a burning inside. But I never let it get too hot. I played the good child, the loving daughter and sister, but my life was out of control.”
No matter the root causes of your perfectionism or your desire for it, know that it’s actually a desire for love and acceptance, even if from yourself.
Perhaps you inaccurately concluded that the only way to be loved was to do everything right.
Maybe you feel the need to challenge yourself to ‘be bigger’ and ‘do better’ in your work and your relationships. That’s not a bad thing. Butthere’s a difference between striving for growth andwanting to reach perfection.
Overcoming Perfectionism Requires Surrender
Perfectionismis about fear — fear of criticism, of losing control, and so trying to control everything So as to avoid being rejected – by anyone or anything. One mistake could mean abandonment.
Striving for growth, unlike perfectionism, is about (lovingly) pushing ourselves to be the best person we can be, given the current situations in our lives. Growth is okay to strive for. Perfectionism is not.
Surrender is about accepting where we are in any moment, knowing that we are a work in progress. It requires self-forgiveness.
Tips to Manage Perfectionism
Having a sense of humor about ourselves and our actions, especially embarrassing or disappointing experiences, doesn’t have to be a form of defense or protection. Humor can heal or at least create enough dopamine and endorphins to get us through the tough moments. (“What a nut!… Silly me!“)
2. Forgive Yourself
Forgiveness is actually an act of kindness to the self and it’s not a bad thing. Forgiveness releases us from fear-based thoughts and emotions. It is the gateway to surrendering our perception of control over our lives and over the reactions of those around us. In AA they say, ‘Let go and let god’. Acknowledge our powerlessness to control the universe. (Actually, what a relief!)
3. Know the facts
Learning to let go of controlling every detail of your life is called —- ‘wisdom’. The fact is, perfectionism isn’t even possible! And look at the amount of judgement required in deciding what ‘perfect’ is to begin with! Impossible. And miserable. Even if you tell yourselfyour perfectionism is only about yourself, the truth is, you are judging everyone and everything you deem ‘imperfect’. Miserable for you AND everyone else around you.
One person said about her compulsion for perfectionism:
“It’s scary sometimes, and there are days when I want to organize and reorganize my desk instead of facing what’s really bothering me.”
But those difficult, uncomfortable, and challenging moments pass much quicker when you simply exhale, and surrender to whatever is really going on in the moment.
And a sweet sort of softening occurs:
If I can accept myself, I can learn to accept others.
Isn’t life better that way?
She goes on to say,
“I may still compare myself to that social media dynamo who effortlessly attracts a huge following on Facebook or avoid looking at myself as I pass a store window for fear of being disappointed by my reflection, but now I just smile and keep going, knowing that this too shall pass.”