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Imperfect Spiritualityextraordinary enlightenment for ordinary people
By polly campbell
ViVa EditionsCopyright © 2012 Polly Campbell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCulture of Perfection
Imperfection clings to a person, and if they wait till they are brushed off entirely, they would spin forever on their axis, advancing nowhere. —Thomas Carlyle
I'm pretty sure Buddha never had to deal with a raisin up his kid's nose. But I have. Raisins up the nose and other real-life moments are routine around here in my messy, chaotic, interesting life. A life that many days feels more like a ready-made script for television than a spiritual pursuit. But the messes and mistakes, imperfections and blunders have provided the basis for probably my broadest spiritual practice yet, the practice of imperfection, the practice of living an authentic life. It began in the backseat of a Volvo.
We were just fifteen minutes into an hour-long trip and my daughter was already fussing in the back.
"My nose hurts," she said. "I want out. I wanna be done."
"Enough," I said. "We'll get there when we get there." I spoke quickly so that I could get back to telling my husband how to drive, when to slow down, where to turn.
"I got it," he said. "If I need help driving I'll let you know."
"My nose is stuffy," said the voice from the backseat.
"But you DO need help," I said.
"I want out," my daughter said.
"Me, too," said my husband.
This was so not the picture I had imagined when I first thought about marriage and kids and family vacations and happily-ever-after. Of course I knew there would be challenges, but this was just plain irritating and inconvenient and crazy-making. Clearly my path to perfection as the ideal wife and mother was veering wildly toward the cliff's edge.
I actually fell over that cliff when the mist from my daughter's sneeze hit me in the back of the neck and the raisin that had, apparently, been jammed up her nose, rocketed past my ear sticking to the windshield in front of me.
"That," my husband said, "was so amazing."
"Did you see my raisin go, Mommy? My nose feels better now."
"Wow," said my husband, smiling at her in the rearview mirror.
Yes. Wow, I thought. My daughter had a raisin lodged in her nose. There goes my nomination for the "Mom of the Year Award"—again.
THE CULTURE OF PERFECTION
We live in a culture where things like "Mom of the Year Awards" and other signs of perfection are revered and coveted. We celebrate success, reward beauty, and praise people who follow the rules and don't make trouble. We do not generally celebrate mothers whose kids stuff raisins up their noses. We are not hot on people who are unsuccessful, overweight, unattractive, or destitute. What we like are those people who have it together, appear to have the perfect marriage and the beautiful house, the great job, and the clean kids.
We are a culture of perfection seekers. Collectively—yes, this means you and me—we celebrate youth, money, beauty, thinness, and ambition. We like shiny things, cleanliness, good manners, winners, and we like to be right, especially with our husbands.
It's an evolution that began centuries ago when the early colonists to New England brought their Calvinist and Protestant beliefs about predestination and work to the New World. Historically, hard work was considered a spiritual pursuit. These early settlers believed that hard work was the will of God, and their duty was to serve God through their labors. Any wealth accumulated through this work was a sign of God's favor and indicated that you were one of the chosen ones, selected by God for salvation and eternal life.
With time, though, the religious doctrines began to fall away leaving a culture deeply embedded by capitalism and the austere Protestant work ethic, but one increasingly focused on perfection and personal gain as a sign of societal status rather than God's favor. The right careers, marriages, bodies, cars, and schools became prestigious, a way of indicating intelligence, worth, power.
In the late 1970s and early '80s this modern push for all things perfect shifted into overdrive when Dallas and Dynasty replaced more family-oriented programming like Little House on the Prairie and The Waltons as the most popular shows on television. There was this global sense, says Laurie Essig, PhD, author and assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College, that perfect would provide everything we wanted and needed.
It's a perception that is hard to shake no matter how analytical or self-aware you are thanks to a market-driven system that is constantly telling us through commercials, magazines, and media that we must do certain things just to fit in.
"We are made to feel that we need to buy more stuff and do more stuff not even to be perfect but just to be presentable," Essig says. "It's doubtful many of us will ever be able to escape all aspects of this culture."
THE MOVE TOWARD IMPERFECTION
Even as we rail against the T.V. programs, billboards, and advertisements that objectify people and Photoshop their real-world characteristics like wrinkles and blemishes and other so-called flaws away, it's hard not to buy into this practice of perfectionism just a little bit. I think of it every morning when the light catches the gray in my hair. It's part of the natural aging process, I know, but it's causing me to look older and that feels harder to take every time I see a commercial for hair color filled with gorgeous, youthful women. I could dye my hair and get a teeny bit closer to the made-for-T.V.-ideal, but going with Rocket Red hair color is not going to smooth the wrinkles or alter the aging process. What if, though, instead of coloring my hair, I acknowledged my age and gave thanks that I've been able to live this long? What if I saw the strands of gray as a sign of privilege rather than a flaw? Then the so-called imperfections of getting older would make me feel better and they could actually become pathways to spiritual development.
I'm not saying to give up on self-improvement altogether. There's nothing wrong with a little hair dye or trying a technique to help you live well. Most of us do want to look better and feel better in our skin. We want to be better people. Personal development is valid and worthwhile when it comes from a place of curiosity and passion, when it comes from a desire to grow and to create meaning-filled lives. But too often we want to sweep away our flaws in order to measure up to some Hollywood ideal.
We invest time and put our attention on fixing, changing, avoiding, denying, and hiding our imperfections to match some contrived cultural expectation, rather than living from what's right and true for us. Let's do it differently. It's time to shift our focus and energy from what's wrong with us to what is right within us.
THE LIMITS OF PERFECTION
In our quest to be the best we dye our hair, cream the wrinkles, cover the blemishes, fix the nose, and become masters at avoiding accountability. It's become easy to blame our mothers, partners, therapists, McDonald's, and the media for our troubles instead of admitting our mistakes. Here is a shocker, people: We are fat because we ate the hamburgers, not because somebody cooked them for us.
But we don't admit to it. We don't want to fess up to our flaws or showcase our imperfections because we believe that to be wrong is to be weak. People who pursue this road to perfection tend to be more likely to cover up their errors than take responsibility for them, according to research from experts, like Gordon Flett, of York University.
This is a narrow, limiting way to live. To constantly push for perfection is to strive for an illusion. In the end there is nothing left but a whole lot of stress, insecurity, anxiety, and fear. People who pursue this route are also at higher risk for social alienation, divorce, suicide, burnout, depression, and a slate of health problems, according to research. As long as we stay this course of denying and excusing our flaws rather than recognizing, accepting, and using them to create more fabulous lives, we will remain stuck, stressed out, and disconnected from spirit.
THE POWER OF IMPERFECTION
The Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi urges us to make peace with those things that are rough or irregular; the things that don't go our way, by acknowledging that all of life is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete—including us. Wabi-sabi finds beauty in simplicity. It appreciates the essence and authenticity of all things, even when they are apparently flawed. It is accepting of nature and life, as well as decay and death, because each one is a cycle of growth.
In ancient times appreciating imperfection was considered by some as the first step toward enlightenment. Viewing your own imperfections, with respect and awe and appreciation, will elevate your life in a way that feels more real and resonant.
Living authentically with imperfection allows you to:
Ask for help. When we worry about our failings, we don't ask for help for fear we will be found out. We don't acknowledge that we have a drinking problem, or that our business is failing. We don't access the people and things we need to survive the turmoil of our lives. When we recognize that setbacks aren't shortcomings, we are more apt to get the help we need to move through them.
Take creative risks. Imperfection and failure are inherent to innovation. When you release the need to get it right the first time, you step into your creative power.
Love completely. When you settle into a comfort zone with your imperfections you are more open and secure and able to give and receive love. It's a powerful thing to share all that you are and be loved anyhow.
Live with vitality. To frequently focus your energy and attention on trying to fix or hide what isn't working is exhausting. It depletes the energy you have to explore your talents, create new things, and indulge in healthy behaviors like exercise or learning. When you identify and make peace with your imperfections, you are free to shift your energies to your passions, talents, and purpose.
Make healthy choices. It's stressful to hide or deny aspects of your true self and that stress makes us prone to headaches, colds, and digestive troubles. It also contributes to most major, super-scary illnesses like cancer and heart disease. When you live honestly and free yourself up to fail, you'll experience big-time relief and greater health and well-being.
The practice of imperfection requires us to live from a place of personal integrity. It requires us to not only take a clear look at our imperfections, but to welcome them in with love and humor and patience and kindness, like we would the drunk aunt that shows up on Thanksgiving. Sure, it's gonna feel uncomfortable at times, but it's also freeing. It is the route to compassion and peace and tolerance and patience. It is the route to joy.
THE EGO AND IMPERFECTION
Moving into the practice of imperfection is tough in the beginning. There is hell to pay when your Ego finds out you're going to shift your self-image and embrace the (gasp!) bad hair days and grouchy moments and let go of the relentless drive to measure up to the movie stars.
The practice of imperfection is a new, broader, more compassionate way of living and like anything else that is new, you've got to break it in and get used to it. I was pushed into this process when my usual (and rigid) approach to spirituality no longer left room for the big life changes that came with a new baby, job transition, and cancer scare.
When we stick to a narrow path and the perspective that there is only one right way of doing things, we miss out on the wisdom and opportunities we need and crave to grow and live a purposeful life. We get tied up in this weird mind/body/ spirit disconnect where we know that perfection is unachievable, yet we still fight to obtain it. Even when we come close and have some measure of external success—we get the job, or lose the weight, or marry the quarterback—we don't enjoy it much, because we feel deep inside that we're not worthy of all this. We worry that we will be exposed for all our imperfections; that we'll slip again, gain the weight back, or end up in divorce.
That disparity between what we feel and what we do causes some real stress and it moves us away from our core energy and essence and leaves us feeling scared and inauthentic.
IMPOSTOR SYNDROME AND IMPERFECTION
This is part of what psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the "Impostor Syndrome" back in the 1978. When you have a hard time believing in your competence or accomplishments, or you feel as though you don't deserve the success you have earned, when you feel like a fraud, you are suffering from Impostor Syndrome.
Rooted in perfectionism, Impostor Syndrome makes it hard to cope with rejection, constructive criticism, or even success. This keeps you from taking on new challenges or opportunities, because you fear you'll be unable to handle them. It is a stifling way to live.
PROCRASTINATION AND PERFECTION
When perfect is the ultimate or the only goal we are less likely to do the things that help us to grow and evolve. We are less likely to create, explore, attempt, and connect. We delay and avoid anything that may put our imperfections on display, anything that includes some risk of failure.
Joseph Ferrari, PhD, calls this "avoider procrastination." When you are embedded with a fear of failure (or even success) and deeply concerned with what others think, you rarely take on anything but the simplest tasks and seldom get anything meaningful done. An avoider procrastinator would prefer to be considered a person who lacks effort rather than one who lacks ability. But avoiding action is a sure way to limit your life.
THE PRACTICE OF IMPERFECTION
To live a big life, one that acknowledges both the garbage and greatness that make you who you are, allows you to uncover your authentic self. It doesn't require you to change or fix anything; it requires you to live fully with who you already are.
When you can do that, something interesting happens—those big flaws, the ones you stew about, aren't such a big deal anymore. You are now in a position to take an honest look at all the good and bad and see, with self-compassion and gentle criticism, what is working and what is not. Then the things you've been trying to fix and hide and change become qualities to help you launch your best life.
"Problems are the basis for all good, creative ideas," says author, life coach, and all-around wise woman, Martha Beck.
Here's how it works: You've spent two years at work trying to avoid public presentations. Instead of acknowledging that you aren't good at conveying your ideas to a group, you delegated the presentations to others. But you lived with fear, knowing that one day you'd be forced to present. Your fears and lack of speaking skills kept you trapped. You refused to apply for that management job everyone thought you'd be perfect for because you were afraid of being found out. When you finally did take an honest look at your failings, you discovered why you stink at public speaking. Instead of hiding from that knowledge, you decided to live with it and come clean with your boss. She wants to help and pays for the training you need to become a better speaker. Now the fear is gone from your life, you've learned new skills, and job opportunities have opened up. You have become an optimalist.
BECOMING AN OPTIMALIST
Optimalists, once called positive perfectionists, tend to be rooted in reality. "They are able to accept failure and emotional discomfort, as well as any positive outcomes, because optimalists know that failures present plenty of opportunity," according to happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD.
THE PERKS OF IMPERFECTION
What we want and what our spirit needs, is to be whole and harmonious, to feel complete and aligned with mind, body, and spirit. When we spend time trying to fix and deny and hide entire dimensions of ourselves, we move out of that alignment.
This derails our best efforts and biggest dreams by leading us further from spirit. We do things like gossip and Facebook frequently. We drink too much and shop too much and work too much in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feelings, the uncertainties, and the truth of all that we are.
These things work for a bit. They keep us busy so we have little time for introspection. But then those frivolous time wasters or addictions become one more reason to beat ourselves up, another imperfection that we have to go about fixing or hiding.
When we decide to see who we are, we become free. Then there is room for growth. We move from feeling trapped and stuck into a position of openness and gratitude for all that we are. We become more accountable for our actions and our lives.
Research by psychology professor Mark Leary indicates that people who admit their mistakes seem to rest easier, be more responsible, and more compassionate.
Understanding our imperfections frees us to explore different avenues of self-understanding and improvement. This is not mediocrity; it is movement. How far you go and how much you grow all depends on your motivation.
Excerpted from Imperfect Spirituality by polly campbell Copyright © 2012 by Polly Campbell. Excerpted by permission of ViVa Editions. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Cracked Pot xix
Chapter 1 Culture of Perfection 1
Chapter 2 Courage to Stand with Your Truth 25
Chapter 3 Working with What Is 47
Chapter 4 Building Powerful Beliefs and Cutting Catastrophic Thoughts 75
Chapter 5 Feeling Good About Bad Emotions 101
Chapter 6 Connecting with Self-Compassion 123
Chapter 7 Relating to the Imperfection in Others 143
Chapter 8 Practicing Faith, Building Optimism 167
Chapter 9 Creating through Uncertainty 191
Chapter 10 hiving a Values-Driven Life 219
Chapter 11 Finding Meaning in Mistakes 235
Chapter 12 Living with Spirit 253
Chapter 13 In the End, Beginning Again 275
About the Author 281
What People are Saying About This
"Even if we wanted to, most of us will never retreat to a Tibetan monastery or Indian ashram to cultivate a spiritual practice. The majority of us live ordinary lives, largely preoccupied with routine matters. The humorous and candid narrative in this book delivers lighthearted yet significant direction for integrating traditional spiritual techniques with the imperfections that characterize daily life. Campbell calls this “choosing a path of imperfection, [which] connects you more deeply with yourself and fills those chaotic, confusing, and stressful moments with possibility and meaning.” Compelling anecdotes from ordinary spiritual seekers and informative research help to illuminate this path of imperfect spirituality, which begins when we stop trying to hide our flaws and instead “pay attention to what’s going on: to what’s working and what’s not.” Practical tips for turning ordinary moments into opportunities for spiritual growth, many of which can be squeezed in while brushing your teeth or waiting for the bus, punctuate this clear and affable spiritual guide for the rest of us."
"You don't have to be the Dalai Lama to find spiritual peace. Imperfect Spirituality: Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People is a spiritual guide for the not so spiritual. Polly Campbell presents how to approach the ideas of enlightenment in an everyday context, and find one's purpose and live up to one's goals in the process. "Imperfect Spirituality" is a must for those who want to have that peace they seek but can't even get the brief moment of meditation right, highly recommended."
Midwest Book Review
"Imperfect Spirituality presumes you know your relationship to the Divine and shines light on your relationship with Yourself. Polly hooked me at “don’t put any more raisins up your nose.” While Campbell references a buffet of respected sources, the path is her own. It’s funny, functional guidance in the accessible voice of a good friend. Read from start to finish, or opened any where for a dip, her words reach out...and touch your heart."
Mary Anne Radmacher, author of Live Boldly
"Grounded in Campbell's life as a wife and mother, Imperfect Spirituality left me smiling and nodding my head. This book will help any reader embrace imperfection, love more completely, and live with compassion, creativity and courage."
Kate Hopper, Author of Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers
"Polly Campbell's Imperfect Spirituality is a welcome addition to the field of self-help and spiritual livingbecause her book is, above all, practical. No lofty, from-the-mountaintop sermonizing here; this is a woman who found an opportunity for spiritual practice while dealing with a raisin up her child's nose! As Polly reminds us, our ability to connect with the Divine is always possible, and in everyday occurrencesand her book is full of helpful stories, reflections and exercises for doing exactly that. There may be no such thing as perfection, in spirituality or anything else, but Polly Campbell has given us a truly wonderful resource for living our lives with more connection, compassion and calm."
Maggie Oman Shannon, author of Crafting Calm and Prayers for Healing
"Imperfect Spirituality doesn’t shy away from the messiness of life, but embraces it by giving mothers (and others) a much-needed dose of reassuring comfort, courage, self-kindness, and self-compassion. Campbell’s touching and humorous stories from the edge of real life are filled with the kind of wisdom that can only come from a mother’s heart. No matter how hard you may have been on yourself yesterday, this book will help you find an easier, gentler, more forgiving, and better way to live today.”
Donald Altman, M.A., LPC, author, The Joy Compass and One-Minute Mindfulness
"Imagine sitting over coffee with your best friend finally getting the whole perfectionist/inner critic demon tamed while laughing so hard you snort. Polly with Imperfect Spirituality will gently disarm those old voices and welcome you into a new world of ease and time-friendly practices you can use right now. Polly writes the kind of book you'll be carrying around to read out loud to those you care about. I highly recommend you dive into it right now."
Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D., Co-author of the bestselling Conscious Loving
"Congrats to Polly Campbell for keeping it real! Her honest, frank, and often hilarious view of the challenges we create when we try to run from who we are is very empowering. You're sure to laugh along the way as author Polly Campbell shares her own insights, stresses, and stories en route to a more authentic life."
Dr. Judith Wright, lifestyles expert and best-selling author of The Soft Addiction Solution and The One Decision
"Imperfect Spirituality is a beautiful, inspiring journey to self-acceptance through the lens of spirituality. Campbell quiets the mind and feeds the soul so you can powerfully embrace who and how you are and liberate yourself from standards that actually limit rather than inspire you. When Campbell guides us in embracing our imperfection what she is most telling us is to relish our extraordinary uniqueness. This luminous work will leave you resolved and new."
Rosie Molinary, author of Beautiful You : A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance
"Is there a more perfect word for spirituality than imperfect? I think not. Perfection is hoisted as the great and mighty goal, but none of us (aside from a few mystics and saints) are there yet. But thanks to Polly Campbell and this delicious treatise on the totally perfect state of imperfection, we can be at peace with where we arein our lives, in our messes, in our moments. And guess what? That’s where perfection lies. Bless you, Polly, for showing us the crooked road."
Janet Conner, author of Writing Down Your Soul, My Soul Pages, The Lotus and The Lily
"In Imperfect Spirituality Polly Campbell reminds us that the path to enlightenment begins exactly where you are right now. Every moment of our lives is a sacred opportunity to be present and deepen an expand our capacity to give and receive love. Open this book to any page and allow the stories and practical tips to illuminate your path to enlightenment."
Susyn Reeve, author The Inspired Life
"Powerful and well-written."
The Daily OM
"The world needs good work from good people on topics that really matter."
Judith Wright, author of The Soft Addiction Solution
"Polly Campbell is doing great work."
Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain
"Polly Campbell is the private chef of journalism. Everything she creates is good for you filled with healthy, practical information that Polly serves in her own masterful, entertaining style so you not only enjoy every moment reading Polly's work, you feel better for having done so."
Kirsten Longnecker, Gaiam
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Imperfect Spirituality, Extraordinary Enlightenment for Ordinary People, by Polly Campbell What I liked about the book: The author is a writer first and a speaker second. Polly doesn’t have a string of initials after her name or a list of degrees and certifications from upper echelon schools. Who better to exemplify the simplicity and accessibility of a higher awareness? She writes in her unique voice. The reader connects with Polly’s frustrations and achievements, her less than perfect moments as well as her aspirations and continuous momentum. Each chapter contains real-life situations and observations of her own behavior. She comes across as honest, open and human. Many of the chapters themes are inspired by modern authorities in the fields of self-help, psychology and new age thought. I have read many of the referenced authors’ books. I could easily identify with the subjects. Authors such as Donald Altman, Martha Beck, Dr. Seuss, Larry Dorsey, etc. many of whom I’ve interviewed and all I’ve read. The format is self-effacing. Polly uses personal anecdotes, chapter-specific themes and practices, questionnaires, exercises and meditations. Each chapter ends with a short real world example of one person’s journey. Variety is the key to keeping the format fresh for the reader. Campbell balances the mix very well. What I disliked about the book: No break-through, new information. I found my attention wondering towards the second half of the book. I skipped most of the exercises as I found myself just wanting to have a good read rather than a good therapy session. Overall impression: There is value in learning more about ordinary experiences. Since we’re all human, the book serves as a reminder that no one is ever alone in their struggles for growth and self-improvement through increased awareness.
I really liked this book in its entirety, and as such I highly recommend it as a spiritual growth resource. The author is so darned "real" and so funny, and the writing style is very conversational in nature. You get the sense that you are sitting across the table from her having a friendly conversation in a coffee shop, or even a bar for that matter. One of the key elements for me finding value in a given book is the "authenticity" of the author. Specifically, it's vital that the work comes across in a manner that demonstrates a certain level of "humanness" and humility on his or her part. Polly Campbell's work clearly meets that standard, as she openly shares both her triumphs and her foibles as well. The reality is, spirituality is actually a minute-to-minute practice, and there are times when all of us will "fall off the wagon" and fail to stay firmly on the path. "Imperfect Spirituality" provides practical insights on how to get back on the wagon, and not beat yourself up for having fallen off in the first place. In fact, it features numerous "In the Moment Practice" suggestions, as well as other valuable recommendations based on the author's personal experiences. It also should be noted that even although the text is targeted more towards a female audience, it's definitely my experience that the content is of great value to male readers as well. The following is one of perhaps a hundred great excerpts that can be pulled from this book: "Optimism does not mean that you feel happy every minute of the day. It doesn't mean that you're always upbeat and in a good mood. You are not even required to keep your fingers crossed so that all your problems will disappear and your glassy-eyed, smiley-faced joy will return. That's not it, and it's a good thing because most of us wouldn't be able to buy in to this rosy-cheeked cheerfulness. But optimism is doable. It is real and it can be a difference-maker in your life if you stay grounded and realistic. Grounded optimism is about attitude and action and like so many of the other strategies that manage the flow of negative emotion, it helps you feel better. It helps people bounce back from adversity and it is one component of resilience. Doctors, like positive psychology guru Martin Seligman, rank optimism right up there in line next to exercise and good nutrition when it comes to good-health building behaviors."
Easy to read and apply simple exercises to help one realize that its OK to err and not lead a picture perfect lifestyle . The author gives guidlines to self improvement and acceptance of ones behaviors with testimonials , research information and a big dose of humor. Several of the exercises are easy to work into a few minutes here and there of an ordinary busy lifestyle. An applicable as well as entertaining read to self improvement.
A loved one is facing a serious health challenge and, quite frankly, I was freaking out. Right from the start, Polly's calm, very real, and encouraging voice helped me. Author Polly Campbell herself faced a similar issue and realized there is a choice- you can react or you can respond. The practices and practical advice herein were a lifesaver to me and my family. Polly Campbell offers real help in coping with anything and, above all, in self acceptance. I recommend this book very highly. If there were six stars, I would give that!