Perfectionism: Mapping the Vast Interior, Part 1

Clients talk some about their perfectionistic tendencies. They share dilemmas from concrete to spiritual matters as they work hard to set their lives and careers on the right track.  But many are confused and paralyzed by their ideals, those goals that if achieved will make everything all right.

It seems to be in our nature to strive for self-improvement. We want to be our best selves, to better our position in life and the lives of others.  Could perfectionism be in our DNA, evolution itself working on us personally, individually?  Through the desire for perfection, perhaps we are being called to greatness and service to others as well as ourselves, ensuring the future survival of our species and our planet.

But at some point do we lose perspective? The goal of improvement becomes a do-or-die obsessive quest for one’s ideal at any cost. Then we can’t hear the music of life anymore, or notice the daffodils, savor a special cheese.  We no longer feel good about ourselves and what we are doing.  We lose the ability to enjoy the journey because where we are or what we have isn’t good enough, yet.

How do we keep perspective? How can we change the way we are in relationship to these desires to uplift ourselves and others and still enjoy the process of creation?  By doing so, we may avoid suffering and confusion or lost years of indecisiveness because we want everything to be perfect and things aren’t always perfect.

Perhaps another paradigm will help. I draw on the medicine of the Sacred Native American Wheel and the Four Directions to help map the edges, struggles, woes and gains of being a perfectionist.  In classes with Barb Kabus, shaman and teacher,* I’ve learned that The Sacred Wheel has been used all over the world for centuries by many indigenous cultures.  Its symbology is interpreted uniquely by each culture.  The Sacred Wheel is a framework used for healing and gaining wisdom on an individual and personal level; it can also be a physical space, a circle where many people gather seeking illumination.

The Four Directions are designated parts of ourselves: the East where we will begin is the mental or thinking aspect, the South the physical and material, the West our emotions and feelings and the North our spiritual being. The goal of working the Wheel is to unify, purify and heal heart, mind, body and spirit.

Entering the circle of the Sacred Wheel and into the East, we focus on the health and reality of our thoughts. The aspiration of perfection held high can inspire devotion and sacrifice.  Persistence.  Qualities we need for success.  But the vision is often not well defined. Being the best teacher in the district means what exactly?

It gets complicated when we don’t realize we’ve adopted an unrealistic and undefined pursuit, we keep stretching to reach the end but alas there is no end in sight.   Frustration sets in; there is no sense of accomplishment.  Why bother to go on?

The remedy here is to clarify very specifically what you are after. Define standards clearly for yourself, and then break the ideas down into doable, achievable steps and phases.  Not that we can define every step on the path, but attempt to draw out a beginning, middle and end so you’ll have some sense of where you are and can experience that motivating and confidence-building thing called progress.

Be wary of adopting vague, socially-conditioned aspirations that are not really your own and can create a dependence on others for guidance. Examples are finding the perfect husband, the perfect job, raising the perfect child, being fabulously wealthy or making the perfect decision.  Avoid the “wild goose chase” and make real headway with your intentions.

Now that you’ve been introduced to an alternate view of perfectionism through The Sacred Medicine Wheel, starting with the direction of the East, stay tuned for Part II and the wisdom teachings of the other three directions. Part II will begin with the South to consider our bodies and the material world.

*Barb Kabus has over 30 years experience working as an intuitive, teacher and transformational author. She is a spiritual guide and shamanic healer, utilizing powerful energy work processes. bkabus@icould.com

Gail Nicholson Gail Nicholson, MA, LPC
www.gailnicholson.com
503-227-4250
Gail is passionate about working with individuals who want to explore and connect with a more authentic sense of self as a basis for defining their lives, work lives and roles in the larger community. She offers a blend of personal and career counseling, as she has found that attending to personal issues or mental health concerns can reduce barriers to moving forward. Gail works with clients on defining purpose and direction, handling stress and tackling career exploration, job search and small business start-up.

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