Spiritual Perfectionism-Letting Each Other Off the Hook

“Perfectionism is the belief that life is broken.” Rachel Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

I am a recovering perfectionist. The Rachel Remen quote above hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it years ago. Perfectionism was the subtle and insidious perspective I was basing my life story on. I was trying to be safe and good enough; making life into the pretty and manageable picture that I hoped would heal and satisfy my soul. I did not know how to listen to my internal sense of self, so perfectionism was my un-integrated psyche’s attempt at creating beauty and significance. The world can appear chaotic and uncontrollable; perfectionism is an attempt to mitigate potential suffering by trying to create an unreachable state of order. It really is a misguided attempt for security, approval, and thus love. Many of us have learned that we needed to please and achieve in order to deserve love, but as Rachel Remen says, “love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.”

Perfectionism can also believe a single person is responsible for getting things done right; what a lot of pressure and stress this is, and it’s not sustainable. And what is right anyway? As Byron Katie says, there is “my business,” “other’s business,” and then “Gods business.” So, we are actually only responsible for one-third of the equation, but looking through the lens of perfectionism we might suggest the responsibility is creeping into the 80th to 90th percentile. Perfectionism is trying to manage The Universe. Good luck.

Perfectionism can also be an attempt to deny the many facets of our wholeness. It is a rejection of the power available in claiming the depths of our less civilized or controllable passion and motivations. We are actually all animalistic at our core, and when we deny this with social correctness and externalized standards, we lose our wild and free potentials.

In the classic story of releasing control and security, Inanna, the Sumerian Queen of Heaven, descended to the domain of her sister, Ereshkigal, the Goddess of Death and the Underworld. As Inanna moved through the seven gateways  into the Nether World, she released all her external adornments of earthly authority to meet the raw, transformative power of the dark; naked and vulnerable. Her initiation in this powerful land continued as she viscerally experienced death through being returned to a corpse, and hung from a hook in her sister’s chambers. When we deny each other our fullness, our depth, and our complexity, we hang each other on a hook. We draw the life-force out of each other by rejecting the fiercer aspects of our love, power, passion and creativity. Perfectionism abhors messiness and the loss of control. It does not want to acknowledge death and disempowerment as part of the equation, that’s too scary and unmanageable; it wants to control life and creation. It is time to let each other off the hook, to hold space and make containers for a balanced and sustainable way to touch those core energies; to integrate our light and our dark.

Jody Levy, a dynamic dancing bard in Seattle calls her version of Spiritual Perfectionism the “Spiritual Tyrant.” That is so accurate, this idea that we “should” be Mother Theresa, Jesus, Quan Yin, and Gandhi all rolled into one while denying our shadow aspects. I also call it the Saint Complex; we are to be kind, and wise, and patient at every turn, and if we project anger or impatience we have fallen off the spiritual wagon, and we need to get back into recovery.

Perfectionism cuts off our natural intuitive radar, it has such an agenda that it does not allow space for magic and miracles; for being taken care of in unexpected ways; and the delight of unanticipated opportunities. We know how it “should” be, so we are unable to see new potentials.

Perfectionism also has a very Yang and masculine aspect to it. It is force over allowing; determination and will over acceptance and openness. Now I am not saying that the dynamic Yang energies do not have their place, but perfectionism amplifies and uses these energies from a place of scarcity, not clarity and wholeness. And I am not speaking of “men” here; I am speaking of the focused, outward, make-it-happen motivations that are in divine opposition to the Yin’s feminine receiving and flowing. We have become a culture of Yang force attempting to “make” the world into the visions of what we desire from a limited and immature perspective. Moving into an expanded outlook we need to be able to meet what wants to emerge as well as carry those visions into material form.

The pathways I have traveled to releasing my perfectionism have been a multi-layered process. It needs to be approached in mind, body, and spirit. It is claiming your uniqueness, and learning how to source yourself from that place; it is approaching life as a never-ending series of lessons and gifts, without polarizing the “good” and the “bad”; it is forgiving that sweet little one inside of you that was really just reaching for love and acceptance; it is recalling a deep trust in your own, and The Universes rhythms, cycles, and evolution; it is reclaiming a profound sense of interconnectedness and unity with all that is.

The Japanese have a beautiful theory called Wabi Sabi. It is the philosophy of impermanence and imperfection. When a Zen master sweeps the sand garden into perfect symmetry, he will drop a single leaf onto it, allowing the beauty of irregularity and imbalance to shine through. Certain Native American weavers also leave a hole in any pieces they create, an imperfection; and the place where Spirit enters. These are soulful and deep ways to live, to be with the incompleteness and transience of this corporeal existence.

So, its time to let each other off the hook. I am calling all of us, myself included, to soul search about how we offer our work into the world and what standards we project onto our teachers, leaders and fellow spiritual travelers. If we are operating from a place of Spiritual Perfectionism, we expect that both we, and the people we “look up to” will have reached some level of elevation and near flawlessness. This ties into the message that spiritual development has a plateau-once reached its all golden. This may not be in your immediate consciousness, these assumptions are often unrecognized, but none the less, are potent beliefs systems many of us are operating from. When we go to see our cherished guides and visionaries, we have a trunk-load full of projections and expectations about what we want them to be.

Carolyn Myss has been a really important teacher for me. When Anatomy of the Spirit came out in the mid 90’s it changed my life. I saw her speak many times, and I still have great respect for her wisdom and perspective. At one of her workshops I connected with her sound man, and he offered to introduce me to her. I declined because I intuitively knew I still carried some projections and elevated ideas about her power and worth as compared to mine. I did not want to schmutz her with my own insecurities and search for my inner sense of value. In Carla McLaren’s Energetic Boundaries CD’s she also speaks of this unconscious draw people bring to those whose work and experiences they admire. On some level a lot of people really want a guru; they want someone to tell them how it is so they don’t have to go through the hard work themselves. And it is hard work to unpack all of our erroneous illusions about ourselves.

In Bill Plotkins brilliant new treatise, Nature and the Human Soul; Cultivating Wholeness in a Fragmented World, he speaks to the arrested development of our modern world. He calls it the “patho-adolescent” society where the urges and weaknesses of a single stage of development have become the overriding norm. We are operating at a limited capacity in our contemporary culture because most of our leaders have not actually moved into a more mature sense of self and their place in the world. Plotkin’s eight-stage “wheel of life” offers the guide posts and pathways to stepping into a grounded sense of elderhood and responsibility.

Bringing this back to perfectionism, we have so few examples of mature and developed  humans that the few who have reached that place can receive strong reactions to their presence and power. Plotkin warns of some of the pitfalls of the “Artisan in the Wild Orchard”

“Another danger for Artisans is the archetypal projection…this minefield is even more hazardous in an egocentric {adolescent} society. Due to the relative scarcity of genuine adults and elders, there are few people embodying the archetype of those {mature}stages. Consequently, the initiated adults and elders end up holding those archetypal energies for many more people than in a soulcentric society. Many of {the earlier developmental stages} will have a profound reaction to the energies you embody…Some will greatly admire you. Others will scorn and ridicule you because of their fear of those same energies within their own psyche or the envy of your ability to embody them, or both. Some of the people will become furious or disillusioned when you exhibit ordinary human frailties such as anger, doubt, moodiness, carelessness, favoritism, or indecision. ..And you will. In our patho-adolescent society, there is a tendency to want to sabotage or exalt anyone who’s crossed beyond the adolescent life and reality. This is one of the means by which an egocentric society keeps itself stuck-by undermining those who manage to mature.” (I liberally edited this from Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul; Cultivating Wholeness in a Fragmented World, pages 376-377).

So, I am asking all of us to know those places where we feel insecure and undeveloped, and to neither put our other messengers on a pedestal, nor tear them down for their humanness. It can be intimidating to go out into the world with your heart and soul on your sleeve through offering your divine work. It takes a lot of courage to be transparent and vulnerable saying, “yes, I too have struggled, and have my issues, and I also carry a brilliance and power that WILL be a piece of shifting us all into the new paradigm. And we need your piece of unique brilliance as well.” Can we please hold each other in love and tenderness as we each step into a place where there is enough room for all of us to shine, and perfection is seen in wholeness; light and dark; wisdom and frailty. It is all beautiful. Life is not broken; we are constantly shape-shifting and morphing as we emerge into the new reality of cooperation, trust, and enough.



  17 comments for “Spiritual Perfectionism-Letting Each Other Off the Hook

  1. May 30, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Wonderful, another sister in recovery! Might we invite each other over to our houses, and not have them “ready,” relishing in not having thought 40 steps ahead? Mine still tries to rear its head in my work, and I think I will always have intense standards, but I keep being gifted projects that get “me” out of the way and let spirit slip in. Hallelujah for all of our evolutions. And at least I matured enough to not think I knew how everyone else should live their lives. When I realized how arrogant it is, and that I am not god, I do not know the wisdom of anthers path, it made my life a lot better. Oh, sweet tenderness for out less integrated selves. Blessed to have met you new friend. Mellissae


  2. May 30, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    This is wonderful… and a process I am working on… I once asked a mentor to help me seek out my darkness… I was so familiar with my light and couldn’t at that time identify my darkness…. she told me to start here in my perfectionism…. and I’m still working on it!!! ❤


  3. May 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    Ah, I knew your name sounded familiar. We find our tribe how we will. And YAH for wonderful Women’s Groups!


  4. May 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Some how we became friends on Facebook. Someone posted your wonderful article in a women’s group, and was delighted to find your keen intelligence as well as your art that I remember from before.


  5. May 11, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Margo, Thank you for the lovely support, these are all really notes to myself, and it is a gift when others desired the same life post-it. And your name is so familiar, did we cross paths with Shamanism or horses-I used to be Melissa Weiss Steele? Blessings, Mellissae.


  6. May 9, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Thank you Melissae for this wonderful articulate expression of both inward and outward projections of perfectionism. What an all encompassing piece of writing, both personal and culturally. And thank you for articulating the piece on how we relate to those mature individuals that bring much needed wisdom and brilliance to this journey of life. Very helpful. Impressive writing.


  7. May 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Deep sense, deeply agreed. Blessings on reclaiming our trust in ourselves and the Universe.


  8. madhurima
    May 7, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Makes deep sense.


  9. May 7, 2014 at 1:24 am

    Reblogged this on nenita1357 and commented:
    My name is Natalie, and I’m a recovering perfectionist…
    Namaste ❤


  10. November 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you from the aptly named Ms. Mercy. I miss U and N. xxx M


  11. November 14, 2012 at 6:11 am

    It’s about time we become real adults and accept our humanness, isn’t it? Thanks for bringing all these threads together so beautifully.


  12. November 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Thanks Rebecca, we all get to grapple with the balance between having high standards and shutting things down from perfectionistic expectations. M


  13. November 13, 2012 at 5:32 am

    This is fantastic! Nice one Goddess! I got heaps out of this and have referred it onto a couple of friends. Thanks so much!


  14. BG
    January 5, 2010 at 4:06 am

    Thank you for the reminder my friend.


  15. mwsteele
    January 3, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    Thank You Gustav, I am looking forward to having a chance to see your work. The writing has been really delicious, and yes, some words are enchanting and lyrical, and musical. On Facebbook i will send you notes of the other highlights from last year that got the most buzz. i think you may enjoy them, and collaboration is a beautiful thing, its part of the reason I came here to NM. M


  16. Gustav Alsina
    January 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    I was very interested as I gradually followed your trend of thought and rewarded every step of the way. It is so amazing to discover that knowledge is made available for us constantly and we just have to seek it endlessly to satisfy every sense of need or lack-of. Appreciation is so important to dispel ghosts of negative influence. I sense music in your expression. I think at some point we could flow into a collaborative piece. I sense your power more clearly as I gradually get more curious.


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