At the age of twenty-two I returned to the Isle of Man after seven months of travelling in India and Nepal. I meditated, wore the right clothes, read the right books and could even talk a good talk about life, the universe and everything. I was full to the brim with spiritual ideas and thought of myself as a genuine seeker heading towards inevitable Enlightenment.
Unfortunately as hard as I tried to live up to my self-image as a spiritual being, the grit and grime of my humanity seemed to drag me down. In spite of all of my practices, I could not seem to out-run my anger, desire, confusion and ego.
My spirituality could not switch off my human nature.
At first I ignored this contradiction until it became glaringly apparent that I was not the evolved being I imagined myself to be. I became confused and frustrated. Why was I failing? How could this mixture co-exist?
Then one day I had a moment of insight. I saw clearly that being contradictory wasn’t actually the problem. My ideas about what it meant to be “spiritual” were causing all the trouble.
By superimposing my beliefs onto my natural human experience I had divided myself and instigated a civil war.
Rather than being inclusive and accepting towards my humanity I had been attempting to by-pass it completely, running for an imaginary goal in my mind called Perfection.
I saw clearly that being contradictory isn’t wrong, it’s just human. Being confused, angry, selfish and afraid isn’t wrong, it’s just human.
And that is ok.
This is the human experience. Through Mindfulness we let go of the need to be perfect, whatever that word may mean. Instead we learn how to hold ourselves, embrace ourselves, meet ourselves, just as we are, with a loving awareness.
We unfold from the small and contracted me into a larger experience of life where everything is allowed to be here, felt and known.
It is perhaps our most human place.
The surprise for me was that in the months and years which followed this realisation my confusion and striving reduced dramatically. I was no longer trying to somehow by-pass my ordinary experience, but began to savour the rich yet transient textures of each sound, sight, emotion and sensation, all of which revealed their own form of perfection.
Walt Whitman, the American Poet, said it clearly:
Do I contradict myself? Vey well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
So the next time you find yourself feeling trapped by your own spiritual ideals and beliefs that seem to be at odds with your actual experience, don’t fight yourself.
Simply stop, relax and breathe. Open to the infinite flavours of this miraculous human experience, and remember: