This week, I’m pleased to share with you the beautiful thoughts of my first guest blogger Carrie Jenkins. Carrie always captures in writing so well the ideas and values I live my life by. I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. Thank you, Carrie, for your wisdom and open heart.
Perfectionism, I believe, has been one of my greatest strengths and one of the biggest liabilities in my life. As with most character traits, in the right measure, they can be very beneficial. As a perfectionist, I did very thorough and excellent work. I was very accomplished in school and professionally. But left unchecked, or driven by past trauma, those same traits can also be very detrimental in our lives. Consuming perfectionism paralyzed me, kept me from trying things I wasn’t sure I could succeed at, informed my inner dialog in a way that was detrimental to my self-esteem and spilled out negatively to those around me. As a long time seeker of self-growth, I have never been one to journal, which seemed especially ironic to me as a lifelong reader and an English major in college. And quite honestly it felt like a bit of a failure on my part that I wasn’t able to develop a sustained journaling habit. Envious of people that have boxes of journals spanning a lifetime, I sporadically made feeble attempts and have started dozens of journals with only a few complete pages over the years. (And everyone loves to give journals as a gift – added pressure.) So why don’t I journal? Perfectionism, judgment of my journaling that made it an uncomfortable exercise, rather than a growth opportunity. One of the reasons? My writing is illegible (even to me sometimes). I could barely stand to even look back at it, which seems a bit dramatic, even to me. And any time I’ve gone back through and read my intermittent and halfhearted attempts at journaling, I just cringe. I would feel sad for how I was struggling at the time, how dramatic I was, how stupid it all sounded. Truly, I looked at my past struggles as “stupid”. I believe the quote, “When we know better, we do better.” But I still tended to look back at past experiences with a fairly harsh and judgmental lens.
Feeling the burden of my critical brain, I’ve often wished that I had a simpler mind. That I didn’t have to question and overthink everything. That I might accept life at face value, to not assume the worst, to not take things personally, that I could be easier on myself. Harsh judgement and overthinking led to worrying, trying to anticipate what people meant or what they were thinking, taking everything personally, being afraid of just about everything and not having any kind of grace for myself living life as a mere mortal, doing the best she could at the time. The expectations I set for myself were unattainable. My overactive brain led to insomnia through much of my young life (thank you Stephen King for keeping me company until 2am so many nights in high school).
At the tender age of 16, I had the serendipitous opportunity of learning to meditate in Y.O.U., a non-denominational youth group. I also developed a relationship with my God, one that was initially born in the pews of the Catholic church with my Nana. While often bored, I loved the cozy darkness of the churches and the familiar ritual of the mass. A particular meditation, that finally helped me, was enlightening as to how hard my brain was holding on to controlling my thoughts and life. It goes like this: You imagine your brain – bumpy, organic, two side – and a window on each side of the brain. My windows were four pained square glass with white trim. Simply enough, you were supposed to imagine the windows opening and your thoughts flowing out. Ok, see the brain, see the windows, now open…Nothing. Imagine prying the windows open. They would lift a little, then SLAM shut. Nope. Ok. Wedge the window open, place a stick to keep it propped open. Ah-ha. Open window. Now wait for the thoughts to start flowing out. Sometimes it took a bit. Then a thick, dark flow pouring out of my brain. And flowing. And flowing. By the time it was a thin trickle, I would be almost ready to fall asleep. The insight was really in how hard it was for my brain to let my thoughts go. And that is the beauty of meditation.
Faced with the challenges in our world over the past few years, and a recent personal loss, and once again feeling overwhelmed by my thoughts and feelings, I turned back to meditation. And rather than another failed attempt at journaling I began posting my thoughts on social media. In combination with meditation and a more mindful approach to my life, it seemed to help, to clarify what I was processing in the moment. I figured I would throw what I was experiencing out into the virtual atmosphere to see if it connected with anyone else, because certainly I couldn’t be the only one struggling with that issue.
I of course questioned my motives in writing those posts, which I think is probably healthy. I have found that this type of introspection and self-reflection is where the work begins. We can’t begin to change or refocus behavior and thoughts if we aren’t even aware they exist or how they are driving our lives. “Compassion is that feeling in the heart that wants to assist others and ourselves be free from suffering.” And my perfectionism was definitely causing suffering for myself of those around me. One of the main devotions of my heart is to help and be of service to others, whenever possible. It is only recently that I have begun to extend that same kindness to myself. Recognizing how perfectionism no longer serves me, softening my expectations and relating more gently to life have helped to know that my best – and somedays even my half best – are more than enough; that my value is not determined by whether or not I make a mistake. That I am lovable and loving, just as I am, perfectly imperfect.