“I’m practically perfect from head to toe,
If I had a fault it would never dare to show,
I’m so practically perfect in every way.” —Mary Poppins
“If I were a saint—which maybe I want to be, maybe I don’t—I would be like Augustine. He knew there was good in him, and he knew there was some not so good. And he wasn’t gonna give up his earthly pleasures before he was good and ready. Make me good, God, but not yet.” —Nurse Jackie
“Each of us is just this paradoxical mixture of confusion and wisdom; of the ability to be very cruel and the ability to be very kind. We are just such a mixture of things.” —Pema Chödrön
What do Mary Poppins, a drug-addicted TV nurse, and an American Buddhist nun have in common?
You might say, “Absolutely nothing,” but I see a deep interconnection. These three divergent quotes each reflect a piece of a timeless, immutable truth: that to be human is to be imperfect. As Ernest Kurtz writes in The Spirituality of Imperfection: Humans embody a paradox, for we are “less than the gods, more than the beasts, yet somehow also both.”
In other words, we’re just like the Taoist yin/yang symbol, the circle enclosing black and white. We contain both shadow and light, which combine to make the whole. We might consider that we will never eternally “get it together, get it right.” That to aspire to be “perfect” and cut away all that we deem as “bad” is to deny our very nature. By doing so we can spend a lifetime pushing the wrong rock up the wrong hill; a self-improvement Sisyphus fighting an uphill battle that we can never win.
I know this is true, because I’ve been pushing that rock for decades, and boy, are my arms tired. And I’m finally figuring out that I’ve been using a flawed strategy guaranteed to perpetuate my pain.
I’ve been trying to be perfect—with mixed results. So as of today, June 7—which also happens to be my birthday—I’m done with it. And I’ve created a new name to mark this major transition. I’m calling it my rebirth-day!
In “The Imperfect Buddhist,” I invite you to join me in exploring what it means to fully embrace our human being-ness. With all its contradictions and messiness and paradoxes and loose ends and cellulite and flabby arms. Don’t expect that we’ll actually end up at a specific destination, because on this trip, the journey IS the goal!
I believe there isn’t anything in our experience that can’t help us awaken to our true nature—our basic goodness—which is really what I’m talking about here. So “The Imperfect Buddhist” will draw upon a wide variety of sources in this exploration. Much of my understanding of who we are and what our place is in this world is informed by Buddhist teachings and practices. But I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist. Just as I wouldn’t call myself a Sufi, or a Hindu, or a Jew, or a Christian—although these wisdom traditions and many others have provided invaluable guidance and inspiration along the way. As have poetry and literature and music and movies and twelve-step programs and circles of people just like you and me simply trying to figure it all out one more time.
I confess that I do have one goal in creating “The Imperfect Buddhist.” It’s embodied in my personal mission statement: “My mission is to write and speak with wisdom, heart, and humor to inspire, encourage, and uplift.”
So grab a snack and fasten your seat belt: It’s gonna be a bumpy—and fun—ride!