The Beauty of Imperfection

“Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell.” – Ben Okri

South Korea leads the world in numbers of plastic surgeries. I’m not going to lie – as a new mom, still getting used to my new body and appearance (and oftentimes being covered in baby spit, etc.), I find comfort in this fact as I walk around Seoul noticing how incredibly gorgeous everyone is. But my own vanity and insecurities aside, the popularity of plastic surgery in a predominantly Buddhist country is an interesting thing to reconcile. I’m still pondering how a drive towards perfection in some things can coexist so comfortably with Buddhist ideals of non-attachment. I imagine it is something that will perplex me for quite some time.

But it gets me thinking about perfection and it’s opposite, imperfection. The above quote by Ben Okri is so true, I find. We learn and communicate through storytelling and the stories that really resonate with us are the ones that show the evolution of a person from flawed  to instructed to improved. We love to watch this happen over and over again. And though our beloved characters never come out the other side perfect, they are indeed better than when we first met them. Ready to face the next instruction life has for them. I think we love these types of stories because that is how life is. We make mistakes, we learn, we grow.

Of course, we are also drawn to fairy tales. Fairy tales don’t usually begin with perfection (quite the opposite, in fact) but they usually end perfectly. They lived happily ever after, and all the rest. At the end of a fairy tale, then end is really THE END. The story is over.  But as we age and gain more experience in life, fairy tales start to lose their luster. Sure we still like to indulge ourselves, perhaps as a bit of an escape, but I don’t think fairy tales touch us as deeply the older we get. They are just that … tales. Things we know do not happen in real life. And thank goodness for that! Imagine if life became tidy and perfect. How would we grow? How would we evolve without imperfection?

Having said that, embracing imperfections is not easy. If it were, the whole world would be much more at ease. Instead many of us try to erase them through any means available to us.  But, we cannot grow in love of our self and others if we hate any part of our self, which means that embracing our imperfections is really the only way to move past or through them.  Yoga teaches us that where attention goes, energy flows.  If we use all of our attention to try to scrub ourselves of that which makes us imperfect (i.e. real and human) then all of our energy is wasted on a hopeless pursuit. Why not turn our attention towards what we love about ourselves? What if we focus less on what we don’t like and more on what we do like?

Our Yoga practice is a great place to start. On the mat, we are often faced head-on with our imperfections in body and mind. Each time we are, we have a choice. Do we start down the slippery slope of negative self-talk, focusing on everything we perceive as wrong with us? Or do compassionately observe the ways in which our bodies can move and the way our mind can become clear and calm if only for small moments at a time? Do we focus on where we can’t yet go or on how far we’ve come?

The stories that are truly beautiful and touching are not the ones that end in “happily ever after”, but rather those that end with change and growth and the implication that this evolution will continue.

And they all lived and learned as best they could ever after…

Embracing and finding the beauty in my imperfections is what I’m working on right now, dear yogis. How about you?