Accepting my flawed self

I’ve been reading Real Love: The art of mindful connection by Sharon Salzberg, an expert in Loving-kindness Meditation. It’s about how we are much more able to have loving-kindness for others if we have accepted ourselves.

Of course this is hardly a new idea. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (says Jesus; the implication being that both halves of this command are equally important). “If you truly loved yourself, you’d never harm another.”  (The Buddha). But it can be so hard to overcome an innate sense of unworthiness. Salzberg reminds us that it happens slowly, and you can love others while still learning to accept yourself.

I struggle with perfectionism when I write. (These Scrips are partly meant as practice in writing quickly, standing lightly to the work, letting it go). I realise it’s to do with being unable to accept and forgive my own flawed-ness; fearing that the world will see, and judge. Sharon Salzberg says:  Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity. It is unforgiving and rife with fear.

Reading such a statement, despite knowing its truth, my knee-jerk response is usually:            Hold on a minute, shoddy work isn’t to be encouraged either. Does this person saying ‘stop being perfectionist’ understand the importance of crafting something to a high standard?

Sharon Salzberg does:                                                                                                            “….pursuing excellence is not a problem. In fact, focusing on what we most care about, whether it’s our work, our relationships, or collecting butterflies, can be a genuine act of self-love, but only if we’re not fixated on the outcome of our efforts or on perfecting ourselves.”

Only if we’re not fixated on the outcome…”  As I’ve written before, Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic is brilliant on this paradox of caring enormously about doing one’s work well while at the same time relaxing about the outcome.  (I haven’t learnt how yet!).

Salzberg continues:                                                                                                                              when we relate to ourselves with loving-kindness, perfectionism naturally drops away….we may realise we’ll never sing an aria at the Met, but we can continue to love opera, follow our favourite singers, and perhaps join a local chorus. There’s no frustration, bitterness, or self-criticism in this kind of loving acceptance….whole-hearted acceptance is a basic element of love, and a gateway to joy.

“A gateway to joy.”  That is a gateway worth finding.

Salzberg shows that self-acceptance, far from encouraging rampant egotism, actually leads to freedom from the ego’s grip. This is a different slant from a lot of the religious literature I read when young, which held up self-castigation and self-abnegation as the model. Here’s a related piece by Lynn Underwood about “humble self-love,” Trappist monks, Charles Williams, and a contemporary abbot who stresses self-acceptance as part of humility.

Of course reading is one thing: practice another....


I've been inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's latest book, Big Magic. As with a lot of writing about creativity, it's not so much what she says as the voice she says it in, that endearing, intimate, enthusiastic voice that many of us have enjoyed from her previous books. 

One thing that really struck me is this:

 "I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not.....[long and wonderful sentence follows, building up to:]  .....but simply because I liked it."

And she urges:  "So try saying this: 'I enjoy my creativity.' "

Elizabeth Gilbert got me thinking.  As she says, few people speak about creative enjoyment out loud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist.  We tend, ok, I tend, to emphasise the difficulty of the creative life. All than pen-gnawing anguish, the myriad drafts destroyed and rewritten, the times of block, the times when you feel no-one will ever read a word of the thing you've been toiling over for so long...all of that.  And yes, it is true. It is hard, quite often. But Elizabeth Gilbert reminds me what I don't remember often enough: I love it, anyway.  I enjoy the challenge, the puzzle, the struggle with that slippery customer, language; I enjoy the desire to make something out of the texture of life, and the attempt to fulfil that desire;  I enjoy the difficulties of making the writing work, even when they are driving me to distraction.  But I so often forget to really inhabit this enjoyment, and own up to it.

Elizabeth Gilbert says she long ago decided to "reject the cult of artistic martyrdom," and to trust that she has been made a writer for a reason. To trust that the work loves her as much as she loves it. She describes, in simple but powerful words I long to quote even unto the breach of every copyright law, how she seeks to be open to inspiration, to believing that inspiration wants to come to her. We all live under delusions, she says, so why not choose a helpful one?

"The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made by you."

I'm currently wrestling, there I go again!  Rather: I'm currently working to discern the shape of my new book, and I feel stuck, and frustrated...oops.  (You can see how much I need to hear Gilbert's message right now).  Yes, the book is being slow to emerge; but I do love the stuff of it, the materials I'm gathering to make it with; I love the feel of it, elusive as it is, and so vague; in the last few days I have crept a smidgen closer to its hidden form, like a photographer trying to approach the animal in hiding; and I am trying to be welcoming to the wisps of creative stimulus I might miss, if I yield to panic about how fast time is passing or about the impossibility of doing what I want to do....I am trying, but I do need these reminders. It's humbling, but true, that I can be helped by words like these, or by Anne Lamott in the classic Bird by Bird, or by Annie Dillard, who in The Writing Life says that every work has an insoluble difficulty, but the writer

"....writes it in spite of that. He finds ways to minimize the difficulty; he strengthens other virtues; he cantilevers the whole narrative out into thin air, and it holds. And if it can be done, then he can do it, and only he."  (Or she, of course, like the brilliant Annie Dillard herself).  

..."he can do it, and only he."  "The work wants to be made through you."  

However it's said, whoever is saying it, this is the message to live by; but it requires trust, and hope, and faith. And humility—an openness to reminders when they are needed!