With all that’s shiny and new in the world, it’s hard not to be seduced by images of perfection. Oh sure, we see images of native elder faces, craggy beyond belief and radiantly alive, and see the beauty. Looking at ourselves in the mirror, marking changes as the years go by, not so much.
In the realm of health and wellness, there are images of perfection all around us.
- Beautiful women in difficult yoga poses clad in expensive stretchy clothes.
- Makeover shows, always with happy endings, people whose hair and makeup were professionally done, and clothes paid for by the producers of shows like What Not To Wear — which I love to watch, in part because it proves that some people’s version of their true self is more false than the makeover proves to be.
- Diet books claiming that forever banishing sugar/meat/grains/dairy/white foods/all of the above, will allow you to finally drop the weight, lower your cholesterol, avoid all diseases, and never die. (OK, I’ve only seen ONE book that claimed that; needless to say I’ve forgotten the title.)
What’s better than perfect is real.
When we’re shopping, we think we want the most unblemished fruit, and yet…
Hothouse tomatoes in winter? They may look good, but barely have any flavor and are hardly worth eating.
Heirloom tomatoes at the height of summer? Not so pretty on the outside, but bursting with unique, bold flavor that drips down your chin and makes your whole being smile.
As human beings, we’re better off trying to be more like heirloom tomatoes. Ripe. Juicy. Imperfect. Real. A few splits here and there, some discoloration on the skin, perhaps even a little bug inside.
We are most real when we own those inner imperfections, not hiding them away or trying to act like they don’t exist. Knowing that, while we work on ourselves and strive to be shinier, better people, we also need to relax into the inherent perfection at the core of our being. It’s there, it just gets hidden. So the work of becoming real is noticing and peeling away the layers that grow over and obscure the beauty of our fragile hearts.
This is the true meaning of healing. Not fixing, not making perfect, not covering or denying or putting up on a shelf the parts that feel broken, wounded, tender to the touch. It’s about learning how to hold it all, the good, the bad, the ugly, in all of its glorious imperfection. This is what allows us to walk in the world as whole beings.
One of my favorite allegories about this comes from the children’s classic book, The Velveteen Rabbit. As many times as I come across this snippet, it never ceases to remind me of what I know is true, beneath and beyond the part of me that wants to grasp at perfection and hold pain at bay.
Please take a moment to read it with full presence, as if for the first time. Because part of being real is remembering that all we are ever really doing is beginning, again and again, to come home to ourselves.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit. “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit