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Without Anxiety of Imperfection

3 min

Look for a special email from me on Thursday...

Doing a thing. :-)

Let's get to it.


"The renowned seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being 'without anxiety about imperfection.' This means accepting our human existence and all of life as it is. Imperfection is not our personal problem—it is a natural part of existing."
Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach

It's easy to imagine that trances are something rare, only experienced while sitting on a hypnotherapist's recliner.

But we spend much of our days in a trance.

Anytime our thoughts wander away from the present...

Anytime we converse with the voices in our heads...

Anytime we spend extended periods of time unaware of our surroundings...

...That's a trance.

One such trance is what Tara Brach calls the "trance of unworthiness," a deep-seated fear that we simply aren't enough:

"Many of us live with an undercurrent of depression or hopelessness about ever feeling close to other people.
We fear that if they realize we are boring or stupid, selfish or insecure, they’ll reject us.
If we’re not attractive enough, we may never be loved in an intimate, romantic way.
We yearn for an unquestioned experience of belonging, to feel at home with ourselves and others, at ease and fully accepted. But the trance of unworthiness keeps the sweetness of belonging out of reach."

This feeling is so pervasive it's easy to forget it's there. The continuous stream of self-criticism saturates the world with it's steady hum.

I'm not good enough.

I can't do anything right.

Jesus, I look awful.

Sometimes, it's a parent's voice. Sometimes it's the voice of your childhood bully, or a teacher you looked up to, or your romantic partner.

We're desperate to earn - to deserve - the love, and respect, and acceptance of others.

We know, deep down, that despite our cell phones and TVs and internet...this is still the wasteland.

Rejection means death.

It means abandonment.

It means the end.

So we shut away the pieces of our being that we judge too faulty, too strange, too unappealing.

We pray every night that those we love and respect never find our internet search history, the playlist of embarrassing songs, the "before" photos we never got to complete with an "after," the cringe-inducing poetry and teenage manifestos. There's an entire "cringe" genre of internet entertainment where we thrill and recoil as others are exposed, vicariously experiencing the terror - and freedom - of such exposure ourselves.

We can't get enough. We can't stop thinking about it. For christ's sake, would you stop shoveling that crap into your mouth and exercise for once? You look like shit.

That fear of rejection, of loneliness, fuels our need for belonging.

That need for belonging, in turn, can fuel hatred, cruelty, groupthink, delusion. We will do the unthinkable to gain the acceptance of the group.

As Ernest Becker wrote:

"Do we wonder why one of man’s chief characteristics is his tortured dissatisfaction with himself, his constant self-criticism? It is the only way he has to overcome the sense of hopeless limitation inherent in his real situation. Dictators, revivalists, and sadists know that people like to be lashed with accusations of their own basic unworthiness because it reflects how they truly feel about themselves.
The sadist doesn’t create a masochist; he finds him ready-made."

The great tragedy of the trance of unworthiness is that none of it is real.

Those around us rarely think about us at all, much less to judge our appearance or critique our performance.

There no voice in our heads.

There is no measure of worthiness.

There is no "I" to judge.

The critical inner voice calls out from nowhere, to no one, about nothing.

But even if you were to be judged -

to be ridiculed, to be "cast out" -

What of it?

Freedom begins with the ability to accept ourselves.

Not as perfect, not as flawless, not as a unique snowflake among billions of snowflakes.

But as an imperfect, deeply flawed, uniquely screwed up amalgamation of experiences, skills, desires, hang ups, strengths, baggage and weaknesses.

With acceptance of ourselves we are able to grow - to struggle, fail, and try again.

Luckily, you are already free.

You need only to become aware of the trance, aware that it is a trance, a voice from nowhere, to no one.

Tara Brach:

"As you go through your day, pause occasionally to ask yourself, 'This moment, do I accept myself just as I am?' Without judging yourself, simply become aware of how you are relating to your body, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. As the trance of unworthiness becomes conscious, it begins to lose its power over our lives."

There is no greater gift than self-acceptance.

And that gift is available to each of us...

Right here.

Right now.




Nightmare of the Windowless Dorm Room.

I'm a huge Charlie Munger fan, but this...sounds awful.

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