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Wholeness, Not Perfectionism

By Chris White, MD

“Do not doubt your own basic goodness. In spite of all confusion and fear, you are born with a heart that knows what is just, loving, and beautiful.”

—Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace

Sometimes when I speak about the importance of wholeness, I see signs of fear and stress appear in parent’s faces. For some, preserving wholeness is just one more thing that they have to do in their already busy lives. For others who are really doing their best to give their son or daughter everything that they themselves never had as a child, it’s another place where they may “fail” and cause harm to their beloved children. It is heartbreaking to me, and the last thing I want to do to is precipitate fear in you—possibly the most conscious generation of parents the world has ever seen. So let me make a few things clear.

First, Essential Parenting is not about trying to be perfect. Perfectionism is the attempt to make reality conform to some belief we have about how things should be. This approach causes a lot of suffering in our world—for ourselves and the people around us. There is a difference between intentionality and perfectionism, which has to do with our relationship to reality and that relationship’s effect on our body-mind.

In perfectionism we stand against reality, judging it as wrong, and set about trying to fix the “wrongness”—be it in our children, ourselves or something in the environment. In standing against reality, our bodies and minds contract into a more reactive state of consciousness. In this state, we become less aware of many streams of vital information that we need to successfully surf the changing waves of reality—somatic information, other emotions and desires, insights and intuitions, and verbal and non-verbal communication from the people we are with. Over time, this pattern of perfectionistic thought and behavior results in rigidity, and a nervous system that is constantly irritated by all that is wrong with life.

Intentionality (as I see it) is different. Here we start with acceptance of the way things are. We open our minds and bodies to the truth of what is happening—right here, right now—and from this more thorough contact with reality we then add our deeper intentions and desires to the mix and let the entirety of the situation guide our behaviors and interactions with our children. This is a more integrated state than perfectionism. It’s more effective, and much more fulfilling for everyone involved.

Parenting is not about getting it right, doing it correctly and succeeding. Rather, it is a process by which we can learn about ourselves and human nature and be changed by what we learn. In this way, parenting becomes the new arena of our lives where we can be challenged, make mistakes, come up against our limits and be transformed. Some mysterious process has chosen us and our children to participate in this transformation together. The dynamic intelligence of life believes we are ready for this training, and that we are the right holding environment for our children’s maturation.

Wholeness is our birthright and our destiny. Relax back into the loving arms of the Mystery and trust yourself. You are exactly what your child needs.

Celebrating Wholeness

The next time you are at the playground watching your child express his or her wonderful and limitless energy, take a few moments to reflect on how you have been changed by this process called parenting. In what ways have you been asked to go beyond your limits? At what points have you been in tears after being pushed beyond your capacities? What are some of the things you now know about yourself, or about the nature of life, that you didn’t know before your child was gifted to you?

Feel the truth of your observations as they reverberate throughout your body. Let any currents of emotion arise freely, and open yourself to be affected by them. Conscious reflection and attention changes us again, allowing a deeper integration with each new experiencing of the truth.

Share your observations with a friend or your lover, or write them in a journal after the Great Mystery has wound your little one down into a deep and restorative sleep.

“Who, then, is the doer? Is it the infant who brings her mother through the veil of self-concern into limitlessness? Is it the mother, who chooses to hold sacred her infant’s needs and surrender herself? Or is it the One, which weaves them both through a spiraling path toward wholeness?”

–Vimala McClure, The Tao of Motherhood