It’s time to celebrate crooked things. We often seek perfection but will we ever get it all straight? I don’t think so. Maybe we once believed that “straight is the gate and narrow is the way” and went in search of it. But by now most of us are pretty sure we’re not going to find it. And even if we did manage to squeeze through that narrow aperture from time to time, didn’t our pathbecome pretty crooked from then on? How often do we stray from our intention out of curiosity or stupor or to smell the roses!
Nature moves in curves and curlicues. Perhaps that’s why I love the many crooked trees even more than the few arrow-straight ones. They look like they’ve fought for survival in a tough world. Like me. Like you. Notice how they grow both up and sideways, twisted and curved from battling the wind, the storms, or a gardener’s pruning sheers.
And how about those gnarly bushes I passed the other day on the road through the park? Balanced on top of a huge rock, their roots twisted every which way down its side to sink deep into a narrow crevasse at the bottom. How I admire the struggle of those roots down the rocky slope, actively in search of earth so they can nourish themselves, while their branches reach toward heaven, stretching up to the sun.
Every time I see crooked roots and branches, they rivet my attention. Static, yet dynamic, fixed but moving every which way, they tell their life story. Their presence is a history book, just like ours.
They grow upwards, yes, always up, but to the sides as well.
“That’s me,” I acknowledge as I pass. “Maybe that’s all of us.”
We reach upward, trying to better ourselves and our conditions in many ways, seeking nourishment from the sun but often forced to move to one side or another just to survive. We are shaped by our longings, by the facts of our lives, and by the force of the elements. Including our own elemental desires.
As an incorrigible perfectionist, I often get annoyed at myself for falling short. Unfortunately I also apply the same standard to other people. That’s just not fair! Inevitably, everyone falls short. What an amazing world it would be if we were all perfect! But it’s not real. What we think of as perfect may be simply our own opinion. Our perfect world is often based on personal attitudeswe’ve gathered during a lifetime of comings and goings.
Here are some suggestions for exploration:
1. Does a secret desire to be perfect lurk half-submerged in your unconscious? If so, you’re like me. I’ll bet even when you succeed you’re often disappointed. What are your “upward” aims? Write them down. How many of your big plans succeeded? What was the cost of success when they did? What did you accuse yourself of if you failed? Put it all down on paper so you can review it later and see if you still agree with it.
2. It’s hard to give up the habit of our judgmental attitudes, but if we could, we might be able to forgive ourselves and everyone else for being human. Believe it or not, everyone’s in trouble on this one, not just you and me! We’ve all been brought up under constant pressure to judge, to compete, and to succeed. But in order to find real understanding, more time is needed to investigate both sides of any problem. Notice and write down
any of your judgments about other people and your habitual attitudes toward them, as well as how you criticize your own performance.
3. Engage actively in questioning yourself with an alert mind and heart. Every evening you could weigh each judgment you made during the day in the balance of your quiet mind. To do that, you must put aside your first reaction, whatever it may be, and think the situation over. Whenever you suspect you’ve satisfied yourself too quickly, affirming only one side of the scales of justice, name it your habit rather than careful reasoning things out, and return to contemplate the other side. At first it may not be easy to discriminate between critical thinking and judgmental attitudes. Start by noticing how annoyed you are at yourself. When you criticize your performance say, “Wait a minute. I want to be me, not some genius, some perfect Doer.” Then apply the same criteria when you’re criticizing someone else. If you do this honorably, you’ll gather a lot of useful, Who-am-I? information in your notebook.
4. From early childhood on, we’ve been influenced by a lot of opinions. We collect them, often automatically, stuff them in the closet of our mind, and bring them out whenever they seem appropriate or when we need a quick point of view to win an argument. Can you separate your principles from your opinions? Make one list for the principles, another for the borrowed opinions. Can you figure out where each of the latter originally came from?
5. Why is it so important to study and weigh our criticisms? Because while it’s natural to want to be different or do things better, we often move away from being who we truly are in our efforts to succeed. Tell yourself out loud, “Yes, maybe there’s a better way but I’m doing my best, here, on my crooked path. I accept who I am and I’ll try again.” Give up, at least for today, insisting how things OUGHT to be and embrace how they really are. And how you are. That’s where real life is!