You may have heard the old story of Sisyphus — the man condemned by the gods to push a boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down and be forced to start over, for all eternity.
I think this story is a wonderful illustration of how human beings often suffer. We’re convinced that, in some way, we need to be better than we are, and we’re constantly struggling to improve. But somehow, we never seem to “get there” — perfection dangles just beyond our reach.
I’ve definitely seen this way of thinking in myself. Sometimes, I notice myself hoping the next project I finish will finally “get me there” — at last, I’ll be “okay,” and I’ll be able to relax. But inevitably, when the project is done, the magical feeling of “okayness” I’m craving doesn’t arrive, or it comes and goes in a flash.
I suspect this is why we often hear of celebrities, or others our society sees as “successful,” acting self-destructively. They fight so hard and so long to “get there,”
but even when they get what they want, that sense that everything’s all right still seems to escape them. Maybe they get into things like drugs to soften the blow of that letdown.
Does Liking Ourselves Equal Laziness?
On the surface, the solution seems obvious: let go of the need to be better than you are, and accept yourself as perfect. But many of us feel nervous when we contemplate that way of thinking.
After all, if we really thought we were perfect, why would we bother doing anything at all? Why wouldn’t we just plop down on the couch, grab the remote in one hand and a beer in the other, and never get up except to buy more beer? Don’t we need to feel dissatisfied with ourselves to keep trying?
In other words, the human condition can look like a Catch-22: we can either feel okay with ourselves, but be lazy, or not feel okay with ourselves, but be perpetually frustrated.
Celebrating Our Perfection
I want to offer a different way of thinking about this issue. As you’ve probably noticed, we tend to feel driven to celebrate our successes. When we accomplish something big in our lives, we don’t just want to lie down and veg out — we want to get together with others and share our excitement.
What if we were to accept that, right now, we’re fundamentally perfect, and spend our lives celebrating that perfection? What if we did all of our activities — our work, service to others, loving relationships, and so on — out of gratitude to God, the universe, or whatever other force is responsible for how perfect we are?
It’s a huge relief for me when I can approach life this way — when I can drop the need to “make myself better,” to fix what’s supposedly wrong, to make others see I have something to offer, and so on, and instead act from a place of giving thanks for who and what I already am.
Yes, it’s hard to think this way all the time, particularly when times get tough and it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot to rejoice about. But when we’re able to see things from this perspective, I think, we’re at our most focused and peaceful.