Do perfection and perseverance go hand in hand?

Does practice make perfect? Does persevering guarantee perfection? Is perfection attainable? Can we accept ourselves as perfect right now?Or is it an elusive goal that motivates us to persevere and brings us closer to an ideal? Does striving for perfection hold you back or propel you forward?

Nature serves as a great example for me when I ponder questions that have no definite answers. Sea turtles, with their massive and ancient looking bodies, embody perseverance. For over 100 million years the sea turtles have roamed the oceans. They take 20 – 30 years to reach sexual maturity and often travel over 1000 miles to reach their nesting grounds. Leaving their natural environment of the sea they travel slowly across the sand to lay their eggs and then laboriously make their way back to the sea. They have can live to be up to 100 years old.

Butterflies, dancing effortlessly in the sunlight with jeweled wings, seem to be an image of perfection . Yet their life is short. After hatching from their cocoon, some butterflies only live a few weeks. Their life of beauty is fleeting.

Our ideas of being perfect often change. We may think that being very thin is the perfect body at one point in our lives, yet at another time we may think that a muscular, toned body is the ideal. One year we may want to be a blonde and the next year a brunette.

It seems to me that we can use perfection as a way to motivate ourselves to be the best that we can be as long as we do not beat ourselves up for not being perfect. The goal of perfection, even though we know that it is elusive and fleeting, can help us realize more of our potential if we can look at “failure” as a teacher rather than an enemy.

If we use the idea of striving for perfection to walk over others, to be selfish and overly critical, then the goal of perfection can work against us. The “perfection paradox” deals with this issue. “Moreover, research has suggested that two major dimensions of perfectionism be differentiated (Stoeber & Otto, 2006): a dimension which has been described as positive, healthy, or adaptive perfectionism and a dimension which has been described as neurotic, unhealthy, or maladaptive perfectionism(Rice & Preusser, 2002; Stumpf & Parker, 2000; Terry-Short, Owens, Slade & Dewey,1995).” (1)

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ famous pronouncement: “Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory”, emphasizes the importance of perseverance. Keep coming back to the mat to practice your asana, keep meditating, keep practicing the yamas and niyamas (kindness, self-study, non-stealing, etc). The ultimate goal of yoga is samadhi or enlightenment. Will we ever achieve that? Does it matter?

I think we may get glimpses of enlightenment, experience moments of perfection, feel seconds of perfect balance, but it is the perseverance and the practice that make it happen. However without a goal or a vision, where would we go?

Yoga teaches us to be aware without judgement, and to know the general form of the asanas while finding modifications that work for us as individuals. It is the practice and the striving that can teach us more about ourselves, help us to realize we may be capable of more than we think or humble us to accept that a particular pose is not meant for our particular body. This does not diminish us, but helps us to realize our strength and fragility.

The sea turtle teaches us to move slowly, to persevere, to accept that we may have to go outside our comfort zone to give birth to new skills, and ideas. The butterfly teaches us to fly with grace, to be beautiful in the sunlight and to appreciate life in the brevity of the moment.