I have written here about books on Buddhism that I have enjoyed reading. Some are quite canonical, and some are nearly iconoclastic, but they all have an underlying affirmation of Buddhism’s key principles. Yet, as I dove deeper into Buddhism, I realized that there was a problem.
In striving for the ultimate goal of nirvana, and figuring out what nirvana is (and that you cannot really strive for it, and all the other conclusions that come), I realized that I was becoming increasingly stuck with my head in the “perfectionism box”. In other words, I was using Buddhism as a way to support my perfectionism, just the thing I needed to eschew.
Is there anything wrong with Buddhism? Well, I would argue that there is something wrong with anything. But I won’t get into that. I rather noticed, through mindfulness training, that I was using mindfulness training and spirituality as a way to satisfy my hunger for perfection. It’s kind of satisfying when one realizes that the tools you are learning are being used by your mind to hurt itself, but that one is realizing this by using the tools one has learned!
Where does this lead?
I knew that, regardless of anyone’s opinion on Buddhism, religion, spirituality, etc. (including my own opinion), I was giving myself a reason to be a perfectionist. And that was destroying me.
I soon began to reject Buddhism, embracing anger, negativity, pessimism, ill will, blame, shame, guilt, fear, sadness, and depression. I started experiencing my symptoms of depression quickly. Derealization, wanting to cry midday, obsessive thinking, a constant sense of fear, shying away from hope and happiness because they would only lead to pain, and lack of motivation gripped me. I knew something was wrong. I needed to see my doctor. Fortunately, one of our quarterly check-ins was in about a week.
I saw my doctor, and explained it all. They quickly helped me by adjusting my medication levels. I soon saw changes.
I started feeling more positive–not all of the time, but consistently. I soon became unafraid of being happy. And I became genuinely joyous for the first time in a long time! Most importantly, I became fearless. Not stupid, but fearless. Yes, I will have fear if a bear charges towards me while I hike. What I mean is that I’m not afraid of the next moment. I’m not afraid of the past. I’m not afraid of the present. I allow myself to live.
And as I became fearless, I started breaking down the mental chains that were keeping me in the perfectionist box. First was what people think of me. Then was my work performance. Then was what I think of others. And the rest keep falling.
For me, all it took was correcting my chemical imbalance that had been the cause all along. I can even now watch videos of the Dalai Lama and see my perfectionism rising, and know when to stop watching.
I’m lucky. I’m becoming free. We all have our different ways of getting there, but I believe that mental freedom is the most powerful gift you can have. I would be exhibiting great hubris to say I am close to free, but I’m getting closer. Who knows? Maybe one day we all will be.