Paradox and Wisdom
A few of us at Still Harbor have been reading a book called Falling
Upward by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who has written
extensively on spirituality and who founded a Center for Action and
Contemplation in New Mexico. In the introduction, Rohr writes:
“If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially our own… In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept, goodness is a beautiful human concept that includes us all.”
This paragraph reminded me of how Dr. Brene Brown describes vulnerability in her TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability. In the talk, she shares how her research reveals that the way to live “whole-heartedly”, as she describes it, is to accept that each of us is vulnerable instead of trying to numb or hide our weaknesses and fears from others.
These two conundrums serve as great reminders to me about how beautiful and real the messiness of life is. Because of the way I was raised or educated or perhaps just because of who I am, I am prone to thinking that every problem can be solved and will then disappear forever. When I became a parent, I was forced to accept that this is not true; that addressing challenges now will not mean there aren’t challenges (often the same ones) tomorrow. While I constantly fight the feeling that my parenting efforts resemble banging my head against a wall over and over again in order to make a point, the responsibility to help a child navigate life’s many paradoxes and mysteries means that I have to keep trying.
I have found great comfort in understanding Rohr’s and Brown’s messages that I shared above because they both free me from thinking that perfection and invulnerability are options. With this freedom, I am regularly more capable of choosing to act with honesty and compassion rather than manipulation and pity. I also believe that this awareness makes me better able to pursue my own need for personal transformation during the times of gross imperfection and vulnerability.
I have talked about my own experience of these paradoxes because I cannot pretend to know anyone else's experience. And while parenting is not a metaphor for work, I do believe that people who take on issues of social justice and global health tend to give themselves a profound and often soul-tugging amount of responsibility. With such responsibility, we know that we have to keep trying, but we will have a hard time making an impact if we are shackled by the quest for perfection in our tasks and relationships and/or the fear of having our vulnerabilities exposed.
Many cultures over time have valued the wisdom of elders to help teach lessons like these. While we all must develop wisdom for ourselves over time, I have found that the more I explore concepts of interior—or spiritual—formation like Rohr’s and Brown’s I've mentioned here, the more I recognize some of the lessons that the elders in my life have tried to teach me. So, to conclude, I want to pass along this link to wisdombook.org, a very special book and film project that explores the interior lives and the wisdom of well-known elders. Before making new year’s resolutions, I'm encouraging everyone to consider some of these thoughts on wisdom. Watch the trailer here: wisdombook.org.
--Perry, Associate Director