We learn our lessons at every moment. Sometimes hardship serves as tutor, and sometimes joy.
My upbringing traumatized me, but I enjoyed a number of special times. In fact, when your parents don’t care about you and encourage you to stay away from home, you are more free than kids who are watched and protected. At age twelve a friend of mine and I started sailing each summer from Marina del Rey in Los Angeles to Catalina Island some thirty miles offshore. We’d go for two weeks each time, and scuba dive every day. Not many parents would have trusted two youngsters to independently do something so potentially hazardous, but both Mark and I were free.
A couple of times my dad flew in for a few days of scuba diving. I remember fondly those times with him and probably should give him more credit for showing me that attention. One of the most beautiful experiences of my life happened while he and I were diving together.
The underwater landscape around Catalina consists of amber colored kelp forests, which grow from reefs of rough rock that through the otherwise sandy sea bottom. The kelp fronds extend from their reef anchors up to the surface thirty feet above, and they weave a thick, floating mat on the rolling ocean surface. We had just exited one of these kelp stands and were swimming through open water toward another ‘grove’, when we found ourselves surrounded by a school of grunion. The grunion is a silver fish about six inches long, nondescript but with a cosmopolitan tendency to swim together in massive numbers. Thousands of animals schooled around us.
What struck me then, and even more now, was the incredible coordination of their movements. Although the fish could no doubt see each other and feel their collective vibrations in the water, the synchrony of their migration seemed far more precise than could be explained on those bases. The scene was astonishing. All the animals would turn together in what seemed like an instant, as if an invisible message had been transmitted, making the crowd …
The word spirituality gets used so often, and in so many ways, that its meaning is now uncertain. Despite the fact that we can’t easily define it, there seems to be widespread agreement that spiritual seeking makes a positive difference in human life.
For my purposes, spirituality refers to the aspects of life that aren’t explainable in terms of matter and the body’s known senses. A spiritual path is one that takes a person into non-physical realms, toward understanding the profound non-material connections between people and all living things. In ordinary life we completely overlook these important interactions, but they are vital to enduring happiness.
Sometimes, it seems like growth can neither be stopped nor rushed. It moves at its own pace, maturing the heart according to an inscrutable celestial schedule.
Why is it that core truths of human life, obvious to me today, previously eluded me for decades? Was I simply unprepared to accept these profound and balancing principles before now? Did the losses that forced maturation truly happen by accident, or were they part of a larger unfolding that challenged me just when I needed some extra shoves to awaken me from materialist slumber? Looking back, it is easy to conclude that fate conspired to teach me valuable lessons.
They say emotionally mature people learn to abandon perfectionism. As a driving principle, it stimulates unrealistic expectations, chronic dissatisfaction, and carping inner dialogues. When I was a young man, perfectionism goaded me forward, but it also robbed me of contentment and undermined my relationships. No achievement came without blemish, and no lover fulfilled my fantasies. Although I gathered the trappings of material success, I seldom felt satisfied.
Then I lost much of what I’d accumulated. Seemingly intolerable setbacks and years of struggle taught me, finally, to strive for quality while accepting my humanness, and the fact that reality falls short of all Platonic ideals.
Perfectionism may be a bad thing, but not if you define it differently. What if we stipulated that perfectionism indicates a continuous effort to identify the many ways life is already perfect?