Yoga is union. Mindful eating is also yoga — in the sense that eating unites your body and mind’s intention through a moment of eating presence. Create an eating mindfulness placemat that you could carry with you like a yoga mat, from table to table, from setting to setting, whether you are eating in or eating out, as a kind of portable eating mindfulness space of your own.
Sketch out a placemat that includes a visual diagram of mindful eating. For example, draw a picture of the eyes to denote the mindfulness of the appearance of food, with an arrow pointing to a nose for the mindfulness of smell, with an arrow pointing to a picture of the tongue for the mindfulness of taste, with an arrow pointing back to your mind (to remember to “open your mind before you open your mouth”).
In making sense of perfectionism, I distinguish between primary and secondary perfectionism.
Primary perfectionism is a pursuit of perfection for its own sake, as an end in and of itself. Primary perfectionism is when you want reality to be better than it is because you think it could be or should be better than it is. In this kind of perfectionism, the pursuit of perfection is the primary goal. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with striving for a better world. It’s just that in practice, constant striving for a better world obscures the ordinary perfection of the world that already is.
The picture of the universe shifts from tongue to tongue.
Consider a soap bubble on a sunny day: what color is it? It depends, right? On what? On the angle of view.
Certainty is an impasse. Reality is rarely (if ever!) either “this” or “that.” Dichotomous (i.e. dualistic, i.e. 2-fold) logic is too black-and-white to capture the iridescence of reality. Syādvāda, an ancient Jainist doctrine of 7-fold postulation, allows you a multiplicity of angles of seeing reality.
Syādvāda teaches that:
- it is impossible to determine the truth of a system within its own thought
- each truth is valid within its own system
- therefore, there is more than one truth
On January 6, 2009, CNN reported that a German billionaire Adolf Merckle died by suicide, jumping in front of a train as his fortunes declined from $12.8 billion to $9.2 billion in 2008. CNN offered the following explanation: “The financial troubles of his companies, induced by the international financial crisis and the uncertainty and powerlessness to act independently…broke the passionate family business man, and he took his own life.”
My clinical guess is that Adolf Merckle was a casualty of perfectionism, not of the economy. CNN’s explanation of the reasons behind the suicide is replete with red flags of perfectionism. Let’s take a close look at this psychological autopsy.
Classic perfectionism is like an infinite tunnel: you drive in and you never get out. For a finite mortal like you and I, chasing the Unattainable is akin to trying to beat the speed of light. It can’t be done. Thus, the no-way-out-doom-and-gloom of the perfectionistic mind. Perfectionism is an autobahn into Nowhere without any exit ramps. That is, unless we redefine Perfection and Perfectionism.
Shifting the Paradigm of Perfectionism
As I see it, perfectionism is a crisis of misunderstanding of the concept of perfection. As a culture we believe that perfection is unattainable. If seen as such, the word “perfection” becomes a nonsense word, a word that refers to something imaginary and nothing real, nothing attainable. I posit just the opposite: the word “perfection” isn’t a nonsense word, it does refer to something real. Indeed, as I see it, the word “perfection” is synonymous with the word “reality.” As such, perfection is not only attainable, it is inevitable.
Clinical literature on the treatment of perfectionism suggests that perfectionists are not exactly easy to treat. In fact, “perfectionism is associated with a relatively poor working alliance between the perfectionist and the therapist” (Flett and Hewitt, 2002, p. 24).
Sorotzkin (1998), while treating adolescent perfectionists, writes about how perfectionism gets in the way of treatment progress: “as [perfectionists] become more knowledgeable about psychological issues, they may also become perfectionistic in the process of therapy, by trying to become the perfect emotional specimen (i.e., by not having any anxieties, conflicts, or fears)” (p. 92).
Let’s face it: as a perfectionist, you can present a formidable challenge.
As a perfectionist, you’ve been living the life of the Absurd. Having uncritically embraced the common-place notion that perfection is unattainable, you have been after a paradoxical goal of trying to achieve that which, by definition, is impossible to achieve. And in so doing, you have been committing an existential suicide of mostly doing, doing, and doing and hardly ever being, of seldom living long enough in the present moment to realize that you have been caught up in an ever-tightening feedback loop of self-imposed expectations.
As a perfectionist, you have been living a life of abstraction, in a never-ceasing comparison of the real and the ideal, tragically oblivious to the rather concrete and undeniable fact that you are, have been and always will be doing your very practical best; that you are, have been and always will be (as long as you are alive) perfectly imperfect.
Perfectionism isn’t cheap. In fact, it is existentially unaffordable. Here’s a review of these costs and of the possible ways of cutting them, with the help of an existential self-rehab.
Perfectionism is a Psychological Liability
Flett and Hewitt (2002) write: “perfectionists are more likely than nonperfectionists to experience various kinds of stress” (p. 257) and list four perfectionism-specific mechanisms that contribute to and exacerbate stress:
Perfectionist is Not Obsessed with Perfection
Non-perfectionists frequently misunderstand perfectionists as being obsessed with perfection. The very term “perfectionist” implies an obsession with perfection, an obsessive pursuit of perfection. But, strangely, it is not so! Perfectionism, more often than not, isn’t about the pursuit of perfection per se but about the psychological, relational and existential dividends of being perfect.
It helps to understand the words involved.
A bit of etymology trivia first (from etymonline.com):
Oriental (adjective): from Latin word orientalis “of the east.”
Occidental (adjective): from Latin word occidentalis “western.”
Now, on with the essay…
OCPD – an Occidental Personality Disorder?
While perfectionism is not, per se, a diagnostic category, it is an essential feature of the so-called Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD, not to be confused with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD). OCPD is usually defined as “preoccupation with perfectionism, mental and interpersonal control, and orderliness at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency” (Pfohl & Blum, 1991).
Given the fact that perfectionism, the central feature of OCPD, seems “endemic” in the West, should we then, perhaps, rethink perfectionism as a strictly Western/Occidental issue? Should we view OCPD as Occidental Compulsive Personality Disorder?