Ordinary Perfection Articles

Ordinary Perfection

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

When I look at the nameless reality of Whatever Currently Is (right now) through the lens of mindfulness and presence, everything relaxes me, everything feels “ok” and “normal” and “simply such” – even illness and death and violence and war and… You name it! Everything – the entire Ordinary Perfection of it all.

In 1710 German polymath Gottfried Leibniz says: we live “in the best of all possible worlds.”  Exactly. And you don’t have to be good at math to figure this out: reality always adds up to itself – reality is never less and never more than everything it can be at any given moment. The rest is the stress and tension of idealistic expectations.  Reality does not shortchange itself.  All that can be – is.  360-degrees acceptance is the letting go of perfectionistic dissatisfaction about the current state of reality.  Acceptance is the beginning of relaxation.  To relax, accept.  A basic formula of self-care that suits any circumstance.

Pure Experience

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

leafsomov“I suddenly realize that at last after more than seventy years of looking I see things as they are – what a phrase, “as they are” – and not, as in all past years, wrapped in concepts, e.g. man, woman, flowers, trees.  I see them now as islands of black and white that move, or spots of color making a herbaceous border or a garden of flowers. […] If the adult gives oneself over to the pure sensation, then he [she] experiences a fusion of pleasure and sensory quality which probably approximates the infantile experience… The emphasis [of my looking] is not on any object but entirely on feeling and sensation.”

Joseph Lyons wrote this in 1974, in his book “Experience: an Introduction to a Personal Psychology.”

We don’t have to wait until we are seventy or older to suddenly discover this capacity in ourselves.  This non-conceptual way of seeing reality “as it is” is available more or less on demand, with a bit of practice.

What’s the formula?  What’s the method?  The process of getting there is not an easy one to describe.  To put it simply (and, thus, to run the risk of great oversimplification), you have to practice flowing with sensation and knowing how to disengage from the interpretive, labeling eddies of your mindstream.

Let me give you an example of how this works.  Last Friday I was waiting on my wife to finish her Pilates training session in the Market Square of Pittsburgh.  I had about an hour to kill so I walked over to Amazing Books (a hole-in-the-wall bookstore with high ceilings and visibly low over-head) and picked up a book of poetry by Indian sages of the past.  I went back to the Market Square – it was close enough to a lunch hour, a hundred or so people milling around, eating lunch, enjoying the autumn sun, someone was doing Johnny Cash songs.  I squatted down by a wall and flipped to a random page.  It was songs of Nanak.  I saw this verse: “from listening sin and sorrow disappear.”  I picked up a leaf …

There Are No Mistakes

Monday, September 29th, 2014


9781572247567I did my best… I did my best!

Dane Cook, comedian

The phrase “to make a mistake” implies purposive, conscious, planned action. That’s utterly inaccurate: there are no intentional mistakes, no one consciously sets out to fail.

When we fail on purpose, when we make a mistake by design, we are actually succeeding with some kind of covert plan. Therefore, even an act of conscious sabotage isn’t a mistake (to you) even if takes the form of a mistake (to others).

Bottom-line: No one makes mistakes because no one ever makes a mistake on purpose (sabotage notwithstanding).

And yet mistakes do take place. Indeed, now and then we all drop the proverbial ball. Not because we intend to but because there are too many balls to juggle with.

Understanding the difference between an intentional mistake and an unintentional occurrence is key to wellbeing and self-acceptance.

A Mistake is a Difference Between What Is and What Should Be

When we think of a mistake, we think of a difference between the real and the ideal, i.e. of a discrepancy between what is and what we expect to be (or is expected to be). But any expectation is fundamentally generic. Whether the standard is set by you, your boss, you parent, your partner, legal system or social norms, it fails to reflect the specifics of any given moment and the specifics of any given mind.

Rules and laws set the ideal expectation of conduct that is aimed at everyone but is based on no one in particular. It’s true that we shouldn’t run the red light but sometimes we do. Why is that? Certainly not because we want to get a ticket, wreck our car or run somebody over. But because even the most alert of us now and then experience a lapse of attention. We are doing our best even when our best falls short of the general expectation.

Now, if you consciously decide to run the red light, it isn’t a mistake – it is an intended socially-unacceptable action, a planned violation of traffic norms. Conscious violations – sabotage, criminal acts – of course, exist. …

Meaning of Life as Defined by a Butcher

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014


The meaning of life is listening to Pavarotti, feeling the sun on your face, drinking a bottle of wine, and then another. The meaning of life is having a safe and healthy society, a happy family life, good health, a loving wife, work that you like, smelling the smell of a new car and the ocean air, being able to hit a bull’s-eye, coming home with the fish and not another fish story.

said Carmine Pucci, a butcher.

People ask: “What is the meaning of life?”

My own answer is: “Living is the point of life – mindfully, with presence… and, to paraphrase Carmine Pucci, coming home with the fish and not another fish story about the meaning of life.”


ref: The Meaning of Life, by David Friend and the Editors of LIFE, 1991

Fish image available from Shutterstock.

Good Self-Esteem is Still Self-Judgment

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

9781572247567The solution to bad self-esteem is not good self-esteem.

The solution to bad self-esteem is unconditional self-acceptance.

All esteem (good or bad) is a form of situation-specific self-estimation, that is, a form of conditional self-judgment, and, as such, is psychologically self-limiting.

Self-acceptance, on the other hand, is a platform of unconditional wellbeing.

[I have proposed this idea in my 2010 book Present Perfect (Somov, New Harbinger Publications) in Chapter 9 “From Self-Esteem to Self-Acceptance.”  In my clinical experience,  this particular shift (from self-esteem to self-acceptance) has proven to be one of the most powerful ways of breaking through the perfectionistic impasse.]

Shallow Wells of Presence

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

kaKarl Krolow, one of the greatest postwar German poets, once wrote:

It is a long time

Since I lay so deep in sleep.

Gradually one learns once more:

Wells dry up.

A state of presence is a shallow well. Mindfulness dries up. Its half life is short. Rarely mindfulness transcends the moment that gave it birth. Therefore, it must be renewed in between the strides of our sleep-walk. The well of presence must too be watered.




Uniqueness is Beyond Comparison

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

9781572247567In my work with perfectionists I often ask: “Are you unique?”  Clients typically nod: “Yes.”

And then I say: “To be unique is to be one of a kind, right?  Right.  If you are one of a kind, then no one is like.  Right?  Right.  If so, then what is the basis of comparison if no one is exactly like you?!”

Here’s U.G. Krishnamurti making a related point:

“If you are freed from the goal [of having to be] perfect, then that which is natural in [you] begins to express itself.  Your religious and secular culture has placed before you the ideal man or woman, the perfect human being, and then tries to fit everybody into that mould.  It is impossible. […] Nature is busy creating absolutely unique individuals, whereas culture has invented a single mould to which all must conform. It is grotesque.”

And so I conclude: “Uniqueness is beyond comparison. You are incomparable. That’s not a compliment. That’s a statement of fact.”

related: Present Perfect


Rethink Perfection

Friday, April 18th, 2014

9781572247567Perfection is not an achievement but a baseline, not the fruit of being we reach for, but the very ground of being we stand on.

Rethink “what is” to rethink perfection: all that can be… is.


Slavic Samsara

Friday, March 21st, 2014

stoneAs I watch my slavic brothers and sisters about to turn onto each other (not without some geopolitical meddling), I am reminded of a few lines from a poem written in Kiev in 1986 by a prominent Russian dissident Irina Ratushinskaya:

Beasts, people, birds

And voices, and specks of light –

We pass through all like ripples,

And each one disappears.

Which of us will recur?

Who will flow into whom?

What do we need in this world

To quench our thirst?

Yes, we all pass through this reality, and we all pass through all – like ripples from a local stone-skip that eventually become the universe-wide gravitational waves of yet another big bang.

And we pass into each other: yesterday’s fascists become today’s freedom-fighters and today’s freedom-fighters become tomorrow’s fascists. Form passes into Essence and Essence passes into Form.

Self and Other are in a constant tug-of-war of inter-determination (paṭiccasamuppāda –  co-dependent origination).  Duality (Skinthink) of Self and Other always falls onto its own sword.

As I ponder this current cycle of Slavic samsara I find my usual, arguably misguided, sense of peace and acceptance in the following three axioms of living:

1. We are all motivationally innocent  (the Pleasure Principle): there is no evil, there is just a pursuit of wellbeing however misguided it might be.

2. We are all doing our moment-specific best (the idea of Ordinary Perfection): all that can be – is.

3. That is enough for Oneness of Cosmos (sideless, Oneness takes no sides).

I wish all parts and parties of this seamless oneness well: may we all satisfy our thirst from within.

Cutting the Costs of Perfectionism

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

9781572247567Perfectionism isn’t cheap.  In fact, it is existentially unaffordable.  Here’s a review of these costs and of the possible ways of cutting them.

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:

  • Perfectionists generate stress by pursing unrealistic goals (stress generation mechanism).
  • Because of their future time perspective, they anticipate future with worry and anxiety (stress anticipation mechanism).
  • Perfectionists perpetuate stress by coping with stress in such maladaptive ways as rumination or re-doubling of the effort to avoid mistakes and prevent failures (stress perpetuation mechanism).
  • And, finally, due to their cognitively-distorted perfectionistic appraisal strategies, they enhance stress by overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, and dichotomizing (stress enhancement mechanism).

Brown and Beck (2002) make a convincing summary of how a perfectionistic cognitive style with its rigid thinking constitutes a vulnerability to depression.

Perfectionists and compulsives are a tormented, unhappy lot.  William Reich referred to compulsives as “living machines,” highly productive but not enjoying what they produce (Maxment & Ward, 1995), typically presenting with symptoms of anxiety, worry, depression, and dysthymia.

One of the goals of existential self-rehabilitation is to redefine perfection in a manner that would allow you to leverage an unconditional self-acceptance and to become invulnerable to others’ disapproval of you.  Furthermore, an effective existential rehab would help you become more accepting of uncertainty in order to reduce your anxiety about the aspects of your life that you cannot control.  Your ultimate challenge is to shift from dichotomous, black-and-white dualistic self-perception (that predisposes you to depression and anxiety) to an emotionally-wiser and reality-congruent platform of nondual and dialectical thinking.

Perfectionism is a Relational Liability

Many a perfectionist is encouraged into therapy by family members and supervisors to address the problem of anger and hypercriticism.  As such, if unaddressed, perfectionism is a relational liability that leads to social alienation, loneliness, missed social and professional opportunities.  Effective existential rehab will help you realize that you are, have been, and always will be “perfectly imperfect,” which, in turn, will allow you to compassionately identify …

Select books by Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.:
Mindful Emotional Eating Reinventing the Meal
Present Perfect
Eating the Moment

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