Do you have to be perfect to be Spiritual?

Guilty, your honour. I cannot tell a lie. The reason that my column did not appear in last month's issue of Cygnus Magazine is because I lost track of the deadline. I messed up. Sorry. Grovel. Apologise. (Anne, our editor, was very forgiving.) 

Now why should I want to confess my mistake to you? I could have said that I was away on holiday. And that's partly true. In the last few weeks I have been with the family to Paris and Disneyland (Mickey and Minnie's Ashram where I learned great spiritual lessons about patience and tolerance and had a few laughs); then I participated in a week-long teachers' training in NIA, a movement and fitness technique that electrified every cell in my body; next I attended a workshop on Kum Nye, a slow motion Tibetan relaxation yoga; and during the same period I put a lot of work into preparing my new school and foundation. 

In the middle of all that I lost the plot and misread my calendar. When I realized that I had missed the deadline, I went into a two-minute anxiety attack, followed by shame, culminating in general embarrassment, which of course finally led to acceptance, forgiveness and release. Phew. 

I want to confess and share all that because I am sometimes called a 'spiritual teacher' and as I get older and better known, there is an increasingly unhealthy tendency to project some kind of perfection on to me. Hm. Me - perfection? Ask my family and friends. 

One of the great psychological challenges in spirituality is this notion of perfection. Perfect teachers. Perfect angels. Perfect healers. Perfect guides.  Perfect saints and masters. 

A little while ago, in the morning tea-break of a Psychic Protection training that I was leading, a woman said to me, 'I'm thinking of leaving your workshop. When you said in your introduction this morning, that the occasions you most easily lose your centre is when you're tired and with your family, I just felt very disappointed. If even you can't do that …' 

'You want me to be perfect and centred all the time?' I asked. 

'Yes,' she replied. 

'And not honest about when it's the most difficult for me - and for most other people too?' 

'Mm,' she pondered and began to relax and smile. 'No,' she said. 'I want honesty.' And stayed. 

We human beings are so naïve and innocent sometimes, aren't we? It comes from the best of motives. In a childish way we just want everything to be okay for everyone and everything - right now, this instant. Like all of a baby's troubles can be removed by warm milk, we still want some magic wand to come and make everything perfect. 

Its tough too because we do experience times that are perfect, filled with harmony, creativity, liberation, care and compassion. We know what it can be like when everything's perfect and we want it to be like that all the time. The worst aspect of this, though, is that when things are not perfect, we judge them as being bad or wrong. 

This expectation, this desire for perfection, therefore, needs to be tempered with some compassionate realism about the depth and actual complexity of the human predicament. 

Years ago I was profoundly moved by a play written and performed by a group with severe physical disabilities. One of the actors was small and hunch-backed, possibly a history of cerebral palsy, and he delivered a long and passionate speech addressed to Jesus Christ. 

'Why oh why, you idiot,' he shouted at Christ, 'did you heal the lame? Could you not see that we are perfect just as we are? In healing us, you communicated to the world that there was something imperfect about us! You cursed us with your healing! How much better it would have been if you had told people that we are beautiful just as we are.' 

This speech and its message was, for me, a magnificent, uncomfortable and provocative challenge. It nailed one of the wild paradoxes of the human condition. What is beauty? What is perfection? Perhaps it is just in the eyes of the beholder, who is like a judge on some television talent competition.  Perhaps it changes like fashion and culture. Spirituality could be like Pop Idol. Now it is time for Messiah Idol. We'll run mass auditions for whom will play Christ or Buddha in the next great spiritual show. What kind of hair should he have? What gender, race, sexuality? Maybe a disability this time. 

Faced with this philosophical challenge about perfection, assessment, meaning and values, I am drawn towards a Buddhist approach. In this meditative attitude, I am simply a compassionate witness, giving meaning to nothing, accepting and allowing everything. 

I am also drawn towards an artistic approach. Often, for example, I think that Shakespeare understood the extraordinary complexity of the human psyche far better than most spiritual teachers. His plays are filled with huge moods and temperaments, astonishing plots and insights, heroes and heroines in heaven and in hell and in both places at the same time. He understood people. Imagine all Shakespeare's characters and plots - and more! -  living within the human psyche, in me, in you. We proclaim a holistic interconnected world and then fail to recognize how everything is within us. 

So which is a better or a more realistic understanding of the soul's journey? A simple spiritual model in which the imperfect becomes perfect? Or one that is richly populated, paradoxical and profoundly complex? Is the solution in simplicity or expanded consciousness that includes infinite diversity? 

Ah, these are great questions and discussions, are they not? They revolve around the very essence of spiritual enquiry into meaning and the human state.