Perfect Imperfection

March 29th, 2011

I like to think of myself as being fairly competent, but underneath this calm exterior there are many, many cracks. As a home handyman, for example, I make a great philosopher. The very word “Ikea” makes me break out in a cold sweat. I don’t understand restaurants where you have to cook your own food and I don’t appreciate furniture stores where they send you out with a box full of wood, a wingnut and a prayer. Our home is full of reminders of my imperfection. We once bought an Ikea bed. It was called the BLAARKEN which is Swedish for “best of luck, you sucker”. After 6 hours trying to put together this Swedish puzzle, we gave up and decided to use it as a bookcase.

Another time, I was trying to assemble a cabinet and got trapped inside of it. I had to call technical support to help me get out. Once I tried to put together a bed side table for Meg. Apart from the drawers not opening and needing a block of wood under one corner, it works just fine. The coffee table in our living room has two massive cracks in it where I failed to properly install the storage compartment. Every time we look at the cracks in our coffee table, we are reminded of my glorious imperfection. This is why Leonard Cohen’s anthem is my personal theme song, “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Or as Groucho Marx said, “Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light.”

The perfection of imperfection is comforting. It reminds me that what’s on the inside is perfect even if the outside leaves a little to be desired. The Bible used its own first century handiwork analogy for the perfection of imperfection-treasures in clay jars. The outer form, the container, is fragile but what it holds…now that is incredible. Don’t judge yourself, or others, for outer frailty and instead celebrate treasures that lie beneath the surface. These treasures come in the form of wisdom and experience and strength of character.

The Japanese Kimono gown is a beautiful symbol of this truth. Some Kimonos have very plain outer designs but immaculate and exquisite decoration on the inside of the gown. Some of them are even intentionally imperfect on the outside. The purpose is to remind the person wearing the gown that beauty ultimately resides within. Those who see the imperfections of the outer gown are reminded to appreciate the variety of the outer and look to the magnificence that lies beneath the surface.

It’s not that we just tolerate the outer while glorifying the inner. The imperfect outer form is where the light gets in. The perfection of imperfection reminds me that even on the outside I am becoming what I need to be. It makes me smile and drop a few attachments. As I watch my hair gray in funny looking patches and my gut hang like an awning over the toy store, I am reminded that everything is so changeable. My own body is a reminder of the wisdom of holding loosely to opinions and perspectives. Beauty and joy are so often experienced in the cracks of life, where the light gets in. Jack Kornfield tells the story of a Buddhist statue in his book The Wise Heart-

In a large temple in Thailand’s capital, Sukotai, there was an enormous clay Buddha. It had survived over five hundred years. At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. The golden Buddha now draws masses of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand. The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest.

If you are feeling frail or insecure in any way, let me remind you that you are exactly where you need to be and becoming exactly who you need to be in each moment.  Start with a little self compassion. It’s like a flight attendant who gives instructions to fit your own oxygen mask first before helping others. It’s only when you learn to accept yourself that you can be of assistance to others. Forgive yourself for any mistakes, and accept yourself despite any limitations. You are the person you are with 24/7, so make sure its quality time with plenty of love and acceptance. Moments of insecurity are breeding some new truth in you if you can stay awake, stay open, listen, learn, and grow. Let a little light in, and don’t be afraid to let the rest of us see your glorious cracks.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this important reminder, Ian…I can’t wait to share it!

  2. Anne-Marie says:

    Thanks for this incredibly important reminder, Ian. I can’t wait to share it with others!

  3. Kathy says:

    Perfect!!!

  4. KGould says:

    Great reminder.  What I needed to hear today!

  5. Tricia says:

    Just what I needed to hear today, thank you! It absolutely resonated when you said: “You are the person you are with 24/7, so make sure its quality time with plenty of love and acceptance.” It is so true!

    Best,
    Tricia

  6. Margaret says:

    So wise, and so humble.

  7. joan cook says:

    You know, we can say these words to each other as a group, we who make up the community that we call C3.  During this very unsettled part of our community history we need to remember that perhaps these cracks we’re worrying over are here to let light in.

  8. mila bloch says:


    Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
    —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry