Photo: Mattia Faloretti
You’ll find it difficult to make it through a contemporary book on spirituality without rubbing up against the notion of “absolute perfection.”
The idea's purest form is this:
Everything is perfect, always, exactly as it is.
And this idea has the capacity to make life way, way better.
If you really hold the idea of perfection, and gaze at life through its lens…
Your daily experience transforms from disappointment, frustration, and boredom into a blooming technicolor gift of dynamically divine harmony.
Recognizing perfection produces an utter serenity with any and all things that arise.
It creates a presence rooted in the unshakable contentment of grateful acceptance. It gives birth to true peace.
In other words: the idea of perfection gets at least one solid thumbs up.
In fact, it might even get two thumbs up—
If it weren’t painfully clear that life is not actually perfect.
A second idea has replicated itself through many spiritual circles, as well as every self-help book ever written:
You are the creator of your reality.
People often encapsulate this idea with the term sovereignty.
And this idea serves an incredibly useful purpose as well.
The notion of sovereignty liberates us from the paralyzing constraints of victim consciousness—the worldview of perceiving life as happening to us.
If you believe you’re at the mercy of forces outside yourself, you will be.
And conversely: embracing a belief in your sovereignty makes you genuinely more sovereign.
Recognizing freedom and power increases both.
Realizing your sovereignty might involve a transcendently spiritual experience…
...(such as realizing that you are divine consciousness itself, deliberately choosing a human experience)...
...Or it might take the form of an exceedingly grounded and practical insight…
...(such as realizing that when someone asks if you want to hang out this weekend, you don’t have to say yes)...
But regardless of the specific form it takes:
The notion of sovereignty can change nearly everyone’s life for the better.
The only problem with it is that, as with the notion of “perfection”...
It’s very clearly not true.
After Philando Castile was murdered on the side of the road when reaching for his license, his partner Diamond and her four-year-old daughter were held in the back of a cop car.
You can watch footage from the car of Diamond’s daughter pleading “Mom, please stop cussing and screaming, cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
If you were there, in that moment:
Would you tell Diamond, or her daughter, that they had “sovereignly created their reality?”
Would you tell them that “life is perfect” exactly how it is?
The horrors of oppression, murder, sex slavery, starvation, and tyranny—all of which are still very much alive in the world today—bring these basic realities into sharp relief:
-Life is clearly not perfect
-People are clearly victims to the malicious actions of others
-Anyone who says otherwise is clearly missing something.
And this leaves us with the troubling problem:
If it’s incredibly helpful to believe in sovereignty and perfection, but neither seems strictly true:
What are we supposed to believe?
And, more importantly…what are we supposed to do?
Being human means being imprisoned in matter and slowly tortured to death.
Every human’s hands and feet are nailed to the world-tree of physicality. We cannot spiritualize our way around this fact.
The most famous spiritual teacher of all time—a figure who some claim to have been particularly unconstrained by matter...
...(water to wine, resurrecting friends, huge fish and chips parties, etc)...
—famously wrapped up his act with imprisonment and torture.
Did his powers fail when it mattered most?
Did he manifest legal oppression against himself because he was trapped in victim consciousness?
Did he not read “The Secret”?
I’ve heard at least two plausible explanations:
1) Jesus’ enlightenment included a wholehearted acknowledgement and embrace of the painful constraints of material life, and he expressed that understanding symbolically as a blindingly compassionate metaphor for future storytelling,
or 2) he was burned at the stake by the oppressive and materially powerful political forces around him, like so many other mages through the ages.
The first interpretation tilts a bit more in the direction of sovereignty, the second more towards making the Nazarene a victim to his circumstances.
But regardless of which interpretation you prefer, the most important thing about the two interpretations is this:
They are not mutually exclusive.
The reality of sovereignty and the reality of victimhood not only can go together—they must.
Some very deep problems arise when you make one specific mistake regarding spiritual ideas—
Namely, believing that any idea somehow excludes its opposite.
The idea of universal perfection becomes a fragmented parody of itself if it doesn’t include an actively lived recognition of the incontrovertible imperfection experienced on a daily basis by massive populations around the world.
And the idea of sovereignty simply becomes another tool of oppression if it doesn’t incorporate the terrifying realities—the bruised faces and dead bodies and empty bank accounts—of objective victimhood in our world, past and present.
You can blast open your crown chakra with all the blissed out transcendence all you like—
None of that matters if your feet aren’t planted firmly in the shitmud of incarnate reality, where people are assaulted and murdered and sold into slavery, daily.
You can hold the pole of personal power and sovereignty, and build more and more compelling belief in your ultimate creatorship—
But if you do so by walling off your heart to the screaming world around you, you’re a terrible sovereign.
Compassionate action of any sort, political or romantic or personal, does not mean believing less in perfection, or sovereignty, or any other spiritual truth.
It means simultaneously recognizing the truth of this scarce, finite, decaying, and oppressive reality that we share, and dedicating ourselves as wholeheartedly to eradicating suffering in that outer world as we dedicate ourselves to eradicating suffering within our own souls.
If we go around holding only the ideas of victimhood and imperfection, we’ll mire our minds in the addictively resentful quicksand of furious impotence.
And if we go around holding only the ideas of sovereignty and perfection, we’ll perpetuate a horrifically oppressive denial of reality through simplistic transcendence.
True transformation happens, and happens only, by stretching in both directions at once.
This might look like recognizing our own ultimate creatorship—and then using that awareness to see our own misogyny reflected in the business structures around us, so as to more effectively dismantle both.
It might look like experiencing perfection, as deeply as we can—and then relentlessly shaping the world into living artwork reflecting that perfection.
Whatever it looks like:
It will not be simple, and it will not be one-sided, and it will not hide in the psychic totalitarianism of a single idea—because nothing true ever does.