Love, Perfection, or Putting It Out There?
Well, it's Valentine's week, which practically demands that I bring you a post on some theme or variation on the story of love. BUT, as this is also the week before the Imperfection Option workshop is happening, and my mind is swirling with ideas about perfection and its many opposites, I also really wanted to share something from that whirlpool. AND, I have a show coming up, which always reminds me of the courage it takes to put one's creative work in front of "the public" and how hard it is to withstand the temptation to become repulsed by the imperfections of what you've made.
So, what to write about?
Since I'm never good at choosing between good things, I started thinking about the intersection of all these themes: What does love have to do with perfectionism? How can we find a way to love what is imperfect in our creations (and ourselves) even while we put them out in the world for others to appreciate? How can we gracefully separate from our finished - always imperfect - creations without rejecting them?
Creating comes from generative love
First, the Love bit. In last year's Valentine's Day post, I talked about Robert Fritz's notion that creating is an expression of "generative love" - a kind of love that goes beyond the "responsive love" that we associate with romantic relationships. Generative love happens when we love our creative ideas enough to bring them into being. We unify with our vision of what is possible and that union gives rise to something new that matters deeply to us.
Perfectionism corrupts generative love
To the extent that we are approaching our creating with a perfectionist mindset, we are throwing a major wrench into the flow of generative love. Our perfectionism directs us to invest our love in grand, idealized images of what we are trying to achieve - and insists that we withhold or withdraw our love from ourselves and our work when we inevitably fail to match that ideal. When our work does not reflect perfection back to us, we feel crestfallen and ashamed. We become unwilling to invest our spirits in anything that cannot be guaranteed to come out perfectly, as a way of protecting our tender hearts from experiencing the pain of being unworthy of our own love and compassion.
Can we choose to find imperfection love-worthy?
One way to break the spell of perfectionism is to assert the beauty and value of the imperfect, and of course there are traditions around the world which do just that, like wabi sabi in Japan which celebrates the aesthetic richness of things that capture an organic, un-perfected living spirit.
But this week I've been even more entranced by the tradition of the "spirit line" or "spirit pathway" that Navajo weavers incorporate into their rugs. This deliberately imperfect line that stretches to the edge of the rug in a contrasting color is called ch'ihónít'i.
To the extent that I was aware of the ch'ihónít'i tradition, I had the sense that it was an expression of the distinction between the fallible human artist and the perfection of the divine Creator. And indeed, that is part of the story. As one Navajo weaver put it: “The traditional teaching of the Navajo weaving is that you have to put a mistake in there... It must be done because only the creator is perfect. We’re not perfect, so we don’t make a perfect rug.” (source)
The Artist's Spirit Gets a Way Out
As I poked around in the interwebs looking for more information, though, I stumbled on another layer of meaning behind the ch'ihónít'i - which has really rocked my world. In the exhibition catalog for an amazing online University of Michigan exhibition called "Less Than Perfect" (which includes wonderfully titled sections for "Failed Perfection," "Deliberate Imperfection," and "Repairing Perfection" - I recommend checking it out!) I read this:
"In Navajo beliefs, thoughts, desires, and prayers are tangible objects that can have lasting effects on the material world. While weaving, the artist entwines part of her being into her cloth along with the woolen yarns that create the textile's pattern. The ch'ihónít'i allows this trapped part of the weaver's spirit to exit, safely separating her from her weaving and from any harmful thoughts that may come into contact with it as it is used, sold, or exhibited in a museum." (source)
Could there be a more genius invention for navigating the most psychologically challenging aspects of the artist's journey?
Weaving a tangible "spirit pathway" to the edge of each rug allows the artist full freedom to fully invest her spirit - her generative love - into her work. She can unify completely with it and allow herself to be absorbed by it for as long as it is in process. And then, when the work is complete, she weaves herself a way out...a way for her spirit to gracefully withdraw.
I love that this deliberate imperfection allows the artist a separation from the work that is not a rejection of the work. By ritually detaching her spirit from the rug, any "harmful thoughts" that might be aimed at the rug cannot touch her. Her spirit has "left the building" and is free to entwine itself into another creation. AND, because she began from the premise that perfection is not a proper goal for humble human creators, she is free to invest herself in another imperfect creation with no damage to her sense of worthiness.
What will your spirit pathway look like?
What would it look like to weave yourself a spirit line into your own creative work? What would it feel like to have a ritual for detaching your spirit from your work -- not as a rejection of the work, but as a healthy separation that allows your work to have it's own life without you?
I think I'm ready to try it out. I can't say exactly how, but I feel moved to include some little "exit" for my spirit in each of the pieces I put forward in the next art show and see if this supports me in disentangling my Being from my creation and separating from any judgements (positive or negative) of the work as it is viewed by others. Perhaps I can begin to rewire my own habit of defensively turning against my work (which I have loved so completely while making it) at the threshold of an opportunity to display it for others? What a relief that would be!
Do you have a different ritual for healthy detachment from your (imperfect) completed creations? I'd love to know about it - please share!
Meanwhile, I wish you a glorious day tomorrow as you celebrate any and all forms of love that are present and flowing in your life - romantic or generative or familial or divine...it's all good.
And I do hope to see you next Tuesday or Thursday in the Imperfection Option Online Workshop for lots more conversation and some very practical strategies for rewiring your perfectionism and regaining your creative freedom. (Clearly a process, not a destination!)