I have a history with the phrase “good enough.” As a child my mother responded negatively when my brother or I would claim that some job around the house or a project for school was “good enough.” She called it a “slap-happy attitude,” clearly a euphemism for laziness, moral turpitude and not living up to standards held by decent people. Her position on this reinforced and dove-tailed nicely with my own perfectionism. Even now, my dear husband knows that he can push my buttons and get at least a scowl out of me by claiming (with a shrug) that something is “good enough.” I am my mother’s daughter.
I first encountered the phrase “good enough” in the context of my studies in child psychology. British physician and psychotherapist D.W. Winnicott was the first to write about the “good enough parent.” As society began to understand the negative effects of child abuse and neglect, Winnicott recognized that it was neither helpful nor realistic to set up perfectionist ideals that no parent could achieve. He wanted to reassure loving parents that they did not have to be enlightened masters or superhuman beings to offer a child the “good enough” environment and relationship needed to foster healthy mental and emotional development.
In the The Fountain of Age by Betty Friedan, an eighty-five year old woman is asked about her health. She replies that her health is “good enough.” Her health- although not without its challenges- still allows her to appreciate life, enjoy learning and participate in the world. Reading her response, I wondered about the aspects of my life where I still allow a perfectionist ideal (sometimes unconsciously and almost always secretively) to rob me of life’s joy. Having been limited at times by a chronic illness it’s hard not to posit some kind of ideal state of health as desirable. This gets more difficult with aging, and it dawns on me that no matter how well I care for myself, how well I eat, how deeply I rest, how religiously I exercise, meditate, and do yoga, my physical abilities will eventually decline. But the truth is, even with aging and bouts of Chronic Fatigue (or ME- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis as it is called in the rest of the English speaking world) my health is good enough for enjoying and participating in life. Likewise, my mental faculties are good enough for learning about the things that interest me, and my emotional self-knowledge, while never complete, is always deepening and expanding my capacity to give and receive love. So too my spiritual practice, which is never going to be consistently full of conscious awareness of every level of reality in every moment, is good enough to cultivate the faith and courage I need to live and love well.
I feel the impulse to end this blog with a caveat that reminds us that the concept of “good enough” does not mean it's okay to be careless or sloppy or lazy or undiscerning. . . . Hear how my perfectionist is mounting a rearguard action, terrified that everything will fall apart if certain standards are not adhered to? That’s okay. It’s good enough just to be aware of the perfectionist’s fear, just to take a breath and remember the wholeness. It’s good enough not to perfectly dismantle my inner perfectionist.
As Canadian poet Leonard Cohen wrote:
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.