I see ads for several on-line workshops all using the phrase “ideal life.” (As in, ‘Create Your Ideal Life’ and ‘Learn to Live Your Ideal Life.’) I wince, even as I consider what my “ideal life” might look like. I am disturbingly un-inspired, perhaps too aware (as a recovering perfectionist) that the ideal is often the enemy of the real, is what encourages us to pick at what is good until it lies in tatters.
A memory from twenty-five years ago arises: I am talking to my mother on the phone, telling her that I’ve been diagnosed by yet another doctor as having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. I’m thirty-three years old and have two small sons. I also have a broken leg (in a cast from knee to toe) and a fever from a case of pneumonia I just can’t shake. My mother tells me the CFS/ME diagnosis is “ridiculous.” She knows what’s wrong with me- I just don’t want to care for my home properly, have "always tried to get out of domestic chores.” She tells me to “get at it,” is clear that my house-keeping is "not good enough- not by a long shot!” (Later I wonder and consider that my mother may really believe that pushing me to clean my house will render me completely healthy and filled with vitality. Sadly, I've already tried the Housekeeper of The Year remedy and ended up in bed for weeks.)
And then it happens. For the first, last and only time my mother says, “Your house looks nice.”
I reply, “Thank you."
As I serve dinner I start laughing. My husband asks me what's funny. I just shake my head. I cannot explain. I have spent a week of my life, (although more accurately, years) exhausted myself and plagued my husband for, “Your house is nice." Seeing how crazy and silly this is, the inner door to freedom opens a crack.
And this small insight brings a great gift: compassion arises effortlessly when I am with friends or clients who are mercilessly driving themselves to attain someone else's standards in the hope of being seen, acknowledged and loved. I understand how we sometimes get hooked by values we don't share. I feel no judgement about not being able to instantly break free. I tell them what we all know on some level, what I also need to hear and remember: we can't earn love; we are loveable and we belong by virtue of being.