What stands in my way of being the “perfect” Shemsu – of being the “perfect” priest – of being the “perfect” devotee?
Probably that p-word right there.
Since I was in middle school, I have been striving for an ideal of perfection that probably doesn’t exist. I have this persistent need to improve, to do more, to know more. It’s a hunger that gnaws at me when I am idle, pushing me. “Why aren’t you moving? Why aren’t you doing more?”
In some ways, this is a blessing. I have drive, I have determination. When I find a goal that I am truly invested in, I will stop at nothing until I get it. When I find a subject I am truly curious about, I will consume books and articles and summaries and websites like a starving person; I will have endless conversations, badgering everyone I love until their exasperation shows when they roll their eyes as I open my mouth. This is good.
The problem comes when I am faced with a goal that doesn’t have a concrete “finished product”. Devotion to the gods. Priesthood. Worship. I find myself straining to refine my practices further and further. I stress about candle positioning (should it be an inch to the left?) and about shrine cloths (should I use a thinner fabric?) and about incense (should I start using resin incense rather than stick?). I let my desire to do even better than the day before take over, instead of listening to the gods Themselves.
Inevitably, I find that when I let these things go, I am more connected. I living more gracefully – more full of the grace of the gods. When I stopped angsting about the candle and moved it, it was as though a door was unlocked. When I stopped worrying about the shrine cloth and went with my instincts, I had fewer almost-spills. When I tried to use resin incense, it was a horrible mess and not worth the effort – so I went back to sticks.
And as if to prove myself right, I got side-tracked while writing this post. I went and started hunting once again for the perfect stick incense – frankincense, with no wooden center, like Morning Star.
My advice to anyone else struggling with perfectionism in their spiritual practice is simply this: slow down and stay mindful. If I check in with myself about what I’m doing periodically, I find I can make a better judgement as to whether what I’m stressing about is really worth the anxiety. Once I’m able to sort out what really needs my attention and what I can ignore, then I find that comfortable – though never complacent – space in which I can move in harmony with the gods in my life.