03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why Seeking To Be Perfect Never Works

"We need not seek to be perfect, but instead find that within us that is perfection." -- Stephen Levine

I see it all over the Internet. All the promises of perfection: buy this shirt to have the perfect look, do this exercise to have the perfect body, consume this drink to have the perfect amount of energy. Everywhere we look, perfection is offered to us.

While I have nothing against cool clothes, exercise, and health drinks, let's get one thing straight: perfection is something that exists inside us, never from the outside. In fact, it is the seeking of perfection, particularly in how we look, that is the cause of such misery and self-hatred, particularly for young girls.

This equally plays out in relationships. We often seek the perfect partner who we believe will at last complete us, but it never works out. It is yet one more way we seek perfection externally. It reminds me of the following story.

There was an old man named Jacob who had never married. One day his friend came by for a visit and asked, "Jacob, I've always wondered, why did you never get married? You seem like a good man. Didn't you ever try to find a wife?"

Jacob looked off into the distance as if trying to remember a time long ago. "Actually, when I was young I was determined to find the perfect mate. I wanted her to be smart, funny, nice, good-looking, a good cook, like the same bands as I did and many other things. I had a list a page long. I first looked for her in San Francisco where I met a really nice woman."

"What happened. Did you marry her?"

"No, she was almost perfect, but she was not very smart and I wanted to be with someone smart. So then I went to New York where again I met a wonderful woman. She was smart, but it turned out that she was just a little rude for my tastes. I wanted a nice woman."

"What did you do then?"

"Then I went to Paris because it was supposed to be the city of love. Again I met someone. She was nice, but she was not as attractive as I wanted." Jacob's eyes widened as he looked his friend in the eye. "But then I went to London, and, believe it or not, in London I found her. She was smart, attractive, nice, liked the same bands. She was everything on my list of a perfect woman. I couldn't believe it."

"What happened? If she was perfect, why didn't you marry her?"

"Alas. There was one small problem. She happened to be looking for the perfect man."

I know some very wealthy and successful people, who have everything materially a person could want, and while it is all nice, none of it provides real happiness. Besides, since everything changes, even if we do get our life just how we want it for awhile, it will not stay that way long.
One of my meditation teachers use to say, "forget permanent enlightenment, instead focus on 'enlightened moments'."

While most of our lives could not be called perfect, there is however a perfection of each moment, only accessible when we let go of our ideas of how life is supposed to be, and open to whatever conditions present themselves in this moment. Perfection is more something we notice than something we obtain.

The poet Rumi has a poem where he says, "I have lived on the lip of insanity. Wanting to know reasons. Knocking on a door, it opens. I have been knocking from the inside!"
Curiously, the best way to notice perfection may be to let go of all our ideas about it, and see that it exists inside the room of our mind and body, not outside.


Soren Gordhamer works with individuals and groups on living with greater mindfulness and purpose in our technology-rich age. He is the author of Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected (HarperOne, 2009) and the audio series Meditations for the Constantly Connected. Website: