Releasing the need for perfection

Do you pride yourself on perfection? Are you the perfect mom or dad? Perfect son or daughter? Perfect employee? Do you pressure yourself to always say and do the right thing? Always cook the perfect meal? Or maybe you find perfection in your workout program? Or keeping a pristine diet? Or maybe you drag yourself to work when you’re sick and you know you should be home in bed?

If you are steeped in this kind of perfection, I will tell you you this. You are putting an awful lot of pressure on yourself in an already heavily pressured world.

The real story you’re telling yourself is this: “If I’m not perfect, then I’ve failed. And failing is bad.” In the worst of situations, that gets extrapolated into, “and that means I must be bad.”

This is a false story. And nothing good ever comes of it.

Brene Brown covers this idea in her talks and books on Shame. There is a vast difference between the words “I made a mistake” and “I am a mistake.” That last one happens when we identify with the importance of what we do over the importance of who we are. We need to check in with ourselves when we find perfection taking over. Perfection is a warning bell.

So, if you’re caught up in imperfection, where do you begin?

I tell people to start with you doing you, not what you think you need to be doing. Check in with your heart. Is it at peace? If not, why? Ask yourself where that peace lives. And then go find its address again.

How? Start with caring for yourself. Yes, you should take care of yourself. But when was the last time you really cared for yourself? Loved and nurtured yourself like you would a lover. All of yourself. Your body. Your mind. Your spirit. Your soul.

In the Enneagram, there are nine personality types. We hold all nine types, but we lead with one of the nine. Perfectionism is associated with Enneagram Type 1.  All Enneagram Type 1s fear being defective.  And all Enneagram Type 1s value integrity. Therefore, perfectionism where they live.

Don’t think you’re off the hook if you’re not an Enneagram Type 1. We all play the perfection card in some corner of our lives. It’s just a question of how many hours in the day we do it and how much it affects our relationships, including the one with ourselves.

You might think that in the world of craftsmanship perfectionism is a virtue. But historically, it’s not. Quilters will always put an imperfection into a quilt. Jewelers who craft original pieces will also always sneak in a minor imperfection.

They do this because they believe that only the Creator is perfect. It is their way of bowing their heads to the Divine and acknowledging their humanness before God.

I promise you, you are not imperfect if you don’t clean your house this weekend, or if you skip your workout, have a dish of pasta, and gain a pound this week. It’s okay if you didn’t completely get the grass stains out of junior’s baseball uniform. It’s okay to take a day off from work when you’re sick. You are allowed. You don’t need a permission slip. We were not put here to be perfect. We were put here to be real. We were put here to learn.

Mostly, we were put here to love. How about you start with yourself?

It’s summertime. Cut yourself some slack. Pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the sunset tonight. Or a cup of coffee and watch it rise tomorrow morning. Schedule some time off. Put down your phone. Shut off the television. Have a friend over. Laugh. Eat good food. Feel the sun on your back. Trust that your Creator’s got you. Trust that your Creator loves you that much that you can take a day off to breathe.

You’re not here to be superwoman. Or superman. Leave perfection to God. She’s way better at it than you can ever be anyway.

Blessings and peace on your journey,

Maria Grace Mandarino

(If you are interested in learning your Enneagram type and doing personal and spiritual work surrounding the Enneagram, call Maria Mandarino at 623.262.7222 or email her at spiritpointacu@gmail.com)

 

 

 

 

Being called into covenant

It is not my intent to use this blog as a political forum.  And while some might see this post as political, I see it as otherwise.  And I invite you to open your heart and feel the movement of the Spirit in you as you read this post.

Back in the early 1990s, I worked at a university hospital on Long Island with a young woman who was from Haiti. She had escaped the island with the clothes on her back during the coup. She grew up wealthy and privileged and was thrust into a life she knew nothing about in a new country, but was so grateful for what she had: her husband, her three year old son, her parents, her sister, the apartment in Queens they lived in, the car she drove, and the job she had. This was a woman who was raised in a mansion and had maids to make her bed and wash, iron, and put away her clothes. She had wanted for nothing.

We were both in our early thirties and we shared stories about our cultures often. One day she was speaking to me with her rich Haitian accent, and then suddenly I could not understand her words. When I asked her to repeat what she was saying, she began to laugh. She realized she had slipped into speaking Creole because she was so comfortable with me. She had an great laugh and a raucous sense of humor, a beautiful and kind heart, and she wanted the same things most young women want: a good and safe place to raise her child and the chance to work hard and own a home with her husband who worked long hours driving a cab. She never once complained that life was unfair in all the years I knew her. I marveled at that. She just resolutely moved forward and kept focused on what mattered: her family and making a better life for them.

We were both house hunting at the time and we’d compare notes on Monday mornings. One morning she asked me about Smithtown, a sleepy little town on Long Island’s north shore, where I was looking at homes. She asked me about the school district, the commute to work, about crime, and the size of backyards. Then she asked me a question that fractured that Spring morning. My wonderful friend with the hard life and the beautiful family and the amazing sense of humor asked me: “is it okay for black people to live there?”

This was the mid-90s, in a highly educated part of New York. And I would have loved nothing more than for my friend to be my next door neighbor.

Her question though presented a hard reality. Not everyone thought the way I thought.

She ended up buying a house in a different neighborhood, one that was more “blended” and where I believe she felt safer. I hate that she had to ask me that question. Because truth was I’m not sure how well-received she would have been in Smithtown, as much as I adored her.

I’ve thought of her and that conversation a lot these past few days given the racist things the current president has said about people from parts of the world where life is hard. I’ve thought about the headlines that have punctuated a truth my Haitian friend knew back in the 90s. A truth I didn’t want to accept then. And a truth I still can’t accept now. Sadly, I know a handful of people who have made excuses for the incomprehensible things we have heard these last few days. They have shaken me. Penetrating such ignorance seems insurmountable. And I am tired of going to bed and wishing I could wake up in another time and place where ignorance is obliterated and decency and goodness are the values that guide our days.

I also know this is not why the Creator put me on this planet. Most of us who are awake right now know we were not put here to have an easy life.

This morning I visited a church in a neighboring town for the first time. Sometimes God puts us in the pews exactly when we are supposed to be there.

The Sunday morning service also included the baptism of a little girl named Isabella. And as with all baptisms, the congregation was asked to renew their baptismal covenant. Before we did so, the pastor discussed the flexible nature of Episcopal theology. One person might view scripture one way. One might view it entirely differently. But if they can support their beliefs, generally we Episcopalians acknowledge that either one can be right. Typically, we are said to not arrive at decisions easily because of this flexible nature.

But the pastor spoke about the baptismal covenant and how the baptismal agreements are “non-negotiable.”  These agreements are foundational. There is no grey area in them. More than once he repeated the last one: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

The words filled that chapel. This question has been written on my soul. And in fact, the question is written on the souls of all of us who have receive the sacrament of Baptism. We know what is right. We know what our covenant with God requires. And yet we feel powerless in this world. And in my clinical practice, I am seeing the daily manifestation of this disempowerment. People are suffering spiritually. And their bodies are paying the consequences. So many, myself included, have been asking “Why?” Why me? Why here? Why now, God? We feel powerless. And our bodies cannot bear that burden. We have no operating manual for this.
Last week I spoke to someone who said the Why question is a disempowering question. She said she has restated her Why questions into What questions. What would you have me do, God?

When I was a kid and I’d ask my mother why I should or shouldn’t do something she had wanted me to do, her favorite reply was “Because Y is a crooked letter.” Why questions typically do not get definitive answers. But What questions do.  What time would you like me to put the roast in the oven when I get home from school? What can I do to help you out when you get home from work? We know what to do when we ask What questions. And doing something makes us feel like we have the ability to make a difference.


What
questions are action questions. What questions empower us.

And so I leave you (and myself) with these questions:

What will I do to strive for justice and peace among all people?

What will I do to respect the dignity of every human being?


God and the people of the world are waiting on all our answers.

Blessings and peace on your journey,
Maria Mandarino

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons on Love from a 20 Pound Dog

 

Just over fifteen years ago, Kira came into my life. I was in my last year of massage therapy school in New York, and just entering into what would become a long and difficult divorce. My ex-husband was allergic to dogs. And so my first declaration of independence was to get a puppy.

I had wanted to adopt a shelter dog, but when I applied to the shelter, I was told that adoptees who were getting divorced were not proven to be responsible pet owners and most dogs adopted by people in my position were eventually returned to the shelter.

I assured them I was not that person. I assured them this dog would have a wonderful life and be part of my family forever. I had a beautiful fenced yard. And I had references.

I was still denied.

I would not give in though, and with the help of friends, I made my way to a reputable breeder.  I visited his home and met the three puppies that were available. I was standing in the middle of the finished basement, holding a tiny and timid apricot cockerpoo, about to choose him as my new friend, when his larger buff colored sister gracelessly charged across the long room, crashed into my feet and gripped her paws around my right ankle. She would not let go.

The breeder said to me, “You might want this one, but that one wants you.”

And so I gently put the apricot pup down and picked up the buff colored pup. I fell in love with her boldness. She made me laugh. And for some reason, she seemed to have a great fascination with me.  She melted me.

I brought her home weeks later, after she was weaned. She howled like a beast into the night. As I tossed and turned, I marveled at how anything so tiny could make a sound so large. Within hours, she was sleeping in bed with me and settled right down. And that’s how it always went with Kira. When she dissented, you knew it.  And you learned to do it her way. And over the years, it’s worked out just fine.

She was headstrong.  We attended puppy kindergarten and failed miserably. The instructor told me the treat held no power over her because people intrigued her more than the reward.  What is a puppy parent to do, but embrace the uniqueness of their four legged child? We skipped the advanced training class. We’d figure it out on our own. And so we drove back home into the dark December night.

But Kira was quite smart. Brilliant, really.  So long as it was something she cared to learn. She understood commands in three languages. And then she took up learning hand commands. Within days she learned how to ring the bell I hung on the back door when she needed to go out.  She took to housebreaking like a champ. And she could howl out sounds that were clearly words to anyone who understood the soul of a dog. She loved to learn so long as the learning was fun. She loved to please. And she loved to hear me laugh. I didn’t have cable TV for nearly a year because Kira occupied my every leisure hour. Nothing on cable could compete with her. And on days when the drudgery of divorce litigation beat my spirit into the dirt, Kira was the reason I’d get up in the morning. Because if I didn’t take her out and feed her, no one else was going to. She gave me purpose. And confidence that if I could be responsible for the wellbeing of a 20 pound dog,  just maybe there was a chance I’d come out of this divorce okay too.

I can have something of a snarky sense of humor, and so when I would introduce Kira to people, I would tell them she was the four legged dog who replaced the two legged dog, but she was much smarter, more affectionate, and far more loyal.

But the truth was, despite my smart mouth, Kira came into my life to teach me about love.

As new relationships presented themselves, in hindsight, I realize now she was giving me her feedback on each of them. One would play with her and rile her up so she didn’t settle down to sleep for hours. Another would spoil her rotten and make it difficult to get her back to a routine for days.  At the time, I hadn’t realized she was trying to tell me they were lovely distractions, but none of them was “the one.”

Kira is fifteen now. Her body is frail and tired. But her spirit has been strong, despite her failing body. She has been in congestive heart failure for well over two years. Soon after that diagnosis, she lost her hearing.  In the past year, she’s lost almost half her weight. And she’s lost almost all her hair.  In recent months she developed a steady and hacking nighttime cough that is the telltale sign of fluids filling the lungs. But the hardest thing in recent days has been the dim look in her eyes from oxygen not reaching her brain. Even after she lost her hearing, we’d communicate through hand signals and she would demonstrate that she was still eager to learn. As hypoxia began to set in though, learning came harder. And it seemed to make her nervous. She seemed to know I wanted her to do certain things, but she couldn’t recall what they were. If I left the room, I would find her anxiously searching the house to find me. Her eyes took on a disturbingly vacant look this past Saturday morning. And I could see fear in her eyes for the first time. It killed me.
Anyone who knew Kira knew hands down that she was fearless.

When a dog comes into your life, they bring untold joy. But you know too that one day they will leave and they will rip your heart in two. And so when Kira came into my life, I knew the responsibility would one day fall to me to make that hard decision when she was having more bad days than good days. I have been watching her closely and waiting for her to tell me. In the last few days she has. This Thursday, on the eve of the new moon, which speaks to new beginnings, we will be visiting our holistic vet across town where Kira will begin her next journey and be freed of the body that limits her, along with the panic that consumes her. It is the heartache I must step into in exchange for all the love and caring she has given me over fifteen years.

Since early this year, I have had an awareness that Kira came into my life when love disappointed me. And that she was getting ready to say goodbye because she knew she had already taught me what to notice when it was time for a real and lasting love to enter my life. Here are some things I suspect she’d want me to remember when that love shows up:

  • Remember to always be yourself and find someone who thinks that’s an awesome idea.
  • Be bold. Be fearless. And don’t be shy about claiming the things you want in life.
  • Make sure you find someone who lights up your world and that you find them more interesting than the best treats.
  • Never quit learning, but remember to have fun while you’re doing it. (And never waste time learning silly useless things that you’re too smart for).
  • Find someone who is fun and interesting enough to make you not care if you own a TV.
  • Make sure he spoils you, but not so much that you become complacent. Remember to spoil him too.
  • Make sure you really like the sound of his laugh.
  • And make sure something about your crazy heart makes him laugh often.
  • Never get tired of seeing his smile.
  • Remember that being timid and easy going are overrated and the good stuff happens to people who know they deserve it.
  • Love him no matter what. And make sure he loves you no matter what.
  • Sometimes howling like a beast is a good idea when no one is listening to what you know you need.   
  • Be patient with each other when you grow old.
  • And when it’s time to say goodbye, know you have loved each other with all your heart and that that kind of love will never end.

Blessings and peace on your journey, my sweet Kira.  You have been an awesome girl. And an outstanding teacher. I love you!

©Maria Grace Mandarino

October 16, 2017

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Poetry Post: Prayer on a Full Moon

Over the past two years, I have been developing classes in contemplative writing. One of those classes focuses on prayerful writing according to the rhythm of the moon. Experiencing the cycle of life with the phases of the moon is something all ancient cultures did. And it is an art we have lost in the modern world. We have lost our connection to the God’s expression in the natural world. Living and creating with this rhythm has been a powerful process for me in my own inner work. And it’s something I look forward to sharing soon with my students. 

Here is one of my recent full moon prayer-poems. 

 

Prayer on a Full Moon

On this moon of completion

help us to release old things,

heavy things which have outlasted

their purpose,

attachments and expectations

that are burdensome,

ancient,

and senseless to keep carrying.

Lift the weight of chain mail,

and unbind the shackles

that keep us from love.

 

Bless us with courage

to shed old ways,

and with faith

to believe we are enough,

and don’t need to drag

outdated furnishings

into a new home,

a home where you have plans for us.

 

Give us the conviction

to walk into a new room

in a new way.

 

Copyright 2017

Maria Grace Mandarino

09.06.17

Turning the Corners

I have been asked to pray for a lot of people in this past week. People grieving loss. People dealing with serious illness. People facing paralyzing fears that come with major life transitions. People who are scared, overwhelmed, in pain, and fresh out of hope.

Then there have been names like Irma and Maria.

Places like Las Vegas.

How do you hold all of it? How do you pray for all of it?

As spiritual directors, we encourage our directees to seek out forms of prayer that call them into a more intimate relationship with God. Usually these are not the prayers found in a prayer book. Oftentimes we talk about body prayer. The labyrinth is one such form of body prayer.

This morning I attended a business networking function to promote my acupuncture practice. I don’t even think about the hat I wear as a Spiritual Director at these meetings.

And then a spirited woman sat across from me. We had a conversation about our respective professions. She complimented me on the Brigid’s cross that I wear. It opened a conversation and we talked about church, community, and serving others in need. She, like me, was an Episcopalian, and a former Roman Catholic. The odds of sitting across from this woman and having this conversation in this moment at a professional networking group were slim. And I suspected the movement of God was involved.

I am not a natural at networking events. I can do them. But I am an introvert. And after such extroverted activity, I find myself wanting to decompress, usually alone and in nature. But I had things to do at the office, and other appointments to get to later on.

On the way to my office though, I took a wrong turn. And I passed the Unity Church that is less than a quarter mile from my clinic. It houses a breathtaking labyrinth that I promised myself I’d visit once the triple digit summer temperatures dropped. I turned into the parking lot, expecting to spend maybe ten minutes there. The word “turn, ” by the way, is significant.

I spent a half hour there.

That half hour held the power of a weekend retreat. Alone, against the backdrop of an Autumn desert blue sky, with the warm sun on my back, I was in awe of the hummingbirds, butterflies, and honey bees at work all around me. I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth and thanked these creatures for allowing me to share this holy space with them. Desert flowers of orange, yellow, fuchsia and purple, framed in shades of sage green, framed the circular path. The sound of water from the large fountain behind me filled the space.

My heart was overwhelmed.

God was everywhere.

I began to walk. I usually walk a labyrinth at a medium pace. I like an even rhythm. On a walk. And in life.

The turns were hard today though. They seemed narrow. I was wearing a low heel. My balance felt off. The long spans were easy. But the turns threw it all off. I slowed my pace.

Slowing down was not enough though. I still bobbled at the turns.

I don’t like to bobble and I was uncomfortable.

On the next long pass, I knew I had to navigate the approaching turn differently. I stepped. And paused.

I waited longer. And I listened. To the sounds of the fountain, the honey bees, the birds. Even the train whistling in the distance.

In the Benedictine tradition that I am trained in, we are taught to listen with the Ear of the Heart. And so I listened in this way too. And I heard, “Step again. Then wait. Again.”

I did.

And then I pivoted slowly to continue in the other direction.

I did not bobble.

I stepped again, two feet landing side by side.  I paused again.

I still did not bobble.

And then slowly and mindfully, I continued on in this way.

 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. I like predictability. When I strike a pace, on the physical path, or the spiritual path, I like to keep that pace. I appreciate patterns and rhythms. They comfort me. And they have always been where I’ve found God. But nothing about these past weeks has been predictable. Or comforting.  And I’ve felt a little disconnected from God.

In moments like these, when the old ways no longer work, you can either keep walking as you always have, or you can seek a new way.

 

I have not been able to pray easily this week because of the monumental sorrow of so many people around me.  As I prayed for these people as I walked today, the labyrinth taught me a new way to be with sorrow, and how  to make space for hope and the movement of God in what might feel like hopeless and spiritually vacant times.

When I became an Episcopalian, the Bishop spoke of the importance of turning. Turning away from the things that were not in alignment with the flow of God. The questions beg:  what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward? How do we navigate those turns? How mindful are we in making those turns? How slow? How fast? How willing? How unwilling? How patient?

In my walk today and in the hours that followed, I thought about the Bishop’s words and how significant the idea of turning really is on the spiritual path.

We are living in new times. We are all figuring things out, day by day, and often hour by hour. If your usual ways of prayer feel limiting, try a form of body prayer. While moving and praying, listen. Listen with your feet. Listen with your legs. Listen with your lungs. Listen with your heart. Listen for the voice on the wind. Stand there as long as it takes. Take off your shoes. Wait a few seconds. Maybe a minute, or ten. Then wait a little longer still. Step again. Pivot, with your feet, with your mind, with your heart. God is working in all those movements, in the stepping, in the standing, in the turning.

 

Blessings and peace on your journey,
Maria Grace Mandarino

Sacred Space Spiritual Direction

www.MariaMandarino.com/spiritualdirection.html

 

Blog Post: The Mystery of Love


We are coming very close to the day when my best friend, Jim, dropped to the ground from a massive heart attack last year and was without oxygen for ten minutes . My body is remembering. I’m tense, a little anxious, wanting to see him, just to be sure he’s okay. It’s irrational. I know he is fine, back to work, taking care of his mom who now has dementia, and his awesome dog, Francesca. He’s sailed on Great South Bay. He drives again. He calls me and texts. He’s okay.

That day though, for a split second, I think my heart might have stopped with his. The shock caused my hair to fall out a month later. It’s amazing what sorrow can do.

But we got that miracle. God is good. She hears battle cry prayers and I sure prayed them. And then when I knew Jim was clinically too far gone to come back after nearly a week-long coma and a grim prognosis if he managed to live, I had a chat with him while sitting on my bedroom floor. And I told him I loved him and if he needed to that it was okay to go. And I cried.

Two hours later he came out of that coma and wiggled his toes on command. No one expected this. Doctors had no explanation.

Jim’s journey back to health took months. But by September he was back in the classroom teaching social studies.

Miracle Boy.

Last night I had this beautiful dream of him (the first dream ever, actually), painting the most magnificent landscape of Sedona. I was in awe and hugged him tightly and said, “Could you always paint?” And he said “no, this happened after my heart attack.” I asked, “No classes or lessons?” And he said, “Nope.” And kept painting, despite me not letting go of him and crying with pure joy.

So much in my life has changed since that bleak week. I’m pretty sure I’m not even the same woman. I love a lot more fiercely since almost losing Jim. I have a way deeper relationship with my Creator. Perhaps the most important people I’ve met in Colorado have walked into my life. I see how infinitely blessed I am. Life might never be Party Perfect. But there is always love, I tell you. There is always the mystery of love. Don’t ever take it for granted. Don’t ever underestimate it. And don’t ever miss an opportunity to share it.

Because to boil it down to its essence, my friends, God is love. Which means we should never, ever fear it.

Blessings and peace on your journey,

Maria Mandarino

Blog Post: Sense, Coffee, and Kindness

The phrase flew out of my mouth that morning: “Live your coffee.” My day (and truthfully much of my week) had been cloaked in struggle, the kind that is caused by the bad behavior of stressed out, suffering, self-involved, and mindless people. I know you’ve been there too. As the Chinese say, we are living in interesting times.

I am proposing a simple antidote:  sense, coffee, and kindness.

Let me explain….

 

Be sensible

According to Webster, sense is simply defined as conscious awareness. It’s easily implemented by anyone, whether you are eight or eighty. Be conscious. Be awake. Be aware of something outside yourself. And be aware of what is within yourself as well.  If you’re reading this blog, you are probably well on your way to some such practice of mindfulness.

But we all fall off the wagon. There will always be that person who presses your buttons and catapults you right out of your Zen. (Usually it’s someone who is close to you and has installed those buttons, by the way).

As my T’ai Chi instructor used to say to us every week in class, the practice of T’ai Chi requires constant correction.

So does the practice of sense.

 

Live your coffee

If you’re not conscious, if you’re not awake, if you’re not aware, well, then have a cup of coffee. Okay, so maybe not literally.  It’s a good metaphor though. Coffee sharpens the senses. It makes you more alert.  You know that saying, “wake up and smell the coffee?” Well, it has merit. At any given time we have the choice to pay attention or not, to be awake or stay asleep, to live our coffee or not.

What are you missing? Who are you not seeing who is suffering and needs to be seen? Might it be the crabby lady on line behind you at the Post Office? Might it be the crying child in the cart at the grocery store with the exhausted and short-tempered parent pushing the cart?

Might it even be you and your desperately neglected, abused, and weary spirit?

Pour yourself a cup of Joe. And ask yourself, ” To what and to whom may I be more present?”

Is God calling you into a deeper communion to be a vehicle of healing in this world?

Live your coffee and lean into that calling.

 

Be kind

Once you’ve taken the first two steps, I promise the third is a terrifically easy stretch. Robert Fulghum said it brilliantly in his book, Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work every day some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

A quick reminder:  Fulgham’s rules of kindness apply to you as much as they apply to the crabby lady behind you at the Post Office and the child in the grocery cart. The rule in my clinic is to put the oxygen mask on yourself before you go about the work of rescuing anyone else. It’s a helluva lot easier to smile at someone in need when that smile comes from the center of your soul. That kind of smile plays a lot better in the world too, by the way.

Be awake. Live your coffee. Be kind. The world needs you now more than ever.

Blessings on your path,

Maria Mandarino

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