Perfect Imperfections

Have you ever caught yourself sitting around thinking that if you were “just” a bit different when it comes to this or that, you would be so much more desirable, wealthy, or good looking? Such conversations can seem so believable while actually being so destructive. What would your life be like if you appreciated your imperfections as the signature of your soul?

On a recent afternoon I went to a pottery shop outside of Tokyo, and happened to meet the potter who had stopped in to check on her staff.

After looking around the shop I invited the owner over and we chatted. The first thing she talked about was how a potter never knew what was going to wind up coming out of the kiln. Each kiln opening she said, was somewhat like Christmas morning. Sometimes you got many wonderful gifts, and sometimes you wound up with coal in your stocking. Like when most of the pieces explode in the kiln due to severe changes in atmospheric weather conditions. It is the serendipity she said, that makes the work so magical. “It helps you to stay humble, and you learn to surrender to and accept the unknown,” she said.

Next, she talked to me about design and functionality. Topics important to most all potters. “No sense in having a good looking piece that is awkward to use, and no sense having a boring looking piece that is highly functional.” she said.

Since I was definitely going to buy something, I picked out six pieces to choose from, set them on the counter, and asked the lady to tell me a bit about each piece.

“Let me share with you how I recognize the hoped for imperfections in my work,” she said, “By talking about three of the pieces you have interest in.”

“Notice with this first piece how the glaze is not of consistent thickness over the inside surface. I tried the best I could to smooth out the glaze,” she said, “But this is a very tough glaze to work with.”

“Nonetheless, for me, it is the inconsistency of the glaze that makes this piece so interesting.” she said. “It is the inconsistency that makes for the range of color that the glaze exhibits in this piece.”

“With this next piece you notice that the bowl is not fully round in shape. I am a small woman, and this is a large piece for me to throw on the wheel. In fact it is the biggest piece I am currently able to throw. I love making some this size, because these bowls really test my limits. There is a certain tension present when the shape goes out of being fully round, and this is what draws me to this piece.”

“Finally” she said, “With this third piece you will notice that the price is considerably less than the other pieces.”

“It is a good piece of work,” she said, “but I feel it is a bit ‘too good’ and thus looks like it could have been machine made. That is why the price is considerably cheaper.”

“The shape is perfectly round, and the glaze flows evenly over the entire pot, and thus the piece does not have a sense of uniqueness. I have stopped making this shape and size because I know how to make them all too well. When they come out this perfect I feel like the soul of the pots get left in the kiln.

She bowed ever so much, and said “Would you like some tea? I have some locally grown strawberries, and it is always best to eat them at this time of year, with a warm cup of tea.”

Whether you consider yourself to be “perfect” or not, is an important topic for most anyone that would like to live a happy life. It seems to me that many if not most people, feel they are somehow lacking or imperfect. Because of their belief, they spend a lot of money, a lot of time, and a lot of anxiety, trying to achieve a goal that moves further away with every accomplishment.

For instance, you lose quite a lot of weight and now you feel that the skin on your face seems to be hanging in a strange way. Or you finally get enough money to buy a new wardrobe, only to find that the fashion for the upcoming season is radically different than what you just bought at a discount. I have a young friend who got his hair cut short for a job interview as an in-store male model, only to find his potential boss sitting there with his hair in a pony tail.

Is it really that life is unfair, or is the problem simply that we are often chasing an image of ourselves that is somehow not all that real or realistic?! Do you try to make it appear like you have no flaws? Or do you relish how such flaws add to your uniqueness? I find in my own life, it is so important to go beyond the oppositional thinking of right or wrong, good or bad, and in the process, accept, and fall in love with, who I really am.

For example:
I truly believe that I have a fair share of people friendly qualities, and yet I know that I still also can be harsh at times. I know that I can be entertaining and intriguing, and that does not stop me from also being boring at times. I am a little bit of everything, and not all of any one thing. I try to understand myself as both/and, rather than either/or. I try to understand myself from an aesthetic that comes from my own heart, and not from the advertisements I see on TV.

The more I stop trying to be perfect, the more I discover just how perfect I already am. Does this sound a bit egotistical? I am talking about the perfect imperfections that the potter sees in her pots. She strives to maintain the soul of what she is making, by insuring that her pots don’t become so perfect that they appear machine made.

I remember watching not too long ago, an interview with Robert Redford. The interviewer wondered out loud, since Redford was getting older, wouldn’t he want to have some cosmetic surgery. Redford looked a bit surprised by the question. He looked intently at the interviewer, and then said, “Cosmetic surgery? Oh my god no! I wouldn’t want to erase my soul from my face. I would rather like to think there is something about me that is somehow unique. I don’t want to look like who I used to be. I want to look like who I am. ”

How about you? Any chance that you are sometimes trying to cover up your perfection, in an attempt to appear perfect?

There is nothing more special than simply being yourself.

And realizing that any subtraction OR addition,

Would simply take away from who you really are.

Your soul has a signature.

Don’t erase it and replace it with someone else’s calligraphy.

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