Tastings: Perfectionism, Precision, and Intimacy

Preparing for Shiva Lingam Puja
November 23, 2021

Shambhavi riffs on precision as an aspect of kindness and care and how contriving intimacy doesn’t resolve the problem of our loneliness. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi


I would like for you to talk about precision versus perfectionism.

So perfectionism—anything that has an ism on it is a fixation or conceptual way of being. So perfectionism is about reassuring oneself that you are not making a mistake and that you will not be yelled at or disparaged in any way. It's an attempt to ward off criticism through being perfect.

But of course, what your idea of perfect is is extremely relative and temporary. And of course, it's a state of anxiety. It's a state of anxiety about one's value [and] a state of anxiety about being attacked.

Many people actually have been attacked, so one possible response to being attacked is to try to—if you're heavily criticized, is to try to be perfect in whatever you're being criticized about. That's one kind of response, and that, of course, leads to some kind of perfectionism.

And then precision really comes— if we're talking about natural precision that doesn't have any anxiety around it at all—natural precision comes from love of what one is doing, respect for the people that taught it to you, respect for the craft or the tradition of whatever it is that you're doing.

Being precise comes from a feeling that you want other people to have the best experience.

So if we're being precise with our language, or being precise with our cooking, or we're being precise with how we make something, or being precise with how we set up a room for teachings, all of those forms of precision or being precise when we're offering a service to somebody, this all comes out of other focus, not self focus.

So precision is a natural outflow that doesn't really require—it requires effort, but it's not tiring effort. Most people think, well, if I have to be really precise, it's going to be exhausting. But if it comes from the heart, if precision comes from the heart and it's just an aspect of kindness and love and respect, then it really is not the kind of effort that is exhausting.

It just comes out through a natural desire for other people to have the best experience. That includes, for instance, for me, my respect for my teachers and the traditions that I've studied, and I try to convey them as precisely as possible and as honestly as possible.

So that comes from wanting you all to have an experience that I've had to benefit. That's why I'm not sloppier, or not taking the time to do things in a precise way.

So perfectionism is self focused and, in the best possible circumstance, precision is other focus, and it's an aspect of kindness and care.

I do try to have a bhava of hosting, even if it's for myself. I think of hosting myself in my own house. And today my house is in disarray, and I'm just like, I just want to rest. And I feel like I'm doing something wrong by resting when it's like this. And I know that that's perfectionism.

How do I just let it be all right? Because I feel like in order to get it precise in order to live life in a precise way, I'll never stop moving. I'll never stop doing. And you know, I'm exhausted.

Yeah, I think it's okay to take a night off. You don't have to have everything be perfect before you go to bed. And every now and then, you can just leave things until the next day. And that's not a disaster.

And maybe you could also enlist some friends who are living with other people to maybe come over and help you every now and then. It is hard to keep a space all by yourself. That is a lot of work, and it's a lot of repetition, no doubt about it.

So maybe be a little creative and having people over and ask them to help you to do a deep, clean and cook them dinner or something like that, every now and then. And don't be worried about leaving things overnight, every now and then. Leave things ‘till the next day. It's okay.

It's funny that I just need to hear you say that.


I've been noticing something about how I use my attention and that a lot of my energy is in my head, obviously, kind of brooding energy. And I just sort of stopped and started asking, what do I want to pay attention to?

Where did you find you wanted your attention to go or didn't want it to go?

It went to a lot of just very basic sensory stuff, like I went to the rose garden and just sat there and watched people and it's like there was nothing I was trying to accomplish and that felt really different and kind of expansive.

I think one of the things that we forget—and the definition of not being more awake is forgetting. And I think one of the basic ways that we forget or forms of forgetting is that we think we will find a remedy for our loneliness and remaining connected to things through worry.

So a lot of our attention, or people's attention, can go to worrying about relationships, worrying about someone's condition, worrying about a particular circumstance that involves other people, worrying about something that happened or didn't happen, worrying about what will happen. All of this usually involves other people.

So while we're worrying, we feel some sense of connection, and that, especially now when people are feeling such a difficulty connecting often, that this constant ruminating on other people in our relationships and circumstances is taking up a lot of space.

But this is not where we actually find connection.

We find connection in the rose garden. We find connection by getting in touch with that living presence that's everywhere. We find connection by actually connecting with people, not just in our heads worrying about things.

The other thing that worry does is it gives us a sense of meaning. Something is important that we're worrying about. I must get to this point with this person, or I must solve this problem with the person, or I must rectify something, or I must get something.

The sense of mission that we generate completely internally. We generate the sense of mission in our relations with other people, or lack thereof. And that also takes up a lot of space.

And all of those things sort of do a very poor and intermittent job of protecting us from the feeling of loneliness. The only way that we can escape that feeling of loneliness is by really blanking out on the world, in a sense.

We get so deeply into whatever we're thinking about that literally 90% of the rest of the world goes away. And then we were in a state of insensibility, brought on by our own thinking and worrying. We lose touch with that loneliness.

But in the process, we lose touch with everything.

So it really doesn't solve anything at all. And the only thing we can do is allow ourselves to feel our real circumstance. And then through that, we could get in touch with living presence and other people.

What happens when we let ourselves actually just feel the condition we're in? For many people that's loneliness or fear or whatever it is—is that it moves us toward greater intimacy with people and more vulnerability, more openness. And then, either temporarily or permanently, our condition of feeling separate is going to end.

So let's say that we're in the state of semi- or near total insensibility, and we meet another person, like we go out with somebody or somebody comes over, or we find the love partner we've been looking for, or something happens. Still, in that state, we aren't actually establishing a very deep intimacy.

We're just kind of going through some motions and some habitual ways of being. Or there's so many different forms of insensibility that look like we're living, but we're not actually living. The catalog would be infinite of how this shows up, right?

Because we're still running away from how we actually feel. And until we are showing up as ourselves, we can't actually be intimate with anyone. And that often means letting ourselves feel and be seen in pain.

But when we give up or we try to run away from our pain, we also run away from our joy, and we run away from intimacy. We run away from the whole thing.

You can't just run away from pain. It doesn't work that way. It's all connected.

So sitting in a rose garden and not having any expectations of anything and not working a problem, you feel more intimacy, you feel more connection, and that's really where it's at. Like, how can we feel real connection instead of this manufactured connection where we're not really showing up? We're not really there. We're, like 70%, not there.

I've often talked about how in my younger years, but not a short amount of time, you know most of my life, I just felt really horrible loneliness, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because we all feel separate until we don't. We all feel separate until we make that connection with life.

One of the blessings is that I just let it happen. I didn't try to fix it, and at times it was like minute by minute excruciating. But I think in the end it really served me to just let it happen and to not be in relationships that didn't speak to me in some way, in a nourishing way to not have, like, filler relationships.

And also, as I got older and started practicing, recognizing how much of any kind of performance of personality was getting in the way of intimacy, even if it was a happy performance.

I had an experience recently on an online community that I'm part of where somebody said something and it was very funny. She didn't mean it to be funny, but it could be interpreted as funny, and I just got into one of my happy hijinks moods and responded in a very high handed hijink-y jokey way, and I realized that it actually really hurt her and was off putting.

But I was having fun, but I didn't notice the bigger context for things. So I apologized, but even if we're doing what we do, that's just sort of our personality, it can cut us off from really feeling for others and really being connected to what the bigger situation is.

In the end, we have to stop all performance—performance of feeling better than we do, or a performance of feeling confident and happy or whatever. We have to stop all of it and just feel what we feel, and that's really the answer to that.

What should you put your attention to? The answer is you should put your attention to actually being connected with what is, whatever that might be.

Whether it's a rose garden or a walk with your teacher to the supermarket, whatever it is, as long as you're lost in some other attempt to be intimate, then you're not going to be. It's going to be disappointing every single time. You're going to feel emptier and lonelier.

You don't have to be anything other than what you are.

It's hard to connect with people when they're doing that, unless they're doing it with other people who do the same thing. And then it's like two performances meeting each other and then bouncing off each other and leaving.

So it can entail being in tremendous pain at times, especially if you're living alone and it's the pandemic, or if you're just lonely anyway. Everyone's lonely until we make that connection with living presence to some degree or another.

But of course, having actual friends, that one feels intimate with is very nourishing. But how can we feel actually intimate when we're pretending all the time? So be in the rose garden all the time, whatever is happening and whoever you're with.

It's a tall order, but nothing will be resolved until you do that.

Sometimes I have to say to students, after saying the same thing over and over again, for years and years and years, you're just not going to be able to keep doing things the way you've been doing them. You have to take it really to heart that this is what reality is like.

And you're not going to be able to keep going on like this. It doesn't work. It just doesn't work. I don't know why, as they say, why keep doing the same thing that doesn't work, and keep expecting a different result.

All the ways we try to connect with each other that are kind of contrived. And then we go home feeling like [uughh] something's missing, something's wrong. But we spend our whole lives wrapped up in some worry about something, and then we wonder why we're lonely and depleted.

Why do we keep doing that same thing that never works? I don't know how to impress this on people, but it's never going to work, and you're not going to get away with it. If you do intimacy in a contrived way, better and better and better, it's never going to work.


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.