Imperfection is in some sort essential to all that we know of life. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect… And in all things that live there are certain irregularities and deficiencies which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty.

John Ruskin

Welcome to Day One of Embrace Imperfection

The most recent restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece (1980-1999) caused great controversy not only in the art world but among those who had gazed upon its beauty in the pages of art books or, if lucky, in person. According to some, the restoration removed not only the stains from soot and dirt but also the intentional shadows and dark lines that contributed to making Michelangelo’s work so glorious. In an effort to “restore” the chapel’s ceiling to perfection, many believe it lost its magnificence. There are as many layers to this story as there were of wax, glue, and the city’s dirt on Michelangelo’s work, but it offers a simple and rather profound reminder that it is sometimes the imperfections we love the most. In and of themselves, they tell a story, add richness, and offer a kind of beauty that not only brings joy but even elevates the human spirit.

To get started, enjoy this delightful 90-second video of our founder Br. David Steindl-Rast laughing at his own imperfections. 

After you’ve watched the 2-minute video, consider the following:

  • When has imperfection evoked this kind of laughter for you?
  • Is there an imperfection in your life right now that would benefit from a little bit of levity?

Today’s Practice: Attune to Imperfection’s Gifts

For today’s practice, begin by reading this poem of praise by Francine Marie Tolf. As you read, take note of all the “imperfections” she praises in the opening of each stanza and the reasons she gives for her gratitude in the second part.

After reading the poem, take a few moments to reflect:

  • In what way does the poet find opportunity in the imperfections she names?
  • What role does gratefulness play in the poet’s ability to notice and appreciate the gifts of imperfection?

Once you’ve spent a little time with the poem, try this simple practice:

  • Set an intention to attune to imperfection today. Be on the lookout for imperfections that bring you joy, evoke laughter, open a door, or invite reflection.
  • In a notebook or using this printable guide, make a list of the imperfections that are calling for your praise — a beloved’s crooked smile, your favorite coffee mug with the chipped edge, the worn quilt you inherited, a story your family loves to retell to great laughter.
  • Either while creating your list or at the end of the day, take time to answer the following:
    • What gifts do these imperfections offer me?
    • How is my life enriched by them?
    • Which imperfections evoke my gratitude?
    • What changes for me when I praise the imperfections in my life rather than bemoan them?

Today’s Action to Embrace Imperfection: Choose one imperfection in your life right now that you can begin to embrace rather than trying to “restore” it in the way the Sistine Chapel was restored. Pay attention to any changes or shifts that emerge as a result.

Scroll to the bottom of the page (or click here) to find the Community Conversation space where we invite you to share your reflections.

Deepening Resource

Tara Brach Speaks about Relating Wisely with Imperfection

In the first three and a half minutes of this talk, Tara Brach reads a reflection from author and Zen Teacher Ed Brown about trying to make the perfect biscuit — a reminder of the ways we confuse uniformity with perfection. Enjoy these few minutes or the entire talk.

Research Highlight

Physicist Marcelo Gleiser reminds us that life as we know it is a result of imperfection, and his research has focused on the fundamental asymmetries in nature. He writes: “We have found that without asymmetries and imperfections the universe would contain only smooth radiation — nothing more. Stars, people, and everything else emerge from fundamental imperfections writ deep into nature’s code.”

Marcelo Gleiser is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College and was the 2019 recipient of the Templeton Prize

Hymn, with Birds and Cats by Francine Marie Tolf (From Rain, Lilies, Luck © 2010 North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minnesota) has been reprinted with kind permission of the author.

Photo by Hannah Grace