It Ain't Tosh, it's Santosh

I know I’m bombarding you with posts at the moment but the brain is very fertile right now and who am I to resist? So as a companion piece or riposte, if you will, to the last post here is a tried-and-tested method of dealing with perfectionism, called Santosh.

It’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘contentment’ (the very sound of it is comforting, and that’s no coincidence, as I’ll explain) but not the lying-on-the-sofa-watching-TV kind of contentment, if indeed that is contentment at all. No, it’s the contentment that consists in being satisfied with what you’ve achieved, no matter where you might end up. To paraphrase Kipling, it’s meeting with triumph and disaster and treating those two impostors just the same (Kipling was born in India and was very influenced by ‘Eastern’ thought.) Anyway, leaving Kipling on one side for a moment, contentment or santosh is the practice of being content in the moment with what one has achieved. It does not imply self-satisfaction, nor does it prevent future progress; in fact I would suggest that without santosh there is no real progress.

Consider the case of someone (I know wherof I speak) who is overweight and desires to be slim. Their life may be dominated by self-disgust and thoughts of how they would like to look. But far from being a spur to achievement this is an obstacle because acceptance is lacking. Unless you can accept where you are – however briefly – you can’t move on: it’s like trying to find your way somewhere by putting the wrong postcode into your satnav.

Sanskrit is an ancient and astonishing language, and one in which sound and sense work closely together. This can be seen more clearly in the practice of mantra where a word or phrase has a meaning, a sound and an appearance, each of which can be used for meditation.

T-t-t-t-t-that’s all folks!

I miss seeing cartoons on telly.

Kirk out

Perfectionist? Is That the Word?

It’s a forlorn hope but I’ve been trying for years to get together a series of short and snappy jokes, along the lines of ‘Pedantic? I?’ So far I have:

Pedantic? I?

Pretentious? Moi?

Wordy? I myself personally?

Ungrammatical? Me?

Avoidant? Them?

Defensive? You?

and finally, Perfectionist? I? Is that right?

And now I’ve ground to a halt. I suspect it’s a very niche market. But let us reflect on the last of these traits, namely perfectionism. Handmaiden to competition and midwife of depression, perfectionism is the enemy of every achievement. It’s Scylla to the Charybdis of apathy, it paralyses the will and disables excitement. It subtracts joy and replaces it with endless, grinding labour.

As I’ve said before going away tricks one’s demons into leaving you alone for a while. They take a few days to wake up and realise that you’re gone, but as soon as they do they stand up, shade their eyes and peer at the horizon to discover you. ‘There she is, lads!’ they cry, and they set off to overtake you with bags packed full of misery. Sometimes if you leave before they get there you can trick them by coming home by another route (like Mary and Joseph avoiding Herod) but before too long they’ll spy you out and come home again. ‘There you are!’ they cry, sounding like a solicitous but abusive father. ‘Now don’t run off like that without telling us, you naughty woman.’

I managed to evade this noxious tribe in Scotland but now that I’ve been home a few days they’ve spied me out and the first to settle on my shoulders is that old albatross, perfectionism. We know each other of old, her and me (is that right? should it be ‘she and I’? Yes, it should.) OK – we know each other of old, she and I, and she settles quite comfortably into the niche she’s made for herself on my right shoulder where, like a pirate’s parrot she monotonously repeats her few phrases. ‘Is that right? You got that wrong!’ and of course, her all-time favourite, ‘That’s rubbish! Do it again!’ Oh, when will I be free of this demon?

Answers on a postcard please. And they’d better be good ones…

Kirk out