Daniel Parmeggiani shares how his neurosis for perfection led him to discover his true innocent nature.
They say that it is darkest before dawn. I don’t know if that’s a factual statement or just an illusion caused by tired, sleepy morning eyes, but this cliché well describes my personal spiritual path. Just when my life seemed completely doomed, a miracle happened: I awakened to my absolute innocence, and in it, I discovered the key to self-forgiveness and self-love.
A series of traumatic events during my childhood created deep guilt and self-doubt, crippling social phobia, and a growing sense that there was something terribly wrong with me. For years, I endured constant taunting and bullying in school, and all the while I kept it all to myself, ashamed of what I had become.
Then the OCD kicked in.
In an attempt to cope, my mind subconsciously came up with two twisted beliefs that would lead me down a hopeless path of self-destruction. The first belief was, “I have to be perfect.” The second, “It is always my fault when I am not perfect.”
My young mind had unquestioningly concluded that perfection was always required and that there was never a valid excuse to be anything but flawless. It was an ideal recipe for a life of constant failure, paralyzing fear, and inescapable guilt.
Slowly but surely, I began obsessing about any mistake I would make. Early in this development, I demanded perfection of myself in only a few activities, such as sports and schoolwork. Eventually, however, I was cracking the whip at myself every minute for every single thing I did.
Before I knew it, my OCD had seized complete control over my mind. Whether it was playing sports, organizing my closet, or brushing my teeth, the frightful demand for perfection was always present, turning every moment of my life into a tense and anxious inner battle.
Even everyday tasks like writing became painstakingly tortuous. The strokes of my pen demanded perfection, and so I inhibited the natural flow of my hand and consciously controlled the process of tracing each letter on the sheet. The result was, as you could imagine, anxious, ugly and almost illegible chicken scratch that only an M.D. could be proud of.
I was stuck in a perpetual struggle to reach the unreachable, and failure was not an option. Yet fail I did every time, and every time, the whip of my own guilt and condemnation would strike with all its might and force me to stand up and try again. I was supposed to be perfect and it was always my fault when I wasn’t. Maybe I was insane after all.
When I was 15, a psychologist tried to explain my disorder to me. This was the first time I had ever heard about perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the things he said rang true and I felt like somebody finally understood me. This breathed new life into me and renewed my sense of hope. However, there was a problem: He understood me, but I did not understand him.
My vision of the world was so ingrained in my identity that I was not willing to let it go—not unless I was perfectly convinced that it was safe to do so. Therefore, for the next two years, I obsessed day and night over everything that was discussed in therapy. I analyzed myself continuously, trying to untangle the Gordian knot inside my mind. I felt that I had to understand it all perfectly, or else I would be stuck forever. I required perfect arguments, perfect certainty, perfect proof! Otherwise, I was not capable of accepting any sort of change.
My perfectionism would prove to be much like a living entity that I could not defeat. This self-created monster had a fool-proof defense system because I would never be able to come up with a perfect case to overthrow it. I began to truly believe that there was no way out for me. Little did I know that something truly amazing was just about to happen.
My chase for the perfect answer would surely have led me to a mental institution had it not been for a miraculous turn of events. One especially dark day, I broke down. I sensed that there was no hope in what I was doing and I felt completely lost. The gut-wrenching guilt took over and tried to spur me back into the battle. But this time, I did not respond. My will was broken. I had finally given up.
For several hours, I sat quietly in a daze. Then suddenly, out of sheer desperation, I began to pray. “God, tell me what I must do to find my way out of this hell.” At first a sobbing whisper, my pleading gradually gained strength. “I would do anything, anything! Just please tell me what I need to do!” Next came anger: Deep red, boiling anger. My words became furious demands for answers. I screamed at the top of my lungs, rebelling against my rotten life, my ignorant parents, my unfair world, my uncaring God. “It’s not my fault! It’s not my fault! IT IS NOT MY FAULT!”
I rebelled against my guilt.
To this day, I do not know how or why it happened. Maybe a higher energy or consciousness intervened, or maybe it was just me finally reaching absolute rock bottom. All I know is that the relief I felt was so great that I could not stop laughing and crying.
The outpouring of bottled up emotion went on for at least an hour, after which a state of serenity and lightness unlike any I’d ever before felt took over my whole being. Suddenly disconnected from the terrible demands of my inner judge, I felt great joy from just lying there in my room staring at the ceiling. I stayed there, feeling no need to get up to accomplish or fix anything, unworried that I was wasting time, and not concerned about what was imperfect in my life.
With surprising ease, I realized that I had been right to forgive myself—and I knew exactly why.
From my new perspective, I could see that it wasn’t my fault that I was stuck in my misery. I could see that all I ever wanted was to get better—to feel better. I could see that happiness was my only goal, and that only ignorance was keeping me from reaching that goal. Had I known with complete certainty what I needed to do to find lasting relief, I would already be doing it, regardless of the sacrifice involved. If ending my suffering required eating broken glass, I would have smashed a window and asked for seconds.
For the next few days, I obsessed about what had happened, until a strange but satisfying thought surfaced in my mind: I am always doing the best I can to get closer to happiness
As it turned out, that simple phrase launched an incredible journey of spiritual self-discovery. I realized that we all share the same ultimate goal, the same single underlying motivation for everything we do, and this guarantees that we are incapable of being anything but innocent. Awareness of my true innocent nature became for me the key to true forgiveness, non-judgment, and unconditional love. As my perception shifted from the darkest black of night to the bright light of dawn, the door to true, lasting happiness opened up before me. Life forced me to know myself at the deepest level, and I found that we are already perfect just the way we are.