by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.
Years ago my wife and I spent a month in Tibet. We traveled to a sacred mountain called Mt. Kailash in the far western part of the country. It was remarkable being in the thin air and the barren landscape of the high Tibetan plateau. The natural beauty of the Himalayan mountains was breathtaking: bright colors adorned the temples, the people, and even the yaks as they plowed the fields. It was all so foreign that it was almost as if we had been transported to an entirely different world. With all of these unusual sights and experiences, the thing that stood out the most to us was the grace and apparent comfort of the Tibetan people. When I say comfort I don’t mean that they lived comfortable lives–rather, they were comfortable in who they were. With no mirrors or Facebook accounts, people didn’t fixate on how they looked. The lack of dentistry meant most people past a certain age were noticeably missing teeth, and people were wrinkled and weathered by the elements. With the constant wind and yak dung fires that provided warmth, along with the lack of showers, most people were covered with dust and smelled of smoke. Despite all of this, the people were so kind and welcoming. They really were comfortable in their own skin.
When I contrast this with so many Americans that I know, it amazes me how different our cultures are. Though our culture is so abundant, so many of us are preoccupied with a sort of perfection that was absent in Tibet. As we have become wealthier as a nation, we are becoming increasingly fixated on image and appearance. Social media feeds show us a never-ending procession of perfect bodies, meals, and vacations. They encourage us to compare our insides with everyone else’s outsides. So many people get caught up in how to craft and maintain an image that is bigger than life. We pursue a certain look, a perfectly manicured lawn, or a shiny car, but it doesn’t bring us more happiness. It doesn’t improve our quality of life. In fact, rates of anxiety and depression are increasing at an alarming rate, as are the use of the medications that treat them. People are also spending more money in an effort to “keep up with the Jones’s.” We are chasing a state of perfection that doesn’t exist, and we are making ourselves sick doing it. While adults are struggling, kids are having an even harder time. Without the reference point of a childhood before the constant messages of social media, children and young adults have been taught to believe that image is the most important thing. How you look, how appealing the package is what gets you the most “likes.” It’s like those Hollywood facades that they used in the old western movies: The front is put together, but there is nothing inside the saloon.
So what is the solution? As a society we need to reevaluate our priorities. This involves finding ways to encourage substance over packaging. People who don’t know any better are fooled by the package and the bling. Reality stars whose claims to fame are how good of a shopper they are or how they apply their makeup, need to be turned off. People who teach of patience and presence need to reclaim a place in our daily lives. This involves turning off the phone or the computer once in awhile, and tuning into things that teach peace of mind. For some, this is a good church that preaches the real gospel of love and service. Others find it in a yoga, meditation class or a good self help book. Wherever you find it, peace comes with the realization that none of us are perfect. We each get to acknowledge our human flaws: each wrinkle, pimple or bad mood. We get to see ourselves as a true reflection of the divine, living in an imperfect body and mind. The work involves witnessing each of our imperfections and finding a way to embrace them and using them to catalyze growth. When we remember that life never was and never will be perfect, we get to put our energy into acceptance and growth. In Tibet crooked teeth aren’t crooked, they’re just teeth.