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Recently I offered several workshops focusing on self-compassion. I began each one by saying, “This weekend is a project in non-self-improvement.”

This statement was often followed by laughter and then a slow realization that gradually revealed a premise that nearly every one of us carries: We must always be improving, forever trying to make ourselves better, thinner, more spiritual; in a word, perfect.

For many of us, it is our primary motivating concern. Hidden under this pressure is a belief that says, “Unless I improve, make myself better, bordering on perfect, I will continue to live outside the circle of welcome and approval.”

This anxiety haunts many of us. We spend a lifetime trying to get it right. We become obsessed with growth and progress, trying to muscle our way into acceptability. This leaves little room for those parts of us that do not fit the image we are trying to show the world. The weak, needy, inadequate, fearful and sorrowful parts are often abandoned, discarded and left in the shadows.

Without them, however, we lose something essential to our aliveness. These pieces bring us down into the territory of soul where brooding emotions, deep longing, an insatiable desire for beauty, startling images from the dreamtime and the wild energies of duende darken us into creatures of the earth. Without our descent into this terrain of psyche, we remain caught in a one-dimensional life, lacking the richness and textures that are found in this sacred ground.

Our deepest work isn’t about improvement or making ourselves better. Our work is to cultivate a vital relationship with life; to open our arms wide and become permeable to the rhythms and wildness that surrounds us and arises within us. This act of self-compassion makes us a circle of inclusion. By welcoming all of who we are, the strengths and wounds, the beauty and sorrows, we step into a wider appreciation of life and a greater capacity for participation: We come more fully alive.

We didn’t come here to be perfect. Perfectionism is oppressive, stifling our every breath. We came to encounter the entire wild tapestry of life. The great stories of all cultures tell us we are actually shaggy bears of desire, cavorting wolverines of soul digging in the soil, turning over stones looking for a taste of the sacred. And they are there every day; little morsels of the divine arriving in the touch of a friend, the blazing maples of autumn, times of shared vulnerability, and those delicious times celebrating the gifts we receive in our daily lives.

Life is rambunctious and difficult. Rather than spend our lifetime trying to get it right, our souls want to feel the entire range of life that we are designed to know. By welcoming the holiness that dwells in the depths, we step into the widest arc of life and feel ourselves entering the thicket of longing, looking for a glimpse of the wild soul.

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Francis Weller is a psychotherapist, writer and soul activist. He is a master of synthesizing diverse streams of thought from psychology, anthropology, mythology, alchemy, indigenous cultures and poetic traditions. Author of Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World, he has introduced the healing work of ritual to thousands of people.

For over thirty years Francis has worked as a therapist and has developed a style of work he calls soul-centered psychotherapy. As a gifted therapist and teacher, he has been described as a jazz artist, improvising and moving fluidly in and out of deep emotional territories with groups and individuals, bringing imagination and attention to places often held with judgment and shame. His writings have appeared in anthologies and journals exploring the confluence between psyche, nature and culture. He is a frequent presenter and keynote speaker at conferences, bringing insight, poetry and a breath of humor to his talks.

Francis is currently on staff at Commonweal Cancer Help Program. He has taught at Sonoma State University, New College of California and the Sophia Center in Oakland. He is currently completing his second book, A Trail on the Ground: Tracking the Ways of the Indigenous Soul.

For more information, please visit

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Thank you, Francis, for this great reminder piece. I fear I am one of those who lives between striving to be enough and letting go of that as a goal and just embracing myself as I am…the great and the not so great, the joy and the deep grief I carry. Great reminder.

    1. Yes indeed, we are shaggy bears of desire, cavorting wolverines of soul digging in the soil, turning over stones looking for a taste of the sacred. Thank you for the inspirational piece, dear Francis. My body sighs with relief to know ALL is well with my soul.

  2. There is a lot of wisdom in these words. The more I allow myself to visit dark places–sadness, rage, anger, grief–the more alive I feel. Having a daily practice to contain these emotions–writing for me, but could be anything–has allowed me to feel more of the wide range of who I truly am. It’s as if there are these large parts of our psyches that we’ve abandoned as a culture. How much of the insanity that we witness in our society is due to this neglect? All praise for Francis for bringing these words to a wider audience.

    1. Wishing for us all to be perfection free in the new year. Thanks, Francis and much regard for your work. Miriam Raphael

  3. Oh, this really hits the spot…this is amazing imagery, and I can feel my soul just leap with joy at the thought that we didn’t come here to be perfect and I can lay down all the striving and shame about my imperfections! Would love to hear more on this subject, thank you so much Francis…Kim Wardwell

  4. Thank you so much Francis for this fantastic reminder! It was relieving and freeing just to read it. Your writing is inspirational.

  5. Thank you for this, Francis, and for always encouraging us to re-remember our selves and the our soulful vibrancy. I see around me how our current Western culture sets the stage for this ingrained “continuous improvement” approach to living – within individuals, groups, and organizations, all in the name of efficiency. And, it is enticing because it strikes a chord within our deepest yearnings, as you eloquently point out, for our need for approval, acceptance and belonging. There have been many times in my life that I am graciously reminded “you are good enough” – how deeply this always resonates! I believe slowing down, being with all our experiences, nurturing all aspects, light and shadow, in ourselves, will only allow us to then give compassion to others also. To feel connected to our own soul, allows us to connect with the soul of others – people, animals, and the earth. This is where belonging resides. Thank you again for creating spaces to engage in this soulful work.

  6. I read this piece a few times to myself before printing it and reading it aloud to my co-workers. With each reading, I felt my shoulders drop from their perch up near my ears, felt my belly soften and my heart open. All parts of us yearn for welcome and inclusion, and I felt as if the less acknowledged places and darker regions of my psyche received a poignant invitation as your words sunk in.
    So many of my clients wish that they could leave portions of their histories aside~that with enough strength and fortitude, if they just tried hard enough to recover, if they did it right, they could forge a new life, untainted by the residue of abuse and sexual assault . How beautifully you remind us of the wild holiness dwelling in the depths that is the fertile compost for new growth and soul given abundance.
    Thank you, Francis, for sharing your brilliance and inspiration. My soul always feels that it has received a precious gift and special blessing when I hear you speak or read your words.

    1. Thank you all for your thoughtful responses to my offering today. Learning to welcome all that is, without judgement, is an essential part of our living fully alive. We need to know that every part of us is worthy of compassion and inclusion. By doing so, we gradually discover that even those difficult encounters with grief, loss, failure and weakness, reveal something of the sacred nature of the soul.

  7. Francis’s words remind me that who I am is enough. The task at hand is to be aware of who I am, not to fix it, change it or improve it. When Francis writes “Our work is to cultivate a vital relationship with life”, I interpret that as a counter to the narcissitic view of looking inward at myself and my issues. Look out at the world, where can I help, who needs something that I can offer? Are the children safe? Do the salmon have spawnning grounds? Pay attention! What type of birds are migrating in the trees? Smell the rain, feel the wind, be part of the sacred! As Francis says “The main thing is to be alive, to welcome whatever comes and bring compassion and soulfulness into our every encounter”. Thanks Francis for encouraging us to accept who we are and to be fully alive.

  8. Beautiful words Francis. I could approach this ground from many stakes. My soulful son has autism. There is still a false myth that autism is a static disease that makes a person far less than one of us ‘perfect’ neurotypical human beings. In the Son-Rise Autism Acceptance/Recovery program our family practices we see our son as ‘perfect’ just the way he is, so wild in many ways. At the same time we accept his ‘otherness’ which is only so ‘other’ because modern consciousness is so ‘unwild,’ locked in conventional patterns, and afraid of depth of soul. Then we also set high goals for him, push him to achieve in the world like regular kids. It’s always a dance of the process and the goal for me, like a dancing math equation, when one side gets too heavy, the other side needs attention.

    In my work as an elementary special education teacher I see children constantly compared to ‘Standards’, as if there was a standard human being, or a standard scale for genius in any human endeavor. Kids are judged and given up on by teachers. These kids are looking to have their souls, the genius in them blessed, and the teachers are seeing them as failures. Then the adults think they are exercising their finer faculties of discriminating intelligence as they form a fixed belief of a child as incapable of learning in the ‘standard’ way. What’s really going on is the eyes of the soul are asleep. Praise to the teachers who wake up from this dream and drink in all the wild beauty each child, each pupil shows up with.

    In my personal life I often try to fly away or above my imperfections, my wounds. I work awfully hard to shine bright enough to be liked, to accept myself. I see it as paradox too because I think there is great value in striving for excellence in an endeavor you love, such as running and writing for myself. Then I don’t want to lose my soul in becoming a compulsive human doing. I love those deep moments of realization when everything, the dizzying joy and accompishments and the crushing failures, by grace are woven into a single tapestry, and then as William Stafford would say, a breath without pain touches and inspires all that we are.

    Thank you Francis for this space for the soul to find community.

    Brian McSweeney

  9. Thank you, Francis, for this reminder. Embracing this way of being in the world, this relationship to the divinity of Life, is so fundamental. And the fact that I have varying degrees of “success” in this simply needs its own gentle acceptance. When it is so, how sweet: I cry as readily as I laugh, my body and mind relax, buds bloom all around me, the children are fed,

  10. Thank you Francis for these words that talk to the dark places of the soul.
    All those places of fear & self unworthiness that ask to be welcomed home – that ask to be forgiven – that ask for self kindness & compassion, and ask to be felt in the deepest places.
    But not an easy journey. There are parts of me that wants to run way from all these
    challenging places. But they are there each day, and often each night.
    So all I can do is take another deep breath.

  11. You hit the nail on the head once again Frances. This speaks directly and specifically to what has been churning inside of me these days exactly. You put keenly to words that which is a somewhat amorphous sense for me. Thank you and blessings,
    Shawn Gutshall

  12. one of the most amazing posts i ever read. thank you for sharing your wisdom! will print it out to keep it as a reminder what is life all about

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