Throughout my years of practicing psychotherapy, I have seen individuals experiencing a wide range of psychological and emotional distress. One of the more difficult disorders I’ve come to understand is Obsessive-Compulsive disorder—-an eternal quest for perfection. However, I have not observed a disorder that could be considered it’s opposite, an eternal quest for imperfection.
Many of us believe that after our sojourn on earth (the material world), we push off to a place we call “heaven,” “the Elysian Fields,” “Nirvana,” etc. Hundreds of videos found on You Tube feature various people describing what they experienced during Near Death Experiences (NDE’s). Most of the accounts of the afterlife wax eloquent about the perfection and unimaginable beauty of everything experienced.
About ten years after the talkies began, in 1937, the brilliant film director, Frank Capra gifted the world with “Lost Horizon,” starring Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt. In the film a group of people find themselves in the snowy mountaintops of a foreign country after a plane crash. They are then led to a valley hidden deep within the mountains of the Himalayas, called “Shangri-La,” When the lead character, played by Ronald Coleman, first lays eyes on the beauty and perfection of Shangri-La, heavenly music begins to play. Much like those who have experienced NDE’s, it soon becomes apparent that in this place, every need and want will be met. In short, there is no strife, there are no vicissitudes or ups and downs of life that we generally experience in the material world. There is only perfection.
Of great interest however, is that several of the “rescued” individuals are unhappy with a life of perfection and are vocal about wanting to return to their old lives with its ups and downs. Who are these ingrates? Almost 66 years later, another outstanding director, Tim Burton, appears to have picked up the thread for the question about what can go wrong when an individual is circumscribed to living a life of perfection and what rewards a life of imperfection might hold.
In Burtons film, “Big Fish” (2003), the lead, Albert Finney, plays the role of Edward Bloom, a conflicted Father who is too self-focused to parent his son. The film focuses upon Edward, a man with a deep desire for adventure, illustrating his fantastical life. These adventures are filled with disappointment, frustration, happiness, joy, and all of the so-called vicissitudes of life on earth with its mixed bag of ups and downs. During his pivotal adventure, Edward took a short cut that led to a town named “Spectre,” where a man with a clip board greeted him and could not find him on his list of individuals who were due to arrive. Spectre is an idyllic place where every need is met. It is a place where one of the first things Edward receives is a perfect piece of apple pie—-who could ask for more? All of the inhabitants are always happy and content. It is another version of “Shangri-La,” a heaven-like place.
It is not long before Edward becomes discontent, another “ingrate” like those in Shangri-La, that miss the ups and downs of their previous lives. As both Big Fish and Lost Horizon depict, there are penalties for leaving the idyllic, perfect life. In Lost Horizon, those who try to escape cannot survive the outer, temporal world and quickly grow old and die before they get away. Heaven, Shangri-La, and Spectre all seem to be places out of time, unlike the temporal material world where everything changes and eventually deteriorates.
For Edward, the escape from Spectre is equally difficult because after he arrived, the residents stole his shoes and hung them on a wire far above the town, where everyone else’s shoes were also hanging. Note the dialogue between Edward and one of the residents as he gets ready to leave:
“How are you going to make it without your shoes?”
“Well I suspect it will hurt a lot.”
“You won’t find a better place”
“I don’t expect to.”
Living on Earth, the temporal, material world, is often painful and often “hurts a lot.” However, there are also joys to be had, it is a mixed bag of pain and pleasure. It is a world we come to in order to experience relativity. We can’t really know pleasure if we’ve never experienced pain. Living in the temporal world is no heaven and is not for sissies.
The ingrates in Shangri-La and the hero in Big Fish, like many of us, are not looking for sameness and perfection. In fact, we are simply compelled to have adventure, which includes both imperfection and perfection. Imperfection is messy, random and often unexpected. Embracing these ups and downs, all of the vicissitudes of life, and the eternal quest for imperfection, might better be described as the quest for adventure, a quest that draws us to this remarkable place called Earth. I recommend waiting for the apple pie.