First of all, to achieve the perfect life, we must qualify what we understand by Perfect. Perfection can seem elusive at best, impossible at worst in a world where everything we do is ultimately destined for the recycle bin. Even the most carefully crafted objects are prone to breakage, and our nerves go with them. However, there are times when we glimpse perfection. In fact, perfection surrounds us. See a bright landscape, a large tree, or a humble forest animal. Reduce the size and consider how chemicals, individual atoms or light cells behave, always with perfect results? And a newborn, human, flora or fauna, never ceases to excite cries of “perfect!”. All of these things and millions of others hint at the meaning of perfection and show that it is possible.
When we look at our surroundings, we see countless examples of lives lived to perfection, from the smallest cell to the largest mountain ranges (my definition of life includes everything natural). So what is it about a tree that makes it perfect, or the endless tribulations of an ant, or the magic of a cobweb, or the majesty of snow-capped hills? And why, while a million daffodils can achieve perfection in their brief but gloriously golden lives, do men and women strive for it every day?
A scientist who spends his days in the laboratory will know the joy of working with chemicals that never fail. Mix one chemical with another and you will have a predictable response. Perhaps even the scientist who works with these chemicals could take this fact for granted, that chemicals can be trusted to behave in a certain way, no matter what. A space physicist building the next rocket to the moon will be aware that as long as certain fundamental laws are obeyed, it will succeed. If they fail, it is due to human error, not a failure of physical laws. Mathematical equations always lead to the same conclusions. It is a great comfort to humanity to know that what we call science is constant, always operating according to pre-established laws. This knowledge has led to the incalculable improvements in medicine and communication and agriculture and travel that we see around us every day.
But although our scientific efforts are based on perfect laws, the results are often not perfect; device manufacturing is frequently faulty; The same can be said for medications and medical procedures; the same with new agricultural techniques; and so on. So if we rely solely on science to perfect our lives, we will be waiting a long time. And what do we find in other spheres of activity? Perhaps philosophy has the answer or religion or art? Does culture have the ability to make us perfect, in itself? Maybe for a while. But philosophy can lead to nihilism. Religion to fanaticism. Art and culture to degeneration. All these things are traps if we ignore one thing, something that is at the same time the simplest aspect of our life and also the most complex: the basic code of life.
I call the basic code that writes and governs all the laws that produce everything we see and experience in the natural world. It is as much in us as in a rodent, a weed, a mountain or the planet as a whole. It is found within us, in our bodies, in our organs, in our genomes, and all around us. The air we breathe, the sunlight we see, the weather we feel. The reason all animals seem to lead a perfectly lived perfect life is because they are instinctively attuned to the code. This leads me to wonder why, if a lion undisturbed in its natural environment, is capable of a perfect life perfectly lived, why not men and women?
The answer lies in a faculty that is present in the human being but that is not present in other animals or in any element of nature; the faculty of rebellion. While anything else blessed with life silently obeys its intrinsic code, humans have been busy for thousands of years learning how to rebel against it. Humanity alone has the ability to cross out and counter the code that governed its creation in the belief that it could improve its lot by doing so. No chimp got up in the morning and decided they needed wheels. No giraffe ever thought that their life could be improved by setting fire. No elephant decided on his own that applying paint to a cave wall could produce something meaningful and inspiring. Men and women did all of these things and more, but while for the most part these developments benefited our species, they also brought with them another concept absent from the rest of nature, the concept of failure.
Failure is not “things not going the way you want them to”; failure is feel bad about “things don’t go your way”. It is an emotion like any other and it must be managed. And with age and experience, this feeling builds up, like a tottering tower ready to collapse at any moment. When people say “forget the past,” they mean “forget the failures of the past.”
This would not be a problem in and of itself were it not for the fact that we now live in a culture that demands perfection in all aspects and at all levels. The higher we set our goals, the more likely we are to fail, and the more successful we are, the higher we set our goals. It’s a gag of expectation. The effect of failure influences everything we do. If we use philosophy, art, or religion as antidotes to failure, then we abuse those things. The answer is not to stop achieving, stop creating, stop having new ideas, but quite the opposite. We can achieve more and better if we learn to manage failure.
The key to escaping the vicious cycle of achievement and failure is to understand that failure is not something to be hated, but to be accepted; failure is an important part of experimentation. The person who fails the most is the one who has done the most. That being the case, it should be encouraged. But have we now reached a juncture in our social evolution that is so demanding of success and so abhorrent of failure, not just in our manufacturing of new devices, but in the way we behave with each other and even in the way we introduce ourselves? to the world, that we have made it impossible for any member of the human species to find satisfaction?
So what is a blessed state of perfection? A lion who has just feasted on a zebra knows it; a camel that is filled with water in an oasis in the desert understands; a tree that grows to an impossible degree of complexity that is infinitely beautiful feels it. Perfection is obedience to the code of life. As a species, we have forgotten. And if we pay homage to science first, over homage due to the code of life on which science is based, if we let financial considerations take precedence over the whispers of the natural code, then we will be unstuck. Three centuries of enlightenment have led us to forget one important thing: that we are already perfect, we are born perfect, and we don’t need science to make us more perfect.
To achieve a perfect life perfectly lived, then, we must first remember and honor the origin of our existence, and do it every day, whether in the name of God, Gnosis or Gaia. The name we give it is optional. Living by their laws is not.
Isn’t this what Matthew meant when he said, “Therefore, you must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (5.48). This is perfection not because it will never fail, but as part of an eternal plan that will inevitably succeed no matter what.