Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection

Love for Imperfect Things: How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection


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Susan Cain, New York Times bestselling author of Quiet: "The world could surely use a little more love, a little more compassion, and a little more wisdom. In Love for Imperfect Things, Haemin Sunim shows us how to cultivate all three, and to find beauty in the most imperfect of things—including your very own self."

A #1 internationally bestselling book of spiritual wisdom about learning to love ourselves, with all our imperfections, by the Buddhist author of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down

Hearing the words "be good to yourself first, then to others" was like being struck by lightning.

Many of us respond to the pressures of life by turning inward and ignoring problems, sometimes resulting in anxiety or depression. Others react by working harder at the office, at school, or at home, hoping that this will make ourselves and the people we love happier. But what if being yourself is enough? Just as we are advised on airplanes to take our own oxygen first before helping others, we must first be at peace with ourselves before we can be at peace with the world around us.

In this beautiful follow-up to his international bestseller The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Zen Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim turns his trademark wisdom to the art of self-care, arguing that only by accepting yourself—and the flaws that make you who you are—can you have compassionate and fulfilling relationships with your partner, your family, and your friends. With more than thirty-five full-color illustrations, Love for Imperfect Things will appeal to both your eyes and your heart, and help you learn to love yourself, your life, and everyone in it.

When you care for yourself first, the world begins to find you worthy of care.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143132295
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 128,019
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Haemin Sunim is one of the most influential Zen Buddhist teachers and writers in the world. Born in South Korea, he came to the United States to study film, only to find himself pulled into the spiritual life. Educated at UC Berkeley, Harvard, and Princeton, he received formal monastic training in Korea and taught Buddhism at Hampshire College. He has more than a million followers on Twitter and Facebook and is one of Spirituality & Health's Top 10 Spiritual Leaders of the Next 20 Years and one of Greatist's 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness. His books have sold more than four million copies and are popular as guides not only to meditation but also to overcoming the challenges of everyday life. When not traveling to share his teachings, Haemin Sunim lives in Seoul, where he founded the School of Broken Hearts, a nonprofit that offers group counseling and meditation for people experiencing challenges in life.

Deborah Smith (translator) is the translator of Han Kang's The Vegetarian, which won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016.

Lisk Feng (illustrations) is an award-winning illustrator whose work has appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Monocle, and Travel + Leisure.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


When we become kinder to ourselves,

we can become kinder to the world.

Were you one of those children who were praised for being “good”? Did youthen try hard to be good by obeying parents, teachers, or older relatives? Even if sometimes it was hard, you learned not to complain and bore it quietly? And now that you're an adult, do you still feel a responsibility to do your best with whatever you're entrusted with? Are you constantly making an effort not to disturb or be a burden on others? But when there's someone who makes things difficult for you, you try just to ignore it or put up with it, because it is not in your nature to do or say something that can potentially hurt someone or make someone feel uncomfortable?

I have met many good people who suffer from depression, panic attacks, and other emotional disorders due to difficult human relationships. Such people tend to be gentle, well-mannered, and solicitous of others. They are the kind of self-sacrificing person who will habitually put other people's wishes before their own. Why, I wondered, do such good people often fall victim to mental and emotional suffering?

I, too, was introverted and meek as a child, and so was often praised for being “good.” A good son who wouldn't give his parents any trouble, a good student who listened to his teachers—all this taught me was that it was good to be good. But when I went to graduate school, I began to feel that there might be a problem with only being good. In group work with students who were smart and had strong personalities, I found that the tasks everyone wanted to avoid somehow always fell to me. I kept on telling myself that it was good to do good, but as time went by it started causing me quite a bit of stress. When I opened my heart and spoke honestly to an older friend who was in the same program, he gave me the following advice:
“Be good to yourself first, then to others.”
It was like being struck by lightning. Up until then, I had only ever worried about what other people thought of me. I had never once thought properly about caring for myself, or loving myself.

When we say that someone is “good,” we often mean that the person complies with the will of others isn’t self-assertivene. In other words, people who are good at suppressing their own desires in deference to another's are the ones who frequently get called “good.” If someone always listens to me and follows my advice, naturally I like that person and think of him or her as a good person. It seems that “good” sometimes refers to a person who thinks too much of others to be able to express his or her own will.

While it is not always the case, there is a particular pattern that can be seen in our relationship with whoever raised us as a child. Many who are self-effacing in this way grew up with  a dominant father or strong-willed mother. Or as a middle sibling, who received relatively little attention from their parents, giving rise to a strong desire to win their parents' recognition by obeying them in all things. In certain cases, when the parents' own relationship is not good, or the family dynamic is awkward in some way, there are also those who take it upon themselves to make their parents happy by being good.

But the problem is that, by living in accordance with the demands of others, we unwittingly neglect our own desires and needs. If as a child you were indifferent to your own feelings, minimizing them or not considering them important, as an adult you will not be able to tell what it is you yourself want to do, or who you ares as a person. And then when you encounter someone who treats you unfairly or makes things difficult for you, since you do not know how to properly express your own feelings, the anger that ought to be directed toward its instigator is trapped inside you and ends up attacking you instead. ”Why am I such an idiot, that I can't express my feelings properly, can't even speak properly?”

Above all, please remember this: What you are feeling is not something that should just be ignored, but something very significant. The feelings inside you will not easily disappear just because you decide to suppress or ignore them. Many psychological problems come about when repression becomes a habit, and the energy of those suppressed emotions is unable to find a healthy outlet. Just as stagnant water becomes fetid and toxic, so it is with our emotions.

But it's not too late. From now on, before going along with what others wish you to do, please listen to the voice inside you, telling you what you truly want. Even when you feel yourself buffeted by constant demands, if you really do not want to do something, don't try to push through with it, exhausting yourself to the point that you are no longer able to cope. Instead, try to make others understand what you are feeling by expressing it in words. Don't worry that if you express yourself, the other person will dislike you and the relationship will become strained. If the other person knew how you really felt, she probably wouldn’t have made such demands of you.

Even when everyone says “let's all have coffee,” if you want a chai latte, it's okay to speak up and say, ”I'd like a chai latte instead.” We consider it good to be good to others, but don’t forget that you have a responsibility to be good to yourself first.

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