Excerpt from Louise Penny’s latest Inspector Gamache novel, Glass Houses.

“Progress not perfection.” Here’s a phrase—apparently with roots in AA—that gets bandied around to inspire people to take things one day at a time, moment by moment. Instead of pushing for a perfect end goal, we rejoice in our micro achievements. Still, language is tricky, and sometimes in the very word progress we smuggle in all our old attachments to outcome.

Over the last year, in assessing my own growth and that of my students, I’ve felt the phrase somersault and twist itself into its inverse: “Perfection not progress.” And with the paradoxical quality of a zen koan, the new phrase works to remind me that in every moment there already is perfection.

I see this most easily in others, of course. Maybe it’s human nature to be our own worst critics. No one is as hard on my students as they are on themselves. And part of my job is gently celebrating the perfection that I see in their being. And yes, certainly we are doing the work to uncover more of their light by releasing the stuff that weighs them down. But in the midst of this process, when all they can see is their shadow, I marvel at the perfection of their being at the right place, at just the right time.

It’s not something I can convey rationally, and I can barely begin to capture it in words. The truth of the koan is felt in my meditation practice, in my experience of individuals in the energy of the Akashic Records, and then in my learning to integrate that energy in my daily life, so I can regard others through the eyes of love. I wish I could say it comes naturally at this point, but I’m not there yet. Still, perfection not progress.


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