I read a book in college called, Experiencing Architecture. I took a lot of art history classes. I don’t recall for which class this was a required text. It was a slim volume, beige in color, with an abstract human figure drawing on the front. Other than that, I don’t remember anything else about it. Except one thing. And that one thing has stuck with me for the last nearly 30 years. The author wrote about the architecture of European medieval cathedrals. Anyone who has visited these buildings knows that they are beautiful, stone, and cavernous.

And then I came to the part of the book that blew my mind. You’ve heard Gregorian chant, right? It’s beautiful, peaceful, and perfectly harmonious. It is particularly beautiful when heard sung in a large stone church. The familiar note combinations in Gregorian chant were developed, in part, as a result of the characteristics of medieval architecture. Sound travels and changes course when it hits hard surfaces. A stone cathedral is basically an echo chamber. This means that as notes exit the singers’ mouths, earlier notes are bouncing back off of the walls. The notes collide. If the exiting and the returning notes are consonant, they create a harmony that could not be there without those stone walls and a cavernous space. If the notes are dissonant, cacophony is created by those stone walls and the cavernous space. The melodies in Gregorian chant were created, in part, to keep the reverberated notes harmonious with current notes. In other words, part of the structure of Gregorian chant is an adaptation to both the strengths and the weaknesses of medieval architecture.

Just as a beautiful medieval cathedral is not a perfect backdrop for EVERY kind of music, none of us, is perfect. I am not perfect but I have harmony in my life, most of the time. That’s one of the reasons I expose so many of my faults. Perfection is not attainable but harmony is. I know so many wonderful people who despite the fact that they are lovely, generous people, feel dissonant.

One of the things I love about mindfulness meditation is that as a person, when my thoughts are dissonant with my happiness, I try to just observe them. I try to accept them as they are in the moment. When I don’t, I find myself arguing with myself, invalidating my feelings and thoughts. “You should. You shouldn’t. You’re better than this.” Those types of invalidating notions create dissonance.The collisions hurt.  I find that I keep flailing around. The dissonance expands from a lack of acceptance of myself to a lack of acceptance of others. Then it becomes a cacophonous orchestra of many players instead of an ugly duet with just myself. It extends to my family, my friends, and to the world. Another version of this story is denying that the dissonance is even happening. Denying that the limitation even exists. Well, medieval composers could have pretended that sound didn’t reverberate the way it does in stone cathedrals, but guess what? The pretending would not change the fact that dissonance is hard on the ears. The music would not have been made prettier by pretending that reality did not exist.And without their acceptance, a beautiful form of music that has inspired for centuries, would never have been developed.

To me, that’s what perfectionism, nonacceptance, and denial do. So I am striving to be more accepting of myself. Part of that is being mindful of my limitations without coming to the conclusion that I am damaged or less than because of them. I am striving to adapt to the particular strengths and limitations that I have as a person. None of us are perfect, but we are all beautiful. The times I am able to accept that, I am able to move forward. The notes I sing as well as the ones that are returned are sweet and harmonious indeed.