Thoughts, emotions & body sensations will always continue to change (anicca), and will continue, at times, to be unpleasant (dukkha). However, self-inquiry & meditative experience tells us that these things are not who / what we are (anatta).
It takes a LOT of wise, continuous practice - on AND off the cushion - to let go of being so thoroughly identified with our thoughts (self-referential internal narrative), emotions & body, and start to hold ourselves much more lightly.
A few Buddhist perspectives on this common dilemma:
“The meditator’s path is not about trying to become perfect. It is a path that leads to inner freedom. I have found meditators to be some of the most idealistic people in the world. It makes sense that we would be; after all, we are aiming for the highest happiness. But when idealism is self-centered – as in ‘I’ have to be perfect – it is debilitating and exhausting, certainly for ourselves but also for those around us upon whom we are projecting our need for perfection. As the Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki reminds us, practice is making one mistake after another.
… Aiming for perfection can be seductive and compelling. Given that the society in which we live supports the idea that perfection is attainable, it can feel like our own personal fault if we are not.”
Narayan Helen Liebenson. “The Magnanimous Heart. Compassion and Love, Loss and Grief, Joy and Liberation.” Wisdom Publications, 2018.
When practitioners complain about suffering, Zen teachers would ask them: "WHO is suffering?" The intention is to nudge the practitioner toward the direct experience of not being able to find any trace of a solid, fixed, unchanging "I".
If we ask ourselves this question, we immediately leave the victim role, and assume an observer role, which is MUCH more spacious, free & clear.
“The fundamental change, the turning of the page from illusion to clarity and understanding in my process of nondual awakening, occurred after many, many hours of self-inquiry and yoga while working with ‘I am not this body’ and ‘Am I this body?’ …”
Gary Weber. “Evolving Beyond Thought. Updating Your Brain’s Software.” CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
For a deeper insight into this essential topic:
• Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.
• Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. “Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree. The Buddha’s Teachings on Voidness.” Wisdom Publications, 1994.