“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Nature naturans. There is in all things an inexhaustible sweetness and purity, a silence that is a fount of action and joy. It rises up in wordless gentleness and flows out to me from the unseen roots of all created being, welcoming me tenderly, saluting me with indescribable humility. This is at once my own being, my own nature, and the Gift of my Creator’s Thought and Art within me, speaking as Hagia Sophia, speaking as my sister, Wisdom.”
I wonder what we really mean when we speak of our anxiety; our angst; our fears and our shame.
When we talk about healing and health or being more, is this really what we are trying to get at? A sense where we feel somehow connected to ourselves in the present, the light and the dark, the wound and the strength.
If I am somehow whole, it is often hidden from my sight.
We are often taught that more is better. Competition underpins much of what we do and how we operate in our day to day.
We collect points with every latte we purchase or get gold stars for being the best guest at the VRBO and are encouraged to build vision boards and set and review our goal plans religiously. Our professional and personal development workshops pump loud music while we jump and dance to get our energy levels up and our bodies moving. More, More More.
Hustle. Keep pushing. Persevere towards your goals. Man up (please can we get over this ridiculously shaming admonition).We commit to achieving even more this time. For some, this works and we leave these venues feeling fully alive and committed. We knock off our goals, one after another and tee up the next ones seemingly with ease. For others, within a few weeks, the energy fades, the goals seem further away and what was once clearly in front of them seems foreign and unattainable. They might even feel shame and embarrassment for setting those goals in the first place. How could they ever have said them out loud? Were they event the right ones? Are they authentic? Real? What will people think of them for not reaching them? They might even avoid the people they shared them with…. their accountability partners or goal partners.
For the others, the ones who are the achievers, the goals are achieved and checked off the list, only to be replaced with a new list of goals, bigger and better than the last. The next year and list is more aggressive than the last. They emerge victorious from achieving, but eventually exhausted and hollow at the end of it all. Is this all there is? Achieving?
I made it only one week into my first year of university before my idea of which I was becoming as an adult was altered in an instant. Starting a year after all of my friends at the local university, I was desperate to fit in.
On the first Saturday night after class began I landed unevenly while competing for the most dramatic finish to a game. My knee buckled. I got up, went on with the evening and drove myself home. When I woke the next morning I couldn’t walk. I had completely torn my anterior cruciate ligament; medial collateral ligament; the cartilage in my knee. I spent the first 6 weeks of university late for class as I crutched my way around campus. I started my university days with an injury that would disqualify me – and my large potentially athletic frame – from skiing, playing ultimate, soccer, football or the like. I would never again have access to team sports with men. This was definitive for my university life. I was effectively excluded from any of the contexts where my friends made meaningful connections and built relationships. I gained weight, got depressed, and I gained a reputation for being the one who would always sit and have a beer with friends. What else was I going to do?
Bodies matter: “they age, get sick, enjoy, engender, give birth. There is an irreducible bodily dimension in experience and practice; the sweat cannot be excluded” (Connell, 2005, p. 51). What I find at times confusing and at times liberating, however, is that “the body is in the social world but the social world is also in the body” (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 190). Our embodied selves are active participants “generating social practice” (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 851). How we show up, in all the different parts of our lives, is an interweaving of our embodied sense of self and our social context. This is true in terms of how we perform our gender, our particular capabilities – but also our sense of wholeness.
Wholeness is not the same as well-being. Where most of us are experiencing a profound confluence of the various parts of our lives because of changes in the nature of work, our connectivity – our social worlds and work worlds and personal worlds are colliding, the ways we have compartmentalized our lives are unhelpful in helping us find a sense of wholeness.
How we discover wholeness is, at least in part, about our openness to embody the wholeness that is already there. The invitation is to do this in a way that includes our brokenness.
“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness – mine, yours, ours – need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.” Parker Palmer
Considering things a bit differently might be helpful in moving towards a more balanced feeling and a more integrated life. Integration, or leveraging our different “pieces” or “wholeness” might be a more helpful way to approach self development and your journey. Words like balance, integration, wholeness, move us away from a binary way of viewing ourselves.
The goal work and the vision boards and habits, deliberate practice and those types of approaches can be very helpful and they serve a definite purpose The emptiness comes when that is the only aspect of self that you focus on…. or you over develop that part of your self.
As people, we are complex, amazing individuals with deep and varied parts of our selves. When we slow down and listen…. really listen, try to pay attention to what your life is telling you to become you start to realize there are depths you have not yet explored or discovered. We all have moments when we feel drawn to choices or decisions. Or repulsed from others. There are parts of ourselves we have been afraid of or have avoided for many reasons.
Pay attention to what your life is telling you to become, not just to the goals you achieve or the mountains you climb. Start listening to your self.
So you might be wondering, how do you even start to recognize the different parts of yourself, let alone integrate them.
- Pay attention – what feels right? What people do you enjoy being around? What activities bring you peace or joy? Think about what you used to love? What have you lost or walked away from that used to bring you calm or happiness?
- Find ways to shake up your routine. How can you reinvigorate yourself and your soul? Too often we lose ourselves to the daily routines and what we think we are supposed to be. We perform a version of ourselves that becomes practiced and well rehearsed but doesn’t reflect the layers and intricacies of the various layers and controversies that exist within.
- Radical Self-Inquiry – find ways, systems, questions, processes to dig deep into corners previously undiscovered. Push the limits to true self discovery. Explore, reflect, learn and uncover the layers that make up our selves. Be open to asking questions and stay open to the answers that come back, even if they are surprising.
There are many ways to discover what your life is calling you to. But what if they unfold as polar opposites? Holding the light and the dark and the contradictory elements of our selves gently is a challenge but a worthy one. It can be difficult to see the either and the or of our selves. To be able to see all of it co-existing with in us without any particular quality overpowering or overshadowing the others.
To make this possible we need to learn to say no to some things and say yes to some new ways of being, making room and creating space. Allowing our selves to hold a both-and stance rather than an either-or-binary stance.
As difficult as it is, to finally grasp and hold all the shadowy elements of our selves, we must actually explore and embrace our shadow.
But how can we explore the shadow and find comfort in the lesser known places of our selves? There are times in our lives where this is easier. When we are less concerned with how things look to the outside world, or we are less worried about how we sound or perform for others. It can be more likely after a loss, a change or shift in our day to day routines or when there has been a monumental change of some kind. Take the chance when there are shifting sands or adjustments in our day to day worlds. Its like the snow of an avalanche that is easier to move within while the storm is still fresh and the snow is cascading down the mountain, but once it sets, it is like cement.
It can feel counter-intuitive to be considering change and growth at times of crisis or movement but this is exactly when this movement is THE most possible. It is when it is the most possible to develop the skill to really see far more of your self and to not overshadow the darker parts of your self.
Other ways to surface the depths of your self and allow them to breath and exist alongside your other parts is to try different patterns, habits or behaviours. Step out of your comfort zone. Shake up your routine. Travel, take a different route, strike up conversations with strangers and do things you would normally never do or try. You might surprise yourself with what emerges for you and what sustains.
This type of disruption can be helpful in allowing you to maintain and sustain the various elements of your person rather than seeing it as an either or. Trying on different elements of yourself let’s you explore and experiment.
You are a work in process, a work of art being constructed over time. The most beautiful composition draws on the light and the dark and all parts of your self. It takes time to uncover those pieces and patience to hold them and see their beauty and their contribution to your life. I encourage you to take the time to really listen to what your life is calling you to and to avoid the temptation to keep the darker parts of yourself hidden in shadow.