A Life of Wholeness

I’d like to quote one of the wisest writers of our times, even knowing that his quote may overshadow everything else I write after, for it alone says all there is to say. Parker Palmer wrote in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey to an Undivided Life,

“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”

It’s such a simple quote, and yet, like many things that are simple, not at all easy to truly understand.

I have been changed by many things in this lifetime: disillusioned by adulthood and death; my body made different by injuries and time’s sure etchings; wisdom that’s come through joy and sorrow; the practices of meditation and yoga bringing me to a stillness that has meant really getting to know myself. What I keep discovering is that in order to find true integrity, which I’ll define as “wholeness well put together” from the teacher Donna Farhi, I must embrace the broken places in order to create a life that is truly abundant with joy.

This season, from Thanksgiving leading into the end of the calendar year, calls to me as a time of reflection. I am pondering questions of gratitude and of joy and of creating more integrity in my life and world. I think what happens again and again, is that, although I intend to spend this quieter, darker time of year germinating seeds that will become fruitful trees of change in myself and the world, there is often more of the same old models, habits, and modes of being choking out anything resembling true transformation instead. I mean for all of my practices to grow something new in me; I work hard at these practices and have faith in their efficacy. Yet, the old stays true and the new dies too soon. In my dismay, I forget joy and gratitude. I consider, then, the two winged bird that is the tenet of the yoga practice: we must have our hard work and dedication (in Sanskrit this is Abhyasa), yet we must also learn to surrender and consent that which comes (called Vairagya in Sanskrit).

Dr. David Brenner writes:

“Genuine transformation is a change process that is not under our control. Unlike growth, transformation is impeded by effort. It is, however, facilitated by consent. If change is to come in the deep places of our self it must come from some point beyond our self. Attempts to make transformation into a self-improvement project simply strengthens the false self.”

Hearing this quote recently, something broke open in my understanding of change. I have, I realized like a lightening bolt had struck, been treating my work as a series of self-improvement projects: yoga, meditation, eating well, exercising, reading, all an attempt to make something of me better. Rather than consenting to the opening of true transformation, I have been doing all of the work and almost none of the letting go. In trying to make me better, I’ve missed that merely trying to improve, strengthens the false self that is the root of illusion and keeps me from experiencing any of the joy and gratitude of being in love with this work. I am not a project to improve upon; I am already whole within my brokenness and by not allowing that understanding, I have been keeping myself separate from true integrity.

This comes as a sort of confession, I suppose, but also as an intention to create unity with my practitioners, my fellow teachers, my community. I don’t think I’m the only one confusing the work of my practices, and recognizing this in myself. I do find myself wondering what might happen if I afford myself the space to allow this end of year’s contemplation to be on consenting to embrace the brokenness of myself, and of the world, as a part of true wholeness. What happens if I allow my practices to be a source of joy for all that I am able to engage in, for all that makes me feel alive, rather than a way I seek to make my world and me different.

Thomas Merton wrote,

“There is in us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for a liberation of creative power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves.”

I’d like to walk slowly toward the end of the year, making space to really contemplate this understanding. Our culture begs us all to believe, especially this time of year, that we are all projects that must be improved upon by doing more, buying more, getting more done on never ending to-do lists, exercising more, and eating less. I’d like to ponder this one question: what if instead I cultivate space for loving my life and my imperfectly whole self more and find true connection to my own brokenness and that of the people I love? Could genuine transformation, a total re-organization of how I see myself, be revealed in me? I could write, I am willing to try, for that is the first instinct I have: to try. Perhaps this time, instead I will consent, I will surrender to the practice of vairagya, and I will allow the efforts of all my years fall away into unveiling a whole life, a grateful life, a joyful life indeed.