Lately, I’ve been contemplating wholeness. I know that wholeness is something to be desired, but what is wholeness, really? Wholeness is one of those abstract words we carelessly toss around – similar to ego or self – but when asked, it is difficult to come up with a clear definition. When I Googled the question “What is wholeness?” this is the first thing I found:
“Wholeness is a concept that has many meanings in our culture. It is spoken of by New Age gurus, preached from the pulpit, and bandied about by pop psychologists. Yet none of these can give you a straightforward answer as to what wholeness really is”.
Perhaps, it is easier to describe wholeness by what it is not – via negativa – for I can easily identify the moments in my life when I have felt anything but whole; times when I felt alienated from others, periods of self-doubt and humiliation, and those many instances when I wasn’t understood or when my feelings were denied or devalued. It is times like these that my body and mind fall out of sync, scouring against each other like two opposing sides of a fault-line.
We do know from trauma studies that dissociation, or psychic splitting, takes place when an unbearable event such as child abuse or a natural disaster occurs in the life of an individual or community. Dissociation is a psychological maneuver that fragments the psyche into various compartments where the painful material can remain safely tucked away, enabling one to continue living without having to bear the full weight of the trauma. Thus, dissociation is a helpful survival mechanism, but not without great sacrifice. Whereas a traumatized person may be able to function in the external world of work, friends, and family, the inner world may be beset with a host of tormenting symptoms which cramp down on their ability to express themselves and move comfortably through the world. If they were Elk or Caribou, it would be like having fences erected around their migratory paths.
Unfortunately, too many of us know the impact of trauma in one form or another. Yet, within mainstream psychology, little attention is given to the pervasive trauma of global warming, the loss of habitat, or the destruction of wild places. And yet, the wounding impact of these events is palpable to anyone who has ever had connection to place. Each time I travel to my mom’s house in the Coachella Valley, for instance, I become disoriented, uncomfortably altered, and despairing as I watch more and more of my favorite desert places swallowed up by Home Depots, golf courses, and mobile home parks. And what makes this worse is that very few people understand or recognize these feelings. My guess is that this is due to the fact that environmental devastation is so all-encompassing and out of control that it is just too disturbing to give it words. How can I possibly ever be whole when the places I love are disappearing? My best memories live in these places. Where will my memories go when these places are gone?
And, of course, this profound loss is nothing new for those who have lived here long before the era of Manifest Destiny when rapid expansionism buried the ancient teachings and storylines under the rubbish of ignorance and greed. I can only trust that if we pay attention long enough and allow ourselves to listen intensely; we’ll discern the stories that still live deep in the belly of the earth, waiting in dark silence…
I will tell you something about stories,
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
Here, put your hand on it
See, it is moving.
There is life here
for the people.
– Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
Although my ancestors are not native to this continent, I feel a responsibility to live as if I am, and to walk lightly so as to not harm the old stories that live in the land. And eventually, as I continue to walk, my own memories of trauma and loss find refuge in the stones, washes, and trees and a new story begins to take form. Something instinctively within me wants to continue the migration toward wholeness and all the living pieces are slowly making their way across the land. Memories gathering into a story. By our stories we are healed.
And in the belly of this story
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.
– Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony
And now it occurs to me that wholeness is no different than wildness and wildness is the ability to move freely through this world. In the past, I imagined wholeness to be like a hardboiled egg in which all things are held together tightly in place, but now I understand wholeness as that which is boundless and unrestrained, yet orderly within its own natural system. A plant that is wild is self-propagating, free to flourish according to its own unique endowments. An animal that is wild freely moves according to its own internal patterns. And, a human who is wild tells their story without fear or intimidation.
Speaking of wholeness in this way, Gary Snyder writes,
“Wilderness is a place where the wild potential is fully expressed, a diversity of living and nonliving beings flourishing according to their own sorts of order….To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came out of that wholeness, and to consider the possibility of reactivating membership in the Assembly of All Beings is in no way regressive” (The Practice of the Wild, p. 12).
It is thus no mystery why the work we do at The School of Lost Borders is so healing. Not healing in a fix it kind of way, but in an expanding, opening way. It is so simple. People gather together, go out alone onto the land, create ceremony, and then come back to the group with a story. It is healing because it reconnects us with our own wild system, knocking down fences, breaking apart dams, removing the barriers of shame and silence. This is our Practice of the Wild. This is our Practice of Wholeness.
The only cure
Is a good ceremony
That’s what she said
– Leslie Marmon Silko
What is wholeness is a really good question. As you say, people have an impression, often given by faux teachers (the majority of whom don’t actually have a clue) that people ought to strive for wholeness.
For my money, our friend Carl Jung, is the best spokesman on this question. His work ‘Mysterium Conjunctionis’ touches on this – that title means the mysterious conjunction.
As far as I understand it, the conjunction is between the conscious and the unconscious.
What the heck does that actually mean?
Confused? You should be!
Because, acccording to CJ, this process cannot be understood or explained, by the ego. The process is transconscious – another word that CJ invented to describe something we can’t explain.
Here’s a possible example: something unusual happens (something that we might call supernatural), and then you ask yourself: how the heck did that happen.
But I don’t really know, because I can’t know.
I suspect that it’s about a lot more than nature: it’s about the wholeness of the world, including all the stuff that we don’t like.
I agree with you, Robur, that CJ gives the best explanation on wholeness. And, when I read Myserium Connunctionis, it is obvious that this is no simple and easily understood concept. It is easy to say that wholeness is the conjunction between consciousness and the unconscious, but both of those terms in themselves are laden with huge amounts of meaning. If, as Jung says, “the unconscious is a great wild region”, then the unconscious must be especially diverse, always changing, spontaneous, both helpful and dangerous! Certainly not something that I can bring into consciousness and be done with it! So, yeah, we don’t know because we can’t know (I guess, unless you’re an enlightened Buddha, which I am not). Great comments. Thank you for sharing.
A specific example of this conjuction is the story of the Rainmaker, which we’ve spoken about before.
Something extraordinary happens – but no-one can explain it.
Stunning truth.. that takes one into the dark fenced places of fragments locked down long ago and throughout the years as we shove the broken pieces of hurt into the corners and continue forward greeting the superficial world with a strained smile on our faces and all the while the Earth under our feet begging for us to lay down upon it and release our hurt into her belly.
8 months ago we moved to the South into Tennessee and when the Spring heat came and the fans had to come on throughout the house, memories from my belly.. a story of some 15 years ago begin to surface coming into full expression on a particular night at 1am in the morning. Awakening me in horror I found myself back in the house I lived in with my ex husband – with the painful storyline of that time so long ago flattening me to my bed, every cell of my body full of what I truly felt then BUT had no idea I was feeling at the time BECAUSE I was so very masterful at being ‘numb.’ A word which in this article is described as ‘dis-association,’ which I relate to in a much deeper way.
The ‘fans’ you see had not been on in my life for 15 years. Ever since I left that sad abusive situation. Not only abusive on his part, but mine too. We didn’t know.. we were ignorant to what we were doing to one another and those painful shreds of hurtful actions were being lodged in and locked away behind the fences you speak of.
This was not the only story that came up from my room full of stories that I disassociated from in my life and I expect more will come up as my life goes on.. or I certainly hope – so that by the time I am ready to leave this Earth, I will have no more fences and will roam my internal earth with the freedom of a wounded warrior who is fierce, loving, giving, kind and whole.
Thank you for your wonderful vision into my life with this writing Becky. You continue to astound me with your beauty.
Your ‘mud buddy’ Ha Ha Ha!!!!!
Thank you for such a thoughtful and deeply moving response to my blog. My sense is that your music, and the passion with which you perform, has a lot to do with the pain of abuse that has been buried within your soul and is now being released in the form of beautiful expression. Love reading your words. Mud buddy is right! – Betsy
Cast off your shell, transcending all barriers and fly free.
Embrace the sacred circle and touch eternity. RFF
For Dream Catcher Man (my Dad) 10/17/1926 to 7/27/2011
I have no idea how I ended up here, reading your words after all these years. Suffice it to say, I am truly amazed, and ever so grateful to hear your thoughts pouring out of you, so eager to share and so inclusive. Amazing!
It warms my heart and makes me smile to see your response to my blog! I was actually thinking of you recently and wondering how you and the boys are doing. Thank you for your generous words. Love to you, Betsy