What is one thing you wish everyone knew about you upon meeting you? Are there aspects of yourself you never share because fear and shame hold you back? What makes us whole is the sum of all of our parts, especially those fragile and vulnerable places. And yet, there are aspects of ourselves we hide out of fear that we’ll be misunderstood or judged.
Wholeness is unequivocally undivided.
Wholeness is an integration of all the parts, even the ones we prefer to keep bound in the shadows. You and I are not the things we regret, the things we wish we could change, or the things that happened to us — they do not define us because they are not the whole. However, these parts are significantly important to the whole.
We need to acknowledge, embrace, and integrate our parts into who we are each and every day. It is in this integration that we discover meaning in the experience of being alive.
With all the ways we are imperfect and stumble, and perhaps cringe at ourselves and the choices we’ve made or words we’ve spoken, it’s hard to imagine why we would want to bring those experiences forward, let alone share them with others. And yet to deny this is to deny yourself from ever being whole because you cannot be whole if you are divided — if your parts are not integrated. So what does this mean? We need to acknowledge, embrace, and integrate these aspects into who we are each and every day. It is in this integration that we discover meaning in the experience of being alive.
Sister Joan Chittister, whom I believe is one of the great thinkers of our time, says that “life is a series of experiences, all of them important, all of them here to be plumbed and squeezed and sucked dry, not for their own sake but so that we may come to know ourselves.” (1) For many years, I believed that we made meaning in our lives — that we are potters and silversmiths, bakers and knitters — weaving, kneading, and forging the parts together to figure out the story we can tell ourselves, the story we can make of it all. As meaning-makers, we are in control of the story.
Why is discovering meaning more significant than making it? Simple. In the discovery of meaning, you are discovering the true self.
I used this phrase, “meaning-making,” while visiting Br. David Steindl-Rast and he was quick to help my perspective. “The meaning was always there, Joe. You just needed to discover it,” he said. We discover the meaning by squeezing and sucking dry the series of our experiences, Sr. Joan says. Why is discovering meaning more significant than making it? Simple. In the discovery of meaning, you are discovering the true self — the integrated self, not the self you want others to see or believe; not the story you wish to control or tell yourself about yourself. When I look back on my cringe moments, I can observe that I was jealous or gluttonous, for example. I felt unworthy or unlovable. By integrating these parts, I can discover that I have enough and I am enough. I am lovable, and I need to return to this discovery time and time again. In this discovery, I am invited to have self-compassion and that compassion contributes to my wholeness because I’ve come to know myself through all my parts.
A practice of living gratefully acknowledges our shame and the shadows where it obediently lurks out of sight. With a grateful perspective, we can change our relationship to these parts. Gratefully, we arrive without scolding or embarrassment, but with a grateful heart that looks at the experience with appreciation — acknowledging that it can teach us and we can grow through discovery. But we can go deeper than that. We can acknowledge our vulnerability and learn who we are, what we need, and how our fear has held us captive.
In this vulnerable wholeness, we can give each other permission to emerge without judgment and without shame. In our undividedness, we show each other that life has given us an opportunity to know ourselves — to speak our parts — in every moment and every experience. Life invites us into a wholeness we should not hide from ourselves or each other. And gratefulness gives us the courage to honor all of our parts as we are always discovering their meaning, which in turn is what makes us whole again and again.
1. Chittister, Joan, “For Everything a Season” page 13