Key Teachings

  • Every aspect of your life has meaning, especially the challenging ones. They do not define you, but they do deepen your relationship to your true self. 
  • Wholeness is an integration of all our parts, not a selected few.
  • A grateful perspective helps us acknowledge, embrace, and integrate each aspect of ourselves into our daily lives while discovering their meaning.
  • In our vulnerable wholeness, living gratefully gives us the courage to share our parts, which in turn permits others to share theirs.

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

Reflection

Imagine a jar of pebbles. The jar represents you in your wholeness. The pebbles are each part of you — your birth, relationships, lived experiences, losses, triumphs and your stumbles. As you imagine these pebbles, pick one far out of sight and hidden behind the others.

  • What is this aspect of you that remains out of sight? Have you tended to it recently or does it remain hidden from you?
  • When you bring it forward, what does this rarely observed part of you have to say about who you are? How does it help you discover yourself more fully? How might you give thanks that it is there in your jar?
  • How does taking this pebble out of the shadows allow the others to be seen in a new light?

Well-being
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Joe Primo, Grateful Living

Joe Primo, Grateful Living

About the author

Joe Primo is the Chief Executive Officer of Grateful Living. He is a passionate trainer, community-builder, and program developer whose accomplishments in the field of grief made him a leading voice on resilience and adversity. Grateful living became a pillar to his work since his first introduction to Br. Dr. David Steindl-Rast in 2005. An entrepreneurial leader, Primo designed, built, expanded, and led Good Grief, Inc., the largest children and family bereavement organization in the Northeast, from 2007-2022. His TED talk, “Grief is Good,” reframed the grief paradigm as a responsive resource. He is the author of “What Do We Tell the Children? Talking to Kids About Death and Dying” and numerous articles.