The following Pre-Interview Thoughts were not shared with participants prior to our discussions:
Wholeness is not a static place of being; rather, it is “alive” as an energetic movement of the soul, mind, and body. Wholeness is embracing the negative and positive parts of yourself and allowing them to flow and transform your inner and external worlds. Wholeness does not deny that which is dark: Darkness heightens the parts of you that are light. The light gives depth to the dark (Taoist principles).
Erik Erikson believed that wholeness could be experienced when the stages of psychosocial development were balanced, yet because the scales were not fixed, one could easily revert back to an imbalance or conversely, gain balance through rectification of past traumas in a specific stage. He didn’t believe that individuals must be on the positive side of each at all times; rather, “balance” could manifest differently for diverse people. Erikson believed that culture and society (i.e., the relational quality) play a crucial role in identity and wholeness.
Background: The interviewee is an artist, a teacher of sorts, a business man… He wears many hats. He was raised in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. His family have been prominent in the Youth Ministry; as well as, missionaries abroad. However, he has rejected God due to the “empty promises” of the Word.
He defined wholeness via the comparison to society and its social norms. He determined his wholeness on his ability to “keep up” with his same-age peers. He also questioned his wholeness with “Am I capable of life alone?” He reasoned that his place in life is a result of “him” alone (i.e., without the help of parents or friends). However, his train of thought prompted the idea that he still felt like “Something should be missing” (e.g., kids, pets, relationships). I questioned this because I know the history on how his family have pressured him to take certain steps in his life: Go to school, get a degree, get married, start a family, etc. He struggled with that pressure versus his dream to travel (i.e., which he ended up choosing!). Now that he has returned and is back to the ol’ grind of what could be called “His normal life.” I questioned whether he felt there was something missing or was it that he was pressured to feel that way. He retorted that our desires to create a family are primal. Yet, the influx of social media has forced us further into isolation. People tend to falsely believe that “everyone else” has a perfect life or are okay because of their posts on social media. Most people don’t complain and therefore, no one reaches out to make sure. We present as “a-okay” yet don’t allow others in to see our pain. Nor can we see the pain of others when they present themselves as “fine.” Social media traps us in this “comparative model,” and no matter how well we are doing, we can always find someone else who presents as “better.” Thus, our own psyche manipulates that information to create insecurity and a lack of self-esteem and confidence.
I asked if the urge was stronger to start a family now that he accomplished his dream of traveling. He said that he fills the void or empty spot with the connection to his family. He is quite close to his brother and calls his mother daily. Being from a SDA family, I know he must have grown up with reminders of “Christ fills that void.” When I inquired on his thoughts about that saying, he informed me on his disbelief in God and that Christ is not a part of his life. He related religion to an open book club where some are very open and others’ more questionable. We discussed his upbringing in the Youth Group and concluded that his mother must have felt that wholeness came from being a part of a fellowship in the church. In conclusion, he believed that wholeness is based on self-reflection against others’ and one’s subsequent self-perception in comparison with the social norms. He gave the example of a stable gay couple with kids. Despite them feeling secure and happy on their own, when they compare themselves against the social norm and unfortunate stigma of diverse SOGIE, they may feel less “whole.”
Background: This interviewee does not cling to religious beliefs either. She finds the spiritual in living up to one’s passions. She works in higher education as an Academic Advisor for Graduate Studies at a university.
She began her response with the correlation that wholeness has to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When our basic needs are met, we have the capacity to feel contentment. When we feel emotionally heard and can reciprocate by listening to others, we increase our likelihood of feeling whole. Although she does not equate “spiritual” as religious, she believes strongly in needing to feel invested in our beliefs. “We must find opportunities within our circumstances (i.e., whether it be poverty, higher education, church group) to share our time and energy with others concerning those strong beliefs.” At first, she considered friendships and romantic love to be secondary, but in discussion, realized that they are the needed “opportunity” to share. Others are not separate from wholeness, but a catalyst for wholeness.
When asked how she perceived individuals who are whole, she stated that she assumed they are content and happy more often than sad or disappointed: Their needs must be getting met. They must be able to be speak their emotions and be heard by others. They must feel loved because “rarely can someone feel whole on their own.”
Further into our discussion, she shared a description of Michelle Obama’s autobiography. She recounted how Obama was a “box checker:” Meeting goals, advancing herself in the rat race, and marking off more and more personal accomplishments. Until she met Barack. He laid awake at night figuring out solutions to social injustices and ways he could help others. We proposed that she may have felt whole in herself before meeting him, but then, she grew and expanded outside herself, which made her revert to a feeling of “un-wholeness.” Wholeness must exist on a spectrum! I surmised that society would consider “un-wholeness” as a negative; however, this is the point where- instead of being filled from the outside- she opened herself to the ability to “create space.”
I imagine how and where “box-checking” came into play… Yes we could say “throughout history,” yet it seems that need to organize our successes really took hold in the early 20th century. In the 19th century and the expansion into the West, people may not have needed it because they were pioneers… To whom would they be comparing themselves? Many who stayed in the East were “surviving” as immigrants or “came from money” or in rural areas feeling contentment. It seems that restlessness, a need to compare, organization to cope with chaos, or whatever you want to call it, may have began as resources and freedoms increased and the masses gained the insight of “me too!” or “You mean I can have gold, money, a career, a voice, equality, etc.” Then with the Depression, many “things” and opportunities were taken away. People had to scramble to be the one’s to “make it.” Hence a need for box-checking. I remember my grandmother hording things because “There may be another Depression.” Many people horde their things, wealth, emotions, time, etc. because they fear if they give it freely, it may never return. Yet if we are all givers, and know how to harness from the universe, then we need not fear.
The interviewees provided diverse views on the meaning of wholeness, yet both had a relational quality. Both hypothesized that wholeness cannot exist in a social vacuum. We depend on others to be mirrors or comparisons for our self-reflection and opportunities for our expansion. I am further convinced of Charles Cooley’s idea (i.e., one of my favorite quotes) that “I am not who I think I am. I am not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am.”
The Post Interview Thoughts:
Typically, we relate wholeness to being filled by some thing or someone. However, as discussed further in one of my interviews, wholeness is the act of making space not filling up. It is “making space so that the Spirit may freely flow through the Lord’s temple.”
God’s love is the binding agent of our imperfect earthly love. Rather than comparing ourselves to everyone else, we can be a model of wholeness to show others that there is an opportunity for wholeness (i.e., something more) or even “that which is greater than whole.” Contrary to the ideal of making space, this would be envisioned as a “pouring over” or “overflowing.” Although opposite ideas, they are quite similar in this context. They are attempting to make room and are a flowing of energy.
It’s amazing how the areas of health, finances, relationships, etc. in life are so intertwined and affected by our relationship with God. I can always tell based on “how I am doing” in those areas as to how my relationship with God is at the time. It is almost like a cue for me now… “oh boy… Things are not flowing freely and with ease… Have I been communing as much as I should?” The imbalance pulls me back to reading my Bible, praying and meditating on scripture, praising Him through gratitude or song, etc. I always feel whole when I get back to God. He never leaves, but sometimes I get distracted by parenting, occupation, health, relationships, finances, failed attempts at love, drama, ego, etc. It’s as if there is a necessary consciousness to the process. Awareness of routines, belief systems, and relationships with the world makes all the difference in whether we have stagnation or growth, struggle or ease, complacency or true connection.
One questioned, “How can I be concerned with self-actualizing thoughts like ‘the meaning of wholeness’ when I barely make ends meet?” I questioned, is Wholeness a privilege or a right? Is it White Privilege to have wholeness because that population may have a greater chance of having basic needs met? I believe that diverse people, including low socioeconomic status, can indeed experience wholeness. For many with low SES, family and friends become a priority. Relationships are a huge part of wholeness. I think the important word was “self-actualizing.” Does wholeness exist if it isn’t brought into consciousness? The healed man in Luke 17: 11-19 had the realization or mindfulness to return to Christ. Yet the others still felt whole, didn’t they? It was just a different level of wholeness. He modeled an opportunity for more but it wasn’t to take away from the wholeness they felt in their capacity. So the same goes for the one who questioned: He may not “worry about” those higher needs but it doesn’t take away from his individualized capacity to experience wholeness.
Final, Final Thoughts: “I Swear!!”
Yet whether we are box-checkers or struggling to have our basic needs met, we cannot forget that Christ and God’s love is essential in the process of wholeness. It reminds me of how in the Old Testament, the Israelite people were given the Law. They strove for perfection within themselves as they performed to the Letter of the Law. Yet Christ came and proved that without Him, their attempts are in vain. We cannot do it by ourselves. The Law was given to show them that they fail without Him. Christ fulfills the law and lives through us… In the same manner, we can try and try to be perfectly whole, yet we will fail until we accept our Wholeness in the Lord.