A few issues ago, I drafted an article about redefining what it means to be whole, touching on how we often create gaps between who we are and who we think we need to be. But additional ink needs to be spilled on this whole wholeness idea.
After all, just how does one redefine what it means to be whole? Does wholeness as a state of being actually exist, or is the idea itself an illusion? Isn’t this just another way of escaping an unforgiving, mechanical universe rooted in insignificance?
From the day I was born, people have been eager to tell me how to be complete person. As a teenager, I was taught that worshiping God, attending a Baptist church, and denying my homosexuality was the path to true peace both in this life and the next.
During basic training, the Air Force beat into my brain that integrity, excellence in all we do, and service before self were the three core values that cultivated the model airman.
In college, I read the works of philosophers who wrote and wrote and wrote on what it means to be human, a self that some argued was locked away in the skull watching everything inside the theater of the mind. Still others argued that any attempt to define wholeness was an exercise in futility.
The Roman philosopher Seneca replied to a friend who asked how to be free of “mental disturbances.” He claimed that we all seek something “very close to the state of being a god: to be unshaken. This constant state of mental composure the Greeks call euthymia… I call it tranquility.”
Seneca’s definition comes very close to how I’ve seen nirvana defined. He talks about a mind that “may take pleasure in regarding its state and have no interruption mar this joy, but remain in a peaceful condition, at no time raising itself up or casting itself down: this will be tranquility.”
Notice a pattern here? Whether it’s true peace or euthymia or nirvana, everyone is telling me what it is to be whole without asking me what I think it is to be whole. Hell, I don’t even ask myself!
Because I wonder: Can one be tranquil with not being tranquil? And what do you do when you actually achieve this magic wholeness? Isn’t the idea of being perpetually tranquil a horrifying thought?
I might never discover what wholeness is, but I’m finding out what it isn’t by including myself in the dialogue. And for me, it wasn’t becoming a Baptist, closeted youth pastor or a career airman, or embracing the idea that I can somehow be eternally unshaken.
Maybe wholeness involves giving ourselves permission to be broken at times, depressed and weeping alone in our rooms at the frequent horror and isolation of being human. To dismiss the idea that to be whole is to live continuously without depression.
I try not to hinge my tranquility on cultivating a solid definition of what it means to be tranquil. I work to be okay with not being okay, yet still carve out time to enjoy lunch with a friend, dinner with a lover, or just a night in my own company.
I see wholeness as trusting ourselves in the process of seeking, and not investing solely in some distant destination painted and framed by the words of another (even my own words).
What is it to be whole? I have no f*cking clue… not yet anyway. I only have fragments of answers, and maybe that’s enough.