Seeking Wholeness: Introduction

For in fact what is man in nature?
A Nothing in comparison with the Infinite,
an All in comparison with the Nothing,
a mean between nothing and everything.
–Blaise Pascal

To be human is difficult. We are not unified beings, not yet whole. Stretched between the finite and the infinite, human beings are complex creatures of many dimensions, filled with paradox and an inclination for self-deception. We often fall short of our highest hopes and aspirations, forget ourselves in the rush to acomplish everyday tasks. Yet even when captured by the urgent demands of the material world, we still hunger to find meaning for our life experience. Parts of our being seem narrow and inflexible, yet other parts are glorious, limitless.

How are we to live fully — become what we aspire to? Is it possible? Some few humans show us what can be attained. Mahatma Gandhi, a great soul, tells us, “I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.”

This is a powerful challenge. We may discount Gandhi’s words by assuming that he, unlike you and I, was born exceptional. That is not so. He was, in fact, somewhat limited: “There was nothing unusual about the boy Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, except perhaps that he was very, very shy. He had no unusual talents, and went through school as a somewhat less than average student.” As a young lawyer he made a fool of himself with his inability to speak up in court. Yet this tiny and timid young man became one of mankind’s great spiritual and political leaders.

Gandhi provides a model for our aspirations — to reach beyond limitations towards wholeness. Occasionally, in our ordinary lives, we sense that there is more than we can see or touch, that we are part of some greater pattern. We feel it in nature, in the abundance of living organisms that share our planet. We see it in the exquisite beauty of galaxies and stars expanding across the universe. As we recognize our particular corner of this greater pattern, a portion of the extraordinary orderliness of the universe, we know we are involved in a mysterious, unfolding evolution.

We have our part to play in that evolution. As human beings we can choose to embrace or neglect our own growth. Difficulties and deprivations create stuck patterns in our being, constriction in what we allow ourselves to experience. Without noticing, we become trapped in a backwater of our personality, unable to grow into new and unfolding forms. Yet one different experience can unexpectedly set us free.

In my twenties, a friend made a passing comment, “You know, you take yourself too seriously.” His words resonated through my being, jostling my view of myself. Abruptly, I realized I was growing old before my time, ensnared by some warped idea of maturity. His casual comment helped shift the rigidity that was slowly squeezing joy out of my life.

Can you recognize the patterns that keep you entangled? Do you know yourself well enough to find the shape and meaning of your whole being? These are essential questions that are impossible to answer without assistance. When we stop and get quiet inside we find the help we need — a flowing vibration of inner vitality. This is the Life Force that imbues all existence with life and movement.

It is hardest to experience this vibration when we are busy and tense, or if our mind is too active. Because we get so involved in the outer aspects of our lives, we seldom notice what we are missing, or see the restrictions we imposed on ourselves. Looking for excitement, for an adrenaline high, for the satisfaction of power and control, we become engrossed with the shadow of experience, not its substance. We sense something is missing, but we are not sure where to look. What we have mislaid is an essential connection with ourselves and our experience.

All life seeks connection — the more connectivity the more alive and complete. The movement towards connection and wholeness is universal. Carl Rogers, the founding father of counseling, calls this, “the actualizing and formative tendency”; it generates an inner urgency towards self-awareness and growth. We can rely on this flowing principal to support our journey through life. As Sam Keen eloquently tells us in his Hymns to an Unknown God, “We are in transit toward an unknown destiny.”

From this perspective we begin to ask different questions about our experience. Instead of, “Why am I discontented and unhappy?” we ask, “How am I stuck; what parts of my being are disconnected; how can I become more whole; am I fulfilling the purpose of my life?”

These questions require we search within, not outside of ourselves for the answers. As we delve deeper, a different way of understanding arises. Unhappiness is the end result of many pathways. Childhood losses and betrayals, disappointments, life crises, and physical illness — all these can be hindrances to our well being. But these personal difficulties do not explain our deepest dissatisfaction.

If we neglect to become the most that we can, ignore the voice within that keeps asking, “Is this all there is to life?” we will never find happiness. We have in us an urge to know and to grow. Part of this is curiosity. Part is a search for contentment. Ultimately we are searching for wholeness. No matter our outer circumstances, throughout our lives we never feel complete. This incompleteness is uneasy at best, intolerable at worst.

We are incomplete because we are not connected to the transcendent or transpersonal dimensions of our experience. In Indonesian Islamic mystical tradition there is the notion of Nafsu. These are the forces, passions and energies that tempt us, seduce us and divert us from recognizing our true humanity. However there is a sublime Nafsu, given to humans for their ultimate blessing – the Nafsu of desire for spiritual realization. This is still a craving, part of our lower nature, but it pushes us in the right direction — towards God. Even in our limited state we always feel an urge towards something more meaningful, more complete and whole.

Approaching this Book
We are in this world to experience life as fully and deeply as possible, in all its many dimensions. Through experience we expand and grow into ourselves, become more completely who we are. Nothing is irrelevant; no part of our being can be neglected or denied. This is the theme of the book.

The first section, Part I, explores the nature of experience, its processes and dimensions. It offers a new way of seeing ourselves using the mirrors of process, flow, connection and wholeness. Part II, applies these notions to the question, “How do we become who we are?” We look at those aspects of life that help or hinder, create or restrict our ability to experience more fully. The last section, Part III, sets out what I believe are the bare essentials for living a whole life.

This is the skeleton of the book — not its soul. Because the writing is about experience, it contains many examples from my own and my client’s lives. I do not try to make it nice and simple; that is not how real lives are. In our search for what is most valuable in being human, we must embrace all the perplexity and complexity of life. Then we find something beyond our conscious expectations.

Think of this work as a dreaming of what it is to understand human nature. Sometimes a dream has startling clarity and we immediately grasp its meaning. At other times it slips through the fingers of our mind. The word “dream” evokes a far simpler idea than the reality of our intense night-time experiences with their essential intangibility and mystery. My dreaming is not your dream; at best it is a map suggesting where to look for reality — a finger pointing at the moon, not the moon itself.

I invite you to inhabit my mind for a little while and see through my eyes. It may seem strange and unfamiliar. As a therapist I wander through the ‘in-between’ world of experience, struggle with shades of long forgotten memories and navigate tidal waves of crises. I work with intangibles — nothing to get my hands on, no certain results.

If you accept this invitation, you too must let go of certainty and allow your ordinary view of reality to be disturbed. Our efforts to truly understand stir up something deep within us. We know this stirring when we become unsettled; there is something rumbling down there beneath normal awareness. It is as if the neighbors in the apartment below are moving all their furniture. Everything is being rearranged.

I ask you to embrace a different way of seeing, a way to notice the unusual in the obvious, a counterbalance to our tendency to get lost in the taken-for-granted. I ask you to open doors to the unexpected — enter the many rooms in the house of your experience.

A classic hypnotic exercise explores these rooms. The client is asked to relax and drift into a different mode of awareness, to allow the image of a staircase to come to mind. The induction continues: “As you walk slowly down this staircase, notice what the stairs look like and feel each step as it leads you downward. You find yourself in a corridor with many doors. Choose a door, notices its color, size – and the shape of its door handle. You are going to open this door. Behind this door is something of great benefit and interest to you, something that you need for your life. Feel your hand on the knob, carefully turn it and slowly enter.”

Everyone finds something different behind the door – and behind each of the other doors. You can never predict what will be there. It may be a beautiful treasure, a haunting memory or a transformative image. It is not always clear why it is so important — but it is.

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