We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Healing Without Wholeness


heal (v.)
Old English hælan "cure; save; make whole, sound and well," from Proto-Germanic *hailjan (cf. Old Saxon helian, Old Norse heila, Old Frisian hela, Dutch helen, German heilen, Gothic ga-hailjan "to heal, cure"), literally "to make whole."
I struggle with this.  I have been on this quest for most of my life, the quest to "become whole."  I laid down my sword in this battle recently.  I'm done.  No, I haven't reached "wholeness" or at least I don't think I have.  I remain scarred, broken, and wounded.  I'm just tired of the search and the work for something I now think is unattainable.  
I question the idea that we come into this world whole and if only the best things happen to us we would remain so.  Some of us enter life already injured, mentally or physically, or both.  Some who endure deeply wounding experiences are incredibly resilient and move forward in living their lives to their fullest.  Others, to whom nothing horrible appears to have happened, feel crippled by even getting up in the morning.  Many of us are combinations of both, depending on the day.  

Physically, I've been mostly healthy, but the places in my body that have been made un-whole bear the evidence.  There are scars and small fractures where the experience left its mark.  There is no such thing as putting something back the way it was before.  It works much the same way with emotional injuries.  Healing is, at best, mostly.  Not whole, not complete, not ever.

One of the most compelling things about Christianity for me was its focus on healing.  I embraced the religion in the aftermath of a deeply traumatic and abusive marriage and the promises of healing in the Bible gave me intense hope. But looking back at my time within that religion, I can't say for certain that healing came, at least not specifically through practicing the religion. Time, love, experience -- these things helped greatly.  Therapy helped a lot more.

whole (adj.)

Old English hal "entire, unhurt, healthy," from Proto-Germanic *khailaz "undamaged" (cf. Old Saxon hel, Old Norse heill, Old Frisian hal, Middle Dutch hiel, Dutch heel, Old High German, German heil "salvation, welfare"), from PIE *koilas (cf. Old Church Slavonic celu "whole, complete.") The spelling with wh- developed early 15c.
According to the dictionary, the whole is all there is, every part, member, aspect.  It is the complete sum, amount, quantity of anything.  Something that is whole is not divided. It is undiminished, integral, complete, unimpaired, perfect.

So I needed a different definition since it became clear this kind of return to emotional Eden was not going to happen.  I am now inspired by people who, though damaged and decidedly not whole, live in peace with themselves and others.  Who, despite not having much to offer, are generous and outreaching.  Not because they don't hurt, but because they understand hurt.  These people are patient with others because they understand that living broken makes us walk with our own peculiar limp. They're not offended when their efforts to embrace are rebuffed because sometimes just touching raw, wounded people can hurt them.  These people have not erased their injuries but incorporated them into themselves as part of the package. 

For me, wholeness is better described by acceptance.  My spine, for example, is crooked.  Extremely crooked.  It looks something like this but more pronounced:

My spine will never be straight.  I will never know a pain free day.  It hasn't stopped me from dancing, working out, hiking, running -- well, ok, sometimes running hurts.  I have learned that strengthening the muscles around my spine helps reduce the pain tremendously.  I am not on pain medications.  I have some limitations, but I work around them.  I accept that my spine will forever be crooked, I accept that I will never be "whole."  For me this works a lot better than trying to become whole in reality.  It is a kind of "wholeness in spite of not whole."  This is the same approach I now use in terms of emotional wholeness.  Healing, then, is not a quest to return to some untarnished state but to move forward with acceptance of one's broken pieces.  Where there are limitations, find a way to work around them.  There are days when my back hurts so much I can't do the things I planned.  Those days I am gentle with my body and rest.  So it is with emotional hurts, even those from long ago that, for some reason, have flared up with an unintentional trigger experience.  Give yourself time and space.  Don't berate yourself for not having healed yet.  Who said you will?  Who told you that there would come a time when you would never hurt again from that injury or damage?  Maybe so, but maybe not.  Instead of hoping for some future time when it won't hurt ever again, find your way through the pain now.  Do things that strengthen the muscles around the injured parts.  Be kind to yourself and rest.  Tell that nagging voice in your head to sit down and shut up because it is what it is and you are who you are, broken parts and all. 


  1. This is very good, Ginny. Thank you. I don't know is we ever fully heal from traumas, and I've had to learn some pretty sucky lessons from mine, but it took a blindfold off and educated me. The trauma didn't make me whole, but what I learned through the battle has given me equipment to better forge my future, so I emerged with more than what I went in with, even if it was a lesson I never wanted to sign up for. I don't think a person can ever become completely "whole," but at least we can become "more." (Sadly, trauma often leads to us feeling "less.").

    I too have a crooked spine, stage 3 scoliosis. But the only time I ever experienced chronic pain from it was when a (crooked?) chiropractor tried to straighten me out. I have never in my life experienced such pain. I learned through that experience how my imperfections and what made me different were also correct for me, no matter whether someone else told me my back (me) needed to be different. That some things are meant to stay bent, and I will learn to work with the lack of straightness. When I allowed myself to be me, let my back be tilty, I felt comfort, freedom, and my unique sense of what I am supposed to be.

    Sometimes I wonder if the lesson was worth the price we paid to learn it. In the end, we have something we exit with that we didn't know going in, whether or not we wanted to sign up for it. My healing is through coming to terms with regret. While I can't change past choices, the best I can hope to do is take what I learned and apply it to future experiences so hopefully I make better ones because of what I've learned.

  2. Yes, and yes, and yes! I don't think lessons are always worth the price we pay. In the end, it's you that puts in the effort to dig the treasure from the trash heap, that wipes the dirt someone threw on you, that looks deep to find something of value from a bad experience. While the education is priceless, so are we, and maybe even moreso after the damage has been done.

    I have an old French silver coin I found when I sorted through my grandmother's things. It was tarnished so I polished it. Then I researched its value and learned tarnished coins are more valuable because polishing them destroys the original surface characteristics gained as a result of their original striking when they were minted. Certain things are better left alone.

  3. Wow wow and WOW about the tarnished coin. That could be a blog in itself.

    I will always remember that.

  4. Anonymous9:27 PM

    Ginny - what a great post. My mother and I struggle with physical illnesses, and we've had our share of past mistakes and could have beens. But I don't think that makes any of us less whole - because I don't believe in perfection, complete healing, any of that. We are whole - with all our imperfections, quirks, hard lessons learned, broken places, and pain. That is the whole of ourselves, which we can still love and accept despite its imperfection. If we were perfect, who and what would we be? What would there be to do? Striving for that state seems to add to our pain, since it is unachievable.

    I agree that some lessons aren't worth the price. But I've never really believed that "everything happens for a reason" or that everything has a purpose and a lesson. Even if it was not worth the price, still the lessons have value. Still, they make us who we are, which is whole and true to our current being. Better that than not to have learned anything, and still suffered as much.

    I hate to say it, but I think religion inflicts this pain on us. New Age beliefs just as much. For decades my mother felt unworthy because she truly believed she could "Create her own reality" - one of the new age mantras of the 60s and 70s. Because she could not make her illness go away, heal herself, she felt she must not be spiritual enough. Sad and so unnecessary, all that pain on top of what we are already forced to endure. I choose to be happy with who I am, work on the things I can, learn the lessons I can, and live life broken but whole :)

  5. Dear Ginny,

    What a powerful and sensitive reflection. As I approach my 60s, I find real humor (and a little pride) in the saying "Growing old is not for sissies." In my life and career, I have witnessed people who embrace the challenges of their lives and continue to create meaning and purpose for living. I have also witnessed people who have reached the limits of their capacity to enjoy life, choosing to end their suffering rather than just endure existence. Many people live in between these two extremes.

    In my work, with psychotherapy as well as with Tarot, and in my personal path in life, I look for many of the values you shared, especially acceptance and balance, care for the body/mind/heart/spirit. As John Gray says, "What we feel, we can heal." What he means is that by being vulnerable, as you have been in writing this article, we bring our most difficult issues to the surface where light can shine upon them. If we do not name our issues, they may remain hidden, mysterious, unconscious, or insidious.

    Last, I agree with Don Miguel Ruiz when he says the Fourth Agreements is to always do our best, which is exactly what we are doing at each moment. The XIX Sun card slogan I like to teach is "Here I am, warts and all, and I am perfect. I accept myself, just the way I am, for this is enlightenment." In this sense, acceptance is not the opposite of rejection, but rather, compassion for all our suffering and difficulties, embracing our whole self, just the way we are, knowing we are always doing our best.

    For all the shiny and tarnished disks.....Blessed Be,


  6. Thank you for your insightful comments shadowmeteresa and Katrina. I don't know if it was perfection I was seeking, though it might have been as I have a strong perfectionist streak. I think I was just misguided by the notion that because I was hurt and therefore damaged, that I should seek to un-damage myself. And now I believe that's wrongheaded. I don't believe we can un-damage ourselves, only heal and live, just as you've said.

  7. I came to the same conclusion while reflecting on the russian words. In russian "the healing" is "исцеление", and "wholeness" is "целостность". It is easy to note the same root in them. Now iI think, that healing is actually a process of recalling the contact with your dissociated parts, be it the body, the emotions or some aspects of relationships. We can fight, but we fight with the consequences of the dissociation. Therefore the winning strategy implies acceptance and surrender.

    I remember that the warriors of old China Empire were not a match for barbarians. So they accepted them without bloodshed and then slowly assimilated them, watching as barbarian blood and behavior dissolves in a much larger community. So, if we want healing, we have to accept the inevitable changes in our identity.

  8. What a wonderful analogy, eversmith. Especially since "barbarian" would definitely be an apt description of those dark places, the shadow self, the untameable, parts that we don't like to associate within ourselves. So we, as you say, dissociate and become more fractured, more broken, the very opposite of whole.

  9. Anonymous1:34 PM

    People with so called "straight" spines can pain, and those with crooked spines can have minimal or no pain. Ironic? Perhaps, but it shows that our current medical concept of pain is flawed and simplistic. And yes, this is not just opinion. My views are based on 30 years of acupuncture practice.


Please do not post links. Your comment will be deleted. Thank you.