Updated: Mar 28
The idea of being whole, or wholeness, intuitively feels like something we’d all want. Who wants to be missing a piece, or broken. Being whole seems to imply that we are not missing something. It seems to imply we are not broken.
Perhaps, the reason we intuit that the meaning of wholeness implies that there is nothing lacking is that the conventional meaning of whole is just that. Whole implies complete.
All of, entire, complete, full…
Fullness, fulfillment… Is it any surprise that the word whole or wholeness has such an attractive sound?
Well, we thought we’d look at five different ways people advocate one can become more whole. We’ll start with the means and method we suggest in our many books, including in these three: Creating Harmony, Sharing Values, and A System for Harmony.
1. Parts to Wholeness, A Systems Law Discovery
“May only mean heart break for me… answer my prayer,” (February 19, 2020 12:35) Dionne Warwick sings as I type this blog… leading me to begin as follows.
We have no trouble thinking about a part like a heart as being a part of a whole body. The tangible nature of the idea makes it one that is easy for us to examine and evaluate. Is a heart a part of a body? Is a healthy heart a part of a healthy body? The answers to these questions is obvious.
Well, one way to understand wholeness and what it means is to begin to recognize that there are parts to a whole person, a whole individual of character, or an individual of harmony, a harmonizing individual, or a harmonizing relationship. Similarly, one way to understand what a whole society is to recognize that there are parts to a whole society, an ordered, or aligned society.
Now, you probably have no trouble thinking that there are parts to a whole, harmonizing relationship, but you probably would be surprised if we say that there are functioning parts. Much as a heart functions like a pump, being loving functions as a pump, and so we can say that the heart part of a healthy relationship is being loving. When we say being loving is a part of a whole system, called a whole relationship, or a whole, harmonious relationship, we are saying that being loving means we pump, or give and receive like a pump – that is, we give and receive like a healthy heart pump. A healthy heart pump gives nourishing resources to the whole body. A healthy “being loving” part gives nourishing resources to the whole world body.
It may seem like an aspirational notion. It may seem, at first glance, that the idea that we can nourish the whole world body is farfetched. Certainly, it is aspirational that we will get our giving right. But once we know a little more about what it means to give like a heart, we can see it is actually much more achievable than we may have thought at first glance. When we give time, attention, affection and other resources, including the material resources, in ways that nourish others, we act like a healthy heart.
This is a notion explained in more detail in one of our recent books, How Love Works.
Books such as Creating Harmony, Sharing Values and A System for Harmony explain the heart part and several other parts to wholeness in more detail.
You can find these books at Amazon, and you can learn more about each of several parts by going to Ucanbeheroes.com/a-discovery.
Rather than expand here in this blog, we’ll direct you to those locations to learn more.
For now, let’s look at some other approaches to wholeness.
2. Wholeness – à la Christianity
Is wholeness a concept that Christians can get behind? Is it one that Christians can support?
A quick Google search yields a pretty persuasive argument in favor of a wholeness concept. Dale Fletcher, founder of a Christian health ministry, writes “Wholeness – A Biblical and Christian Perspective.”In it, he refers to many concepts a Christian will be familiar with, yet he presents his case in an intriguing way, by organizing his point to consider several important
Wholeness - A Biblical Definition
Wholeness – God’s Original Design for Man
Salvation, Sanctification and Restoration
Prayers for You
Wholeness in Heaven – A Glorified Body
Let’s briefly summarize his key points.
Fletcher begins by noting a conventional definition of wholeness:
“The condition of being sound in body. The quality or state of being without restriction, exception, or qualification. (A noun) Antonyms: imperfection, unsoundness.”
He adds: “Wholeness, according to The Free Dictionary –
Containing all components; complete.”
He then adds some more definitional background, before making this important Christian point: “We often hear people in the church say, ‘I’m whole in Christ,’ or ‘Christ has made me whole.’”
What does it mean? Fletcher offers the following interpretation: “The state of being perfectly well in body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit. This was God’s original design for man before the fall and is now attainable once we join Jesus in heaven.”
Fletcher offers this colorful graphic to capture these concepts.
The reference to wellness in body, soul, mind and spirit, of course refers to these verses in the Bible. Is this strictly a physical wholeness being advocated? Well, one Christian reference emphasizes the physical. Polly House, an editor for the United Methodist Church’s Interpreter Online Magazine refers to the oft quoted passage, about body, mind and soul, opening her article “Body, Mind and Spirit connect to create abundant life”:
Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10 (NRSV)
Just as God is three in one – Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit – humans were created as three parts: body, mind and spirit.
"May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NRSV).
For optimal life — abundant life — the three parts that make humans human will all be in harmony.
House’s article continues, and emphasizes the importance of valuing our physical body. She turns to a doctor for some wisdom about the body component:
Dr. Ted Hill is a physician and a United Methodist deacon. He is medical director of Salvus Center, a faith-based health center serving working insured people and pastor of healing and wholeness at First United Methodist Church in Gallatin, Tennessee.
"We think of our lives as silos," Hill said. "But the body, mind and spirit are interconnected, not separate."
Hill said as a physician, he looks at people holistically.
"The orthodox point of view looks at the whole person, the way God intends for us to be," he said. "Unfortunately, that goes against how we live. These three parts are not compartmentalized. God means for us to be whole. In terms of physical wellbeing, for me, that means taking care of yourself."
House, in her article offers more from Dr. Hill, emphasizing spiritual aspects of taking care of our bodies, with references from the Bible. She then turns to a Reverend to comment on the mind.
The Rev. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., believes the mind is capable of wondrous things. "We are wired for curiosity and creativity," he said. "I believe God made us this way so we can enjoy the fullness of his creation. I believe he gave us the capacity to enjoy life and have it abundantly, like Jesus said."
Reverend McAllister-Wilson encourages Christians to change the way they think about their challenges, but also to seek community and personal integration:
"We can't always just think ourselves back into happiness and positive thoughts. We all need to remember that the brain is a fragile human organ," he said. "Sometimes the best step is to find someone who can help us when we need guidance to get back to the healthy and positive place. Being in community with other people, doing your best to live the life God intended for you and recognizing we are all tied together as humans are all part of living abundantly.”
"I think sometimes we think about the mind, body and spirit as three things, but they are really all one," he said. "It's how we live integrated lives. The mind and body can't be separated. And the spiritual aspect brings everything together to make a person whole."
For a message about the spirit, House turns to Reverend Tom Albin:
"There is no doubt that Jesus Christ came into the world to bring life — not just adequate life — abundant life!" according to the Rev. Tom Albin, dean of The Upper Room Chapel and ecumenical relations, a part of Discipleship Ministries. "In fact, we Christians believe that humankind, from the beginning, was created by God to be a beautiful and blessed union of body, mind and spirit. With a healthy spirit, we enjoy and express the fullness of God and the fullness of joy for which we were created."
There’s much more to the idea of uniting body, mind and spirit from a Christian perspective. It should not be forgotten that loving God with all thy heart, all thy soul, and all thy mind is considered the Greatest Commandment!
3. Wholeness and Buddhism
Often, in writings on Buddhism one will come across the concept of wholeness. And yet, in looking for material on “wholeness and Buddhism” I was surprised by what I didn’t find. I actually did not find, initially, material that really captured the idea of wholeness that I thought I had seen several times throughout the years researching and writing. Yet, I found this point made, which was in sync with my understanding of a commonly held Buddhist perspective: “For many Westerners, Buddhism is mainly about wholeness and connection.” David Chapman opens a lengthy article, “Wholeness, connection, and meditation: Competing visions,” explaining some of the key tenets of Buddhism with that statement. He continues, and reiterates the point in the following way: “For modern Buddhists, meditation is meant to bring healing wholeness and connectedness. The Buddhist worldview is meant to explain how wholeness and connectedness are lost and regained.” After making this point, he, however, counters: “Yet this is not what most forms of Buddhism promised, before the 20th century. Quite the opposite…” Hmmm. So, Buddhism is not about coming to some type of wholeness and connectedness? Apparently, I have been reading the Westernized versions. An easy mistake to make. Even when searching on “wholeness and Buddhism,” one will come to a reference such as this, referring to the documentary, “The Last Dalai Lama”: “In an exploration of wholeness: the Dalai Lama confronts aging, the intersection of science and faith, the historic confrontation between Tibet and China, and the pressing question on everyone’s mind: Will he be the last Dalai Lama?”
Or, one will come to something like this, from writer Sharon Salzber, at onbeing.com: “I also didn’t think to use the contrasting word “wholeness” to describe what I was looking for, but it was exactly that yearning that set me off on my search — and what I sensed in the Dalai Lama.” She said that after explaining this of her state of being: “I didn’t have the vocabulary to call it fragmentation back then, but that’s a good descriptive word for my inner state at the time I arrived in India. Splintered would be another one, as I lived within a cascade of disparate, unhappy emotions without much coherence, stability, or integration.” The contrasting word she was searching for and sensed in the Dalai Lama, again, was wholeness.
Here’s another reference to wholeness in conjunction with Buddhism.
The therapist goes on to explain how important it is for one to integrate their feelings in order to experience a sense of being whole.
So, while, I’d recommend strongly that you read David Chapman’s piece, again, titled, “Wholeness, connection, and meditation: Competing visions” for his argument that wholeness is not what Buddhism has historically offered, I’ll offer you a perspective that I think really captures the idea of wholeness that I’ve often seen associated with Buddhism (rightfully or wrongfully), this (and it’s only a short excerpt) from the TinyBuddha.com:
I started by asking different questions, like what gives a person meaning, how do you define success, and what makes a person whole?
Whole. It was an interesting thought. Whereas complete felt like finding the missing pieces and becoming something, wholeness felt like being what you already are.
Slowly, softly, things shifted.
I started looking at the whole of me, not just the shiniest parts. This wasn’t easy. We all have that side of us we’d rather not see, and I’d pushed mine far, far away.
Even with this desire for something deeper and more authentic, I worried that maybe I’d missed my chance. Maybe I really was incomplete.
Oddly, that’s when it clicked.
Those parts of me, even the one struggling with this whole being whole thing, are all part of my wholeness. Being whole means seeing perfection and imperfection, hurting and healing, fear and courage as one in the same. It’s the shadows that give the light away.
Okay, I thought. What if wholeness included all of me?
Like being a painfully shy child?
Or the years of abusing my body?
Or crying in the car outside work?
What if it included the dysfunctional relationships I stayed in too long and the healthy ones I ran away from?
Or the ways I allowed myself to be changed and the times I resisted authentic expansion?
This shift has been richer than being kinder to myself, though I have learned to be my own best friend. And it’s deeper than having confidence, though I feel bigger and stronger than ever before.
This shift toward wholeness is about loving the whole of me fully and openly. Not in spite of the flaws but including the flaws. It’s those parts of you that you probably don’t want to see, the ones that are struggling to keep up, that need your love the most.
I’m not perfect about this by any means. Sometimes I forget and slip into old patterns, sometimes on autopilot, and sometimes with full awareness of what I’m doing. But perfect has nothing to do with it anymore.
There’s nothing to hide or change when you’re focused on wholeness. Being whole is simply a matter of being.
Whole is complete in itself, and it’s always enough.”
That from the TinyBuddha is a moving way to think about wholeness. That, and the other two perspectives noted previously, the Christian one, and the Parts to Wholeness approach we write about in numerous books are just a few.
If you know of pieces, writings, that do a great job of explaining other approaches to wholeness, or if you have comments or questions on this piece, we’d love to hear from you. You can send to us from our contact page and we’ll respond back to you.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this piece on wholeness.