“I am whole,” was the first thought in my mind today. The thrill suffusing my body at the words was an incredible boost. It was easy to bound out of bed and dress for my walk-with-sprints in the tiny neighborhood park. Only three words to sum up years of work and seeking. Things that mean so much tend to be simple. I’ll scream it now: “I AM WHOLE!” It feels so good, I am giggling inside with mischievous anticipation and understanding. It is so easy to take such simple blessings for granted, that every step and breath and act today is given up in honor of being whole. I am so very grateful.
A few months ago, a beloved friend confessed something heartbreaking to me: “I don’t like a single thing about myself, let alone love myself. Now what?”
Wanting desperately to do triage on the wounds this exposed, and help in any way I could from so far away, I offered up a poem here and a lot of concrete, personalized advice in emails and phone calls. The first step is gratitude, the second: acceptance. So far, so good.
“Congratulations!” I said. “Opening that door and shining a light on what’s inside is a huge step forward. Not knowing what to do means that you are no longer falling back on old habits and are ready to start building new ones. You’ve done a lot of research and planning over the years while slowing releasing poisons and healing wounds. Enough healing has been done that you could safely open the closet door and turn on the light. The monster is no longer in the closet, if it ever was. All that is left is a big ugly mess. Okay, good start. We can deal with reality.
Now, you’ve done enough intensive research, and you can take a methodical approach to cleaning up and making improvements. You’ll be lighter on theory and heavier on practice now. Break it down into parts and address it in a concrete way.” I gave some specifics then, said I’d pray on it and get back to her later in the week.
“The first thing to do is to separate love from like. I’ve found that a multi-pronged approach works best when healing, fixing, creating and learning: hold the bigger picture in mind while building the foundation. We talked about this recently. When learning a language, it means memorizing songs, breaking down and painstainkingly translating vocabulary that’s way beyond beginner level and absorbing cultural norms while learning basic parts of speech, structural rules and communication. So I learn how to say hello, how are you, my name is x in Italian while memorizing a folk song about a saint watching over a fisherman’s boat. The tasks are extremes at the beginning, but both are building toward mastery in expanding circles that will eventually touch. When they do, you’ll leap forward exponentially in skill by developing the two together. It’s an incredible rush when the circles intersect and open up into one much larger sphere of experience. With spiritual life it means constructing the basics of a daily practice while trusting the insights brought from an expanded life in the spirit plane. We don’t have to like ourselves or what we do to understand and practice universal unconditional love.
So, my recommendation for you is to focus on expanding the universal practice of unconditional love on the spirit plane. You don’t have to apply unconditional love to yourself on a concrete and personal level yet. Just practice it in prayer and the healing/weaving work we do, expanding your sphere of influence as you develop. At the same time, break down each point of your concrete self. Determine first if the poison is all out and the monster diminished, banished, dissolved, otherwise destroyed, or in a new place. Then decide what to do with it (the assessment). That is one avenue of exploration and healing. Once you get that process started, start your unconditional love practice in the way that best suits you (the blueprint). Once you get that process started, start building your personal foundation. Start wherever you like – let’s say your smile. Find out what you actually believe about your smile, then where the belief came from. Is the belief really yours or did it develop from a seed someone planted? Then look at your smile now. Decide what you like and don’t like about it. Determine if there’s anything you can do to improve your perception of your smile, improve its foundation, etc. Set an action plan. Set the plan in motion. Move on to item 2. You get the drift.
Then call your friend (me) and scream in frustration. Complain. Explain. Allow the pain to dissipate. Get motivated. Repeat.”
It was a good start, but I knew completely that something was missing, something simple and important, something I was so comfortable with it that I couldn’t see it. It’s later in the year now, well past the week I thought it would take me to come up with an answer. Insights usually flow so easily. The spring and summer and part of autumn are behind us. I’ve prayed and thought and worked and talked and loved but little else of use has come to mind. Until today, there was nothing new to say. I was beginning to think I should give up on the question. It was eating at me that I wasn’t giving her what she needed, that I’d let her down. Then, this morning I remembered. I didn’t ask if she were whole.
“Okay, dear one, now you’ve looked at everything you know about yourself, broken it down, made a plan for changing what you can and started the work. You know yourself well, right? So answer me this – are all the pieces there?”
When traumatic things happen, we grieve, yes? Whether or not we like or recognize it, the pain infuses itself into our lives and we live with it until it’s gone. In my case, I didn’t know anyone that dealt with pain at all well. Nobody talked about how to heal, we all just limped along in silence, so I had to guess at how to get over … things. And I developed one really bad habit. Every time someone died, left or betrayed me, every time I was hurt or disappointed, I cut free part of myself and left it behind. It lived on with the lost loved one, with the places connected to painful times, or in the space between, leaving a hole in me. The bigger the trauma, the bigger the hole, and the harder it was for me to see it. I cut out good things with the bad, of course: memories, skills, people and places. No matter how well I did, the space inside screamed of emptiness until I couldn’t stand it any longer.
In 1994, I was at my wit’s end. No matter how good my life was I felt totally empty. It didn’t make sense and I couldn’t live that way. I needed to do something drastic. I thought maybe the void was some kind of living hell I was suffering through for some past evil or something. With my keen conscience it was awful, even thought part of me knew how silly that was. Desperate, I decided to get away from everything I knew or thought I knew and find a solution. I planned a 4-month trip, vowing that if I hadn’t learned to live well by the end of it, I’d let myself die. Romantic and dramatic, I know, but it worked.
It took me awhile. My travels were aimless and strange, my thoughts dark, heavy and morose a lot of the time for the first month or so. And then I made it to Florence. A dream visit to Michelangelo’s studio next door to me in the Via Ghibellina exposed the truth. In the dream, the Master and I met for tea every afternoon in the hot slow hours of summer. Most afternoons we talked a lot ~ history, art, philosophy, work, beauty, healing, agriculture, politics, love, change ~ we meandered our way happily through dark wooded lanes of thought dappled with light in the shapes of things around and beyond us. On this day there was an urgency in him that I connected with the passion for a new work of art that was opening for him in a block of white stone.
When I arrived next door, my friend did not invite me in. He nodded briefly, moved by me without a word, grabbing my wrist as he passed, and dragged me stumbling behind him back the way I’d come. In minutes, we were in a bright, open studio space, with marble blocks in various states of distress, beauty and covering scattered about. We wove a short path through them to the bright far corner of the space. There, bathed in warm light, was a broken statue he called “The Redeemer.” A tall, classic female figure stood tall and straight, weight evenly balanced on both feet, arms stretched wide over her head. The form was graceful and stable, with a steady clear gaze and soft smile. It held all the wondrous potential of so many of his other works, but something was terribly wrong with it.
At first I’d thought it must be one of the ancient broken pieces Michelangelo sometimes recovered to use as models, but it was too smooth and new, and the marble dust and chunks scattered too thickly around its base. It had been whole but someone had gouged out odd pieces in a strange, melodic pattern. All over the body, chunks of flesh were torn away: some barely visible, some obvious. There was a small hole straight through the heart with afternoon light shining through it, sharp gashes on both cheeks, and a deep gouge that seemed to take out the entire womb, among other wounds. “I’m sorry, my dear,” Michelangelo said. “You know the stone tells the truth, whatever I do.” Tears and wails wrenched from both of us as we clung to each other in the open space. “I’m sorry I can’t fix you.” That night, I saw how I’d cut away so much of my soul I couldn’t piece together a story in it, even with the help of a Master.
The next morning, I started tracing those missing pieces, finding them and calling them back. One by one, I welcomed each missing part of myself with the longings, pains, abandonments, betrayals, doubts and beauty they carried. By the end of my travels, I was whole enough to see it wouldn’t be long before I’d found each piece. I had learned to live. By the end of that year, that mission was over and I had a new one: integrate it all. You can’t undo chisel strokes on a block of marble, but you can take back all of yourself. The work was done and I’ve slowly broken the habit of leaving part of me behind with every trauma. Work in progress that I am, it is good to be whole.
Yes, that means you can do it too. Next step: find any missing pieces of your self and welcome them home. You’ll have all the support you need.