“I’d rather be whole than good.” ~Jung
Becoming whole is not for the faint of heart. It’s the height of maturity. It takes courage. It takes brutal self-honesty. It takes looking into the mirror and accepting everything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes digging down deep inside and admitting some terrible truths about yourself. It takes honoring your most dishonorable moments. It takes giving up all hope for a better past.
Becoming whole is terrible, but it’s worth it because it’s even more beautiful than it is terrible. All the pain navigated. All the shadowy integration negotiated. All the broken hearts tiptoed through like a minefield. All the painful surrenders. It’s all worth it when it comes together and makes us whole.
Navigating the pain:
“The cure for the pain is in the pain.” ~Rumi
There are no shortcuts to wholeness. Wholeness is proportional to one’s fearlessness and readiness to challenge misfortune, disaster, and pain. When these are glossed over or repressed, they fester and grow dark. They turn into resentment and create disdain and unreasonable cynicism. But when they are engaged with honestly and embraced as a part of you, wholeness manifests.
Life is less about receiving flowers, rainbows, and sunshine and more about how well you navigate thorns, storms, and darkness. Don’t avoid the thorns at the expense of the rose. Don’t avoid the storm at the expense of adventure. Don’t avoid the darkness at the expense of seeing beyond the light. Pain should not be avoided at the expense of wholeness; wholeness should be embraced at the risk of pain. As James Hillman powerfully stated, “We are composed of agonies not polarities.”
These agonies should be honored. They should be collected in a giant bearhug of gratitude and appreciation. For they are proof that you are alive. They are proof that you are not a rock, rigid and lifeless. You are painfully alive, moving through obstacles, navigating challenges. As the Dread Pirate Roberts tells the Princess in the Princess Bride, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
So, honor the pain as a trophy for being alive. Double down on its vital lessons and transform it into power. Use that power to embolden you toward higher achievement. Use it to become healthy. Use it to become whole.
Integrating the contraries:
“Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.” ~Jung
Wholeness cannot be attained by clinging to a tiny aspect of the whole. Wholeness comes from attendance. If you cling to a tiny part of yourself and do not attend to other aspects of yourself, you not only risk a lack of wholeness but also ignorance, delusion, and dangerous repression that could turn demonic later down the road.
True wholeness requires authentic intimacy with the shadow. It’s persistent tenderness toward your dark side. It’s digging down deep into the Underdark of your unconscious and introducing the inner beast, the deep-down daemon, to the conscious world. Lest your daemon become a demon, its integration is vital.
Carl Jung stressed that an individual’s proper goal is wholeness, not perfection. You will never be perfect, but you will always be unique. Let notions of perfection roll off you like water off a duck’s back. Then double down on your uniqueness by introducing your daemon to the world.
Real power is emboldened uniqueness. Everything else is moonshine. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. Focus on what makes you unique, what makes you come alive. There is nothing more unique or more alive than your inner daemon. Split the smoke. Shatter the mirrors. Let your integrated shadow boldly blast through it all.
“Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.” ~Parker J. Palmer
There is never a state in which you are not broken. In fact, you are never not broken. Your heart will always be going through the motions of breaking and healing. This applies to the mind, the body, and the soul as well. You are constantly in a state of repair.
You will always be imperfect. There will always be pain. There will always be heartache. There will always be existential angst. We wreck ourselves against these mortal truths. But then we knock out the dents, mend the cracks, and heal the wounds. We do this in the hope that it will make us stronger. But perhaps it won’t.
Your wounds may or may not become sacred wounds. All you can do is hurt, heal, and hope. Hurt, heal, and hope. From fragility to robustness to antifragility, you will always be in a state of falling apart and coming back together again. Embrace it. Honor it. Hold your brokenness up as proof of your connectedness to the cosmos—a cosmos that is itself always in a state of repair.
“I understood myself only after I destroyed myself. And only in the process of fixing myself, did I know who I really was.” ~Sade Andria Zabala
Surrender. Let go of your need for things to turn out a certain way.
Let go of your ego’s attachment to things. Let go of your biases and beliefs long enough to realize that truth will always be outside of your fixed idea of it. The universe is your playground, and it’s time for recess. Stop being so damn serious. Life is too short. Play a little. Take a deep breath. Be weird. Be awesome. Let loose. Let go of always needing to be in control.
Stop clinging. Stop with the whiney codependence. Stop with the cringe. Don’t be a Sméagol vainly clutching his “precious!” Toss it into the abyss. Free yourself to create meaning out of meaninglessness. Free yourself to live with purpose on purpose.
Practice detachment. Surrender yourself to Cosmos. When you’re attached to nothing, you’re connected to everything. When you forget yourself, you become the universe. You transcend the world. You create a sacred space where your detachment from disaster can hone you into a master, and your detachment from pressure polishes pain into providence.
Discipline + surrender = flow.
Everything is within you, demon and diamond, love and loss, power and pain, the laughter of life and the anxiety of death. Say yes to it all, shirk nothing. Don’t lie to yourself. You are not going to live forever. You are not immortal. You are a butterfly in a tsunami. Don’t fight it. Surrender to it. Let it guide you. Let it drive you. Become one with the tempest. This is your fate. This is your destiny. You have this one life. Make the best of it.
As Rumi said, “Doing as others told me, I was blind. Coming when others called me, I was lost. Then I left everyone, myself as well. Then I found everyone, myself as well.”
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (The Terrible Beauty of Becoming Whole) was originally created and published by Self-inflicted Philosophy and is printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and self-inflictedphilosophy.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.