“Always engage in the quest for life’s meaning, which is inner peace.” ~Longchenpa
When is a person complete? When have they finally “made it”?
Is it when they find love? Success? When they prove themselves?
I must have asked myself these questions a thousand times growing up. As soon as I recognized that you could be deemed successful or not, accepted or not, loved or not, I wondered where I fit in.
I questioned whether I was on the right path and when I would finally arrive. I wanted to be a total package. You know, the real deal. A real catch. In a word, complete.
Of course, at the beginning, I didn’t have much to go on. Just the minor dramas and bothers of middle-class suburbia, but I put those pieces together as best I could and set off to become complete.
During adolescence, being complete meant getting the good grades, wearing the right sized jeans, and being “nice” or “sweet” or “cute.”
Later it was awards, relationships, and status.
Then came the Ivies, the ring, the house, the kids.
I wanted to be successful, so I did what I was supposed to. I followed rules, checked boxes, and really applied myself.
I wanted to be happy, so I planned out everything with precision as if my lasting happiness lay in getting the details just right.
I wanted connection, so I tried to please everyone. I figured it was easier that way and a small price to pay for being universally loved.
When all was said and done, I was good, but I could have been kinder.
I did everything I said I would, but I could have done more.
I was a real powerhouse, but I didn’t feel confident.
And I still wondered when I would feel complete.
At least half of me felt unsuitable to be seen by the rest of the world.
I was painfully shy. I gave myself a pep talk every day just to make it out of my room. I cried without warning. I worked out too much and didn’t eat enough. I wore too much makeup.
By adulthood, I’d become hurried and hardened.
I denied myself the simple pleasures, and I didn’t even remember what listening to myself felt like. And as much as I longed to be known, I avoided being seen.
There was no room in my life for sweet contentment or stillness. Living was about getting to tomorrow, not being right where I was.
Somehow, I must have confused complete with perfect.
Complete meant existing within a narrow scope of our human experience. It meant having all of the light and none of the dark. Having flaws or struggles made me less than. (I held my attachment to my ego against myself, too.)
So, round and round I’d go.
The more I held on to these beliefs, the more they let me down. I didn’t feel successful, happy, or connected, and I sure wasn’t confident. None of my planning and plotting stopped me from being hurt or rejected. None of the hardness made me stronger.
How can anyone feel complete when they only ever accept a fraction of themselves?
There were plenty of times I considered letting it all go and making a big change, but I feared that my empty hands wouldn’t find something else to hold on to. We need a way to understand how the world works and where we fit into it. Once we’ve got it, we’ll hold on—even if it hurts.
All I ever wanted was to feel secure, connected, and fulfilled, and you don’t just let go of that. But, I also felt misled, and I was ready to uncover the truth.
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.
Right now, whether you’re standing in the shadows or basking in the light, you are whole.
You’ve hoped and dreamed, doubted and feared.
You’ve surprised yourself (for better and for worse).
You’ve done exactly what you set out to do.
You’ve fallen flat.
You’ve succeeded and failed, fallen and risen, hurt and healed.
You’ve loved, lost, and lived to love again.
You’ve stood in the shadows and danced in the light.
You’ve sung and cried, whispered and yelled.
You’ve been winter, and you’ve been spring.
In your lifetime, you’ve learned to crawl, to walk, to run, to soar.
You’ve said just the right thing at the right time and the things you didn’t mean.
You’ve been right and wrong, hard and soft, fearless and afraid.
You’ve felt pride, shame, joy, sorrow, serenity, distress.
And you will again.
All the things you’ve done and the things you’ve seen, the people you’ve known, the heartbreaks you’ve stitched back together, the plans you’ve made, and the plans you’ve had to let go, the celebrations and growing pains are part of your wholeness.
Maybe you’re feeling like you’re really not okay. You’re still whole.
The key to making this shift is trusting in the process of working it out as you go and picking up the little gems along the way. No part of this needs to be perfect.
So, take a step, any step in the direction that feels closer to whole.
If you can, give thanks to the shadows as much as you would to the sunlight.
Thank you falling for teaching me I won’t break.
Thank you sorrow for reminding me to care for my heart.
And learn to look at all of yourself from the most loving perspective. You are the exact right combination of experiences, insights, strengths, and imperfections that make a person whole.
You always were and always will be wholly beyond compare.