Wholeness, part 1

Wholeness. It’s our theme of the month for November. November means Thanksgiving. It’s a season of gratitude. November is also the month when chill begins to set in. November and December are, on average, the cloudiest months of the year – so the days tend to be overcast and gray. And the nights, in the Northern hemisphere, get longer and longer. At White Plains latitude, by the end of November the days will be only nine and a half hours long.

The leaves that were so resplendent in October become a dull brown, and by the end of the month the great predominance of tree branches will be bare.

I kind of like the touch of melancholy that seems to pervade November’s cold, gray, and short days. At the same time, I also appreciate the wisdom of plunking Thanksgiving in the midst of November drear. Gratitude, of course, is always in season, but in spring and summer and on through the colors of October we have less need of an institution like Thanksgiving Day to remind us to come back to the ground of gratitude – to extend the roots of our soul down into the soil of gratitude that will sustain us through the winter to come.

Thank you, Universe, for these annual rhythms that give the year a beautiful shape and balance. Thank you, Universe, for love – that I, and we, are beings who love and are loved.

In this time, we come to theme of wholeness – the embrace of all we are. The cherry harvest season is long past now – so there’ll be no cherry-picking of just the good parts, the parts we think we like. We shall embrace the whole thing – embrace our demons, love our inner curmudgeon, welcome the obvious gratitudes and go further to welcome also gratitude for loss, disappointment, and for that touch of melancholy. Thank you, Universe, for the whole range of what life brings, all of it.

Wholeness. One of the questions asked in this month’s issue of “On the Journey” is this: “Some writers approach wholeness as an integration of the diverse parts of the self. Others address it as an integration of self and community. Which is the more compelling for you? Or are they not separable?”

And I don’t think they are, ultimately, separable. But it’s helpful to see the distinction, and then see how the distinction blurs away. Wholeness addresses these two, at first blush separate-seeming, concerns. Wholeness is about integrating the diverse parts of the self.

It’s about the journey toward – or the journey of – an undivided life. It’s about living authentically – with a minimum of what researchers called “surface acting.” A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at “surface acting” in the workplace. It means putting on fake emotions and suppressing one’s true feelings. Sometimes our jobs seem to call for that – and the study confirmed that it’s draining. Surface acting is associated with lower job satisfaction, higher emotional strain, and “depleted self-control since acting out fake emotions requires psychological effort and extensive self-control.”

This particular study was looking at the effects of mindfulness, and found that employees who had had minfulness training and were more attentive to their emotional states and the emotional climate around them were less likely to engage in surface acting. On the downside, when mindful employees did engage in surface acting, the negative effects were actually greater – though they generally avoided those effects by being more authentic to begin with.

Why would an employee engage in surface acting? Evidently, they would perceive it to be instrumental – it helps to get ahead at the workplace. The part of you that is concerned with such instrumentality is an important part of you, but it isn’t the only part. You also have the parts that produce the genuine feel that you’re covering up when you do surface acting. Wholeness is about moving toward inclusion of all your parts, not being divided in that way – integrating all the parts of the self.

In the first place, this entails being in touch with what your feelings actually are. Surface actors might not even be aware that they’re faking their feeling because they may be so out of touch with themselves.

In the second place, wholeness would mean a greater willingness to honestly say what you’re feeling. You can say, “I’m feeling some anger rising up when you tell me about that.” You can communicate anger in a calm way – you don’t have to yell, and scream and throw things when you’re angry -- and you don’t have to suppress and deny the anger either. Wholeness isn’t about letting every feeling carry you away – but it is about being able notice and communicate that the feeling is there.

Being authentic to all your inner voices – noticing which one is being loudest at given time, and attending to it without letting it overrun and dominate – that’s integrating the diverse parts of the self.

Another aspect of wholeness is the integration of self and community. This aspect is about belonging. There’s a feeling of wholeness that comes with the feeling of belonging. Self and community are integrated.

If you feel divided from the people around you – if the social setting isn’t one that honors and values your particular gifts and interests – then your life is divided. The self’s way of being in the world and what the community demands are divided from each other.

Wholeness occurs when our lives belong – are at home where they are. Our life has meaning and value to ourselves because it is meaningful TO the people with whom we live and those with whom we work.

Ultimately, the integration of the parts of the self and the integration of self and community depend on each other. The community that accepts us in our wholeness thereby creates the context within which our diverse parts can be integrated. Ultimately, then, the parts-of-self integration and the self-community integration emerge as the same thing – or at least as inseparable.

The phenomena that “surface acting” comes from – and creates – a dividedness at both levels. The surface actor’s self is divided from the workplace community – while also divided from its own true feelings.

“Who and what we are,” writes Barry Magid, “is constituted, and constantly, moment-by-moment, re-constituted, by the world we live in and are part of.”

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