By Adam J. Pearson
It can be a hard lesson, but the more we learn to separate our sense of self-worth from other people’s attention and the need to feel whole from being noticed and praised, the more independent we become. We learn to feel whole even when alone and as we do, a lot of anxiety, pressure, and stress drops from our life like suitcases from a traveler who has just come home. We move from what I call the ‘state of holeness’ to the ‘condition of wholeness.’
Most of us rely on the fleeting opinions of others for our feelings of validation. We feel a need to feel like those around us approve of us and accept us. We feel a need to feel like we meet their standards. To an extent, this is a natural and reasonable feeling; after all, many things, like relationships and job interviews, do depend on how we are judged by others. However, all too often, this tendency to associate our self-worth with the judgments of others can lead to unhealthy, insecure, and compulsive habits of mind.
When we don’t feel whole within ourselves, when we don’t feel whole when we are alone and away from the crowds of people who offer attention and judgment, we may begin to rely on attention or countless other things to fill the hole within us. Not feeling whole usually also involves feeling that there is a hole within us. Wholeness and holeness are opposite states of being; when we feel whole, we don’t feel the presence of a hole of something missing within us. Conversely, when we feel as though there is something missing within us, we don’t feel whole.
To be clear, by the state of holeness, I mean the feeling that there is a gap, chasm, or hole in our life or self where something is missing to make us feel truly complete and satisfied. By the condition or state of wholeness, I mean the feeling that we are totally complete within ourselves and do not need anything outside of ourselves to make us feel good enough or complete.
People who are in the condition of holeness often try to fill the hole or void within them with countless things such as clothes, cars, money, drugs, obsessive working, distractions, sex, and attention generally. Obsessive and unnecessary shopping can sometimes be a symptom of the state of holeness. The compulsive need for attention is a sure sign that a person does not feel whole; those who truly feel whole within themselves do not feel this compulsive need. Compulsive attention-seeking is, in other words, a sign of both the presence of holeness and the absence of wholeness.
It is, however, an important point that so long as one feels that there is a hole within themselves, and tries to fill this hole with various things, no amount of anything will ever be enough to fill the void. When you do not feel whole, no amount of ‘stuff’ can compensate for that, no matter how much money, power, sex, promotions, or adoration you may achieve.
How then, can we move from feeling that there is a void within us to feeling complete, from holeness to wholeness? The secret may be surprising at first; the trick is not to try to fill the void, which is impossible, but to see that there is truly no void within you that needs to be filled at all. In the state of holeness, the inner void feels like an obvious fact; you feel incomplete, so you assume that there is a hole within you or your life from which something is missing. However, the realization at the ‘tipping point’ that moves us from holeness to wholeness is that, in fact, we do not need anything external to make us feel complete. We are already whole exactly as we are here and now.
In other words, to move from holeness to wholeness, realize that you are already whole as you are. The feeling of there being a void or a hole within your life is a combination of feeling and belief. Overcome the belief and the pattern of feeling, and you overcome holeness. Overcome holeness, and you discover wholeness.
When you feel whole, you do not need the validation or attention of others to make you feel valuable or worthwhile; those feelings rest in you, not in the opinions others have of you. Once these things rest in you, not even the rejection and negative judgments of the whole world can shake your feeling of wholeness. You become established in an unshakable position of inner value; your value rests in you, your worth rests in you, and your wholeness rests in you. The very fact that it depends on no conditions outside of you makes it unassailable.
Once you realize that your value rests in you, and not in the opinions others form of you, you become able to really relax into your life. People in the state of holeness never relax into their lives simply because they cannot; they live their lives in a frantic, anxious, and insecure state in which they are constantly seeking fulfillment–(literally, ful-fillment – the state of being fully filled)–in things outside of themselves. You rush about from place to place, person to person, and thing to thing, but never find satisfaction or solace; the feeling of inner holeness seems to suck up your whole life into its black hole of insecurity.
Once we deeply see and discover and feel that we are already whole and do not need anybody or anything else to make us feel whole, we begin to be able to relax a little more. After all, the pressure to find that ‘external something’ that will make us feel whole is gone; we already have attained that feeling and found that value within us.
This is the state in which independence and the self-reliance that Ralph Waldo Emerson often extolled become lived experiences. We truly feel fulfilled. Fulfillment is a hallmark of the state of wholeness; unfulfillment is a condition of the state of holeness. When you feel fulfilled, you feel whole; when you feel unfulfilled, you feel an inner hole. Moving from holeness to wholeness, therefore, also means moving from unfulfillment to fulfillment. Your life acquires a happier, more relaxed quality in the state of wholeness; your activities become expressions of the kind of fulfillment-in-activity that Aristotle called ‘eudaemonia.’
Another feature of the state of holeness is that, when we are immersed in it, we have trouble accepting what happens to us. We hold grudges, we remain angry, we stew and boil in hatred. With wholeness comes acceptance; when we feel whole within ourselves, it is easier to accept what happens to us and move on from it. We see little reason to hold grudges, remain angry, or deeply hate others; acceptance and understanding deliver us from these poisons.
With wholeness, then, comes acceptance; with acceptance comes serenity; with serenity comes peace; with peace comes deeper fulfillment. The fulfillment of wholeness is not static and unchanging; it deepens over time. Ironically enough, the same is true for the state of holeness; if we do not overcome it by seeing through it, it deepens as well. We can feel more and more whole, but we can also feel that there is more and more of a hole within us. Both progressions are equally possible.
In short, finding wholeness means seeing through the illusion that there is something missing within us. It means finding our own worth not in the eyes of others, but in our own eyes. Wholeness is the condition of the sages and wise men and women who have walked this world since ancient times. Holeness is the condition of those who have frantically lived their lives in a fruitless and impossible search for something to fill the void they feel within themselves.
The positive news, however, is that the state of ‘holeness’ is neither necessary nor permanent. If you are feeling it, you need not feel it forever. You can move from holeness to wholeness and thereby shift your whole life into a happier, healthier, and more peaceful state of being. To undergo this process and journey of transformation from the belief in holeness to the realization of wholeness is the task we all must complete; thankfully, its rewards are easily attainable and, once attained, can be enjoyed for years to come. The feeling of holeness dissolves in the realization of wholeness and with it, insecurity and desperate attention-seeking do as well.
In closing, the wonders of wholeness cannot be understood conceptually by those still in the feeling of holeness; they must be felt, lived, and realized for oneself. Thankfully, the power to do so is already in your hands.