If you do any mindfulness practice with roots in the dharma – which is most of them, if they are based on the groundbreaking work of Jon Kabatt-Zinn – then you are likely to be familiar with the words “complete and whole”. The admonition is given frequently while doing various practices to recognize the body, your entire self, as “complete and whole”.
Which doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense for people with various physical ailments. And for people with mental health challenges, to be told you are complete and whole as you are makes even less sense. Committing to a long-term practice of mindfulness because of anxiety or depression or trauma or any number of issues would seem to be rooted in anything but “complete and whole”.
I certainly didn’t get this for the longest time. I still have a tenuous grasp on the concepts being the admonition. I’m getting there, however. I’ve come to realize a few things from having sat and contemplated those words over the past two years – no, I’m not an expert, but here’s what I’ve learned for myself.
As I sit for five, ten, twenty or however many minutes I choose for a particular practice, my only purpose in life is to place my attention on my breath and whatever else the practice entails. This could be sound; it could be a body scan; it could be the idea of a mountain or the sky and how I can picture myself in those terms. There are many different and useful mindfulness practices, and the point of doing any particular one is to do that practice, at that time, and nothing else.
And the fact that I can sit for that practice, and that I am sitting for that practice, means that there is nothing else I need for those five, ten, or however many minutes. I have everything I need in the world for that practice. My body is perfectly fine, in that moment, for that practice then and there.
For example, I just did a twenty-minute “Bodyscape” practiced guided by Kabatt-Zinn. I have grown a midsection that is very uncomfortable to live with. My cardio is poor. I have arthritis in both thumbs. Sitting up straight for twenty minutes puts a strain on my back. I have tinnitus. And, of course, my mind wanders throughout the practice.
“Complete and whole” does not mean “perfect”. It does not mean “unbroken”. It does not mean “not in need of a better diet and more exercise”. “Complete and whole” refers, not to possibility and potential but to the here-and-now.
If I were to go for a run right now, it would be slow and it would be short; something around three-quarters of a mile. But that’s the best I can do for now, so that means I am running my best possible run. I could run further and faster, but that would not be healthy.
In the same way, whatever shortcomings or deficiencies I see in my life, my body, my thoughts, etc, at any one moment, if I have an intention to do a certain thing that is important to me and I do whatever I can, however half-assed or imperfect or messy it is, that’s good enough. What matters isn’t what I wish I could do or what I might be able to do a year from now; what matters is what I am realistically able to do right here, right now. If I can do that much, then that is enough.
Sitting here and typing this post, I am complete and whole. I am not perfect, and this post is far from ideal. But I am sitting here and typing it; that pretty much fulfills the ideal goal of “Writers write”. I will finish it up, read through it (to be honest, I don’t edit these posts much; they are not Essays to be submitted to Quality Publications), spell check it, and post it online. That is the full magilla of blogging.
It’s a complete act of bloggery, and that was my only intention: To write and post a piece about “complete and whole” to my blog.
We can always work towards doing and living better. Some aspects of that are easier than others. Writing a blog post is far easier than doing a podcast, at least for me. Writing the blog post helps me understand better that I can have an intention and then act to fulfill that intention. I cannot run a 5k right now, but I can take steps today to move towards that goal. Doing what I can do, right here and right now, is all that “complete and whole” means.
I’m not perfect nor unbroken nor not in need of change. There’s a lot in my life that needs “improving”. That doesn’t mean I’m not complete nor whole. To say otherwise is to say I’m failed, I’m bad, I’m wrong – to deny being complete and whole is to cast judgment on yourself and find yourself wanting.
And that is the essence of self-hatred.