Imagine for a moment you’re on a woodland walk; the sun’s rays stream through the trees and glint light in your eyes; the sound of a woodpecker rattle in the distance; undergrowth crunches as you walk down the woodland path and take in the aromas of pine and soil after the recent rain. Your body is energized and relaxed; you breathe deeply and smile with a sense of peaceful contentment. When we walk in nature it’s relatively easy to feel peaceful, connected, and whole. In contrast, when we’re in other environments, rather than experience wholeness, we spend many of the precious moments of our lives feeling fragmented, limited, and separate.
The word “whole” comes from the Old English “hool” meaning healthy and entire and in modern use, means undivided and complete. So, what does it mean to experience wholeness, and what keeps us from experiencing it?
Let’s start with some important facts about what it is to be human, that we tend to forget or ignore in our culture. Our body has over 100 trillion cells that work together in interdependent systems that keep us alive and healthy. Our brain has around 100 billion nerve cells that connect thoughts into conscious awareness, with, as far as we know, an unlimited mind. And we have over six senses to bring the world into life. We’re social animals, so are happier when we feel connected with others and belong to a social group. We’re also connected with wider society and the whole of the animal kingdom. For instance, we share 96% of the same DNA as chimpanzees and bonobos. Science tells us that humans evolved as part of our planet’s development and that we are as much a part of the Earth as any other living organism. By ignoring these scientific facts, we set ourselves apart from the whole, as individuals as well as a society. It is this separation between who we think we are and nature that has led to the climate crisis as well as the on-going pandemic.
In our culture, we often fail to understand and appreciate the full scope, complexity, and wonder of what it means to be human. Instead, many of us identify with a sense of self that is informed and limited by the prevailing values and culture of Western consumer society. This includes the historically inherited view that the rest of life on Earth is an abstract thing that we can exploit with little consequence. It’s unfortunate that we also inherit inequality and xenophobia and other biases that cause us to view other people differently from ourselves. We forget that other people experience highs and lows and have a complex inner life just like our own.
From around 60,000 to 10,000 years ago humans lived as hunter-gatherers in small, tight-knit social groups. Given this timescale, it’s interesting that we have only lived in densely populated cities for the last 250 years. In 1800 only 3 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, by 1950 this was 30 percent and, pre-Covid, was forecast to rise to 70 percent by 2050. Many positive changes are shifting our society towards a greater wholeness. For instance, it’s interesting how the pandemic is making people think again about the benefits of living in a city as they move to the countryside to reconnect with nature and find a bit of peace.
Another cause of separation is our habit of mind-wandering, when we spend roughly half of our waking lives in an abstract world of thoughts, mentally drifting in the past or future, disconnected from our present-moment experience. None of us set out to experience separation and disconnection. We’re only human and get caught up in the consequences of our prevailing culture and lifestyles.
Here are some ways we can use mindfulness to compensate and adapt to these challenges:
- Using open awareness and kindness to others and ourselves
- Being sensitive to and overcoming the biases we inherit
- Pausing to focus on the breath when we notice that our mind or emotions are scattered or agitated
- Noticing when our mind wanders and bringing our attention back to the body and breath, into the present moment
- Spending time in and appreciating nature, even if this is a pot plant at home or in the office, or looking out of a window at the sky
So, there quite a range of things, from our consumer culture, past beliefs, to our lifestyles, that cause us to experience separation and disconnection. By practising mindful awareness, we can re-connect and experience wholeness, which enriches our lives and contributes to our health, happiness, and wellbeing.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore and experience wholeness.
Suggested weekly practice
- Be playful and use curiosity to explore the interconnection and interdependence between your body, emotions, mind, and senses. For instance, can you become aware of the places in your body that resonate with emotion, as well as notice the thoughts that arise from it?
- Notice when you experience fragmentation in your thoughts and feelings. Take a break and connect with your body and senses and embrace a sense of wholeness.
- See other people as just like yourself, experiencing highs and lows and with a rich and complex inner life just like your own.
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