A Life Lived Whole

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Becoming whole
The divided life may be endemic, but wholeness is always a choice. “Being whole” is a self-evident good, and yet time after time we choose against wholeness by slipping into a familiar pattern of evasion:

•    First comes denial: surely what I have seen about myself cannot be true!
•    Next comes equivocation: the inner voice speaks softly, and truth is a subtle, slippery thing, so how can I be sure of what my soul is saying?
•    Then fear: if I let that inner voice dictate the shape of my life, what price might I have to pay in a world that sometimes punishes authenticity?
•    Next comes cowardice: the divided life may be destructive, but at least I know the territory, while what lies beyond it is terra incognita.
•    Then comes avarice: in some situations, I am rewarded for being willing to stifle my soul.

This pattern of self-evasion is powerful and persistent. But here is a real-world story about someone who found the courage to break out of it and embrace his own truth.

It happened at a retreat I facilitated for some 20 elected and appointed officials from Washington, D.C. All of them had gone into government animated by an ethic of public service, all were experiencing painful conflicts between their values and power politics,
and all sought support for the journey toward living “divided no more.”

One participant had worked for a decade in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after farming for 25 years in northeastern Iowa. On his desk at that moment was a proposal related to the preservation of Midwestern topsoil, which is being depleted at a rapid rate by agribusiness practices that value short-term profits over the well-being of the earth. His “farmer’s heart,” he kept saying, knew how the proposal should be handled. But his political instincts warned him that following his heart would result in serious trouble, not least with his immediate superior.

On the last morning of our gathering, the man from Agriculture, looking bleary-eyed, told us that it had become clear to him during a sleepless night that he needed to return to his office and follow his farmer’s heart.

After a thoughtful silence, someone asked him, “How will you deal with your boss, given his opposition to what you intend to do?”

“It won’t be easy,” replied this farmer-turned-bureaucrat. “But during this retreat, I’ve remembered something important: I don’t report to my boss. I report to the land.”

Because this story is true, I cannot give it a fairy-tale ending. I do not know if this man returned to work and did exactly what he said he would do. But this I can claim: every time we get in touch with the truth source we carry within, there is net moral gain for all concerned. Even if we fail to follow its guidance fully, we are nudged a bit further in that direction. And the next time we are conflicted between inner truth and outer reality, it becomes harder to forget or deny that we have an inner teacher who wants to lay a claim on our lives.

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