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An Individual Process of Discovery


by Christine Garvin, MA, NE

Although health and wholeness seem to be separate concepts, they are intricately linked through the theory of holism. Does treatment by a holistic Reiki practitioner impact our whole being? Does eating organic food make our children healthier? The answer is not a simple yes. Holism, or holistic health, goes beyond any one area of method or practice. Creating a consciousness that is larger than what we see, hear, smell, feel, and/or consider to be true and unchangeable means opening ourselves to a wider idea of what being holistic means.

What many ideas of holism lack is the notion that the holism of an individual (or that a person is holistic) is more about accepting the process of self-discovery than merely setting the goal of becoming whole by being treated for an illness. The journey of reconnecting to our whole, complete selves, whether or not we even know what our holistic self really is, is holistic in and of itself, and the changes made during our journey to wholeness also lead to better health. In other words, holism is about seeking to become aware of the self as whole–whole body, whole mind, and whole spirit as a single whole.

What the “self as whole” looks like is a completely individualized being. The structured process of movement toward recognizing the self as whole can be better understood as a process of evolution, as shown below:

Whole Self (fragmented) → Crisis/Catalyst → The Search → Instability → The Big/Subtle Shift → Building on Successes → Whole Self (recognized)

Let us look at what each of these phases implies for the individual.

Whole Self (Fragmented)
We are all whole beings exactly as we are in this moment. Unfortunately, many of us do not see or believe this wholeness. Many of us feel we are lacking in some way. Sometimes we think we are broken (in terms of our physical health or emotions) and in need of something to make us “better” at who we are, how we look, and what we do. Even though we struggle with the desire to become a “better” person, we remain in this place of unease because, on some level, it feels familiar, comfortable, and safe. How do we move out of this comfort zone? There almost always has to be a crisis, something that acts as a catalyst to force us to decide that change is required.

Extreme circumstances are what force us to make changes. Some personal crises that propel us into action include divorce or the ending of an intense romantic relationship, the death of a family member or close friend, or acute illness (which can include an illness someone will die from if they do not change). Though they come in different ways, most crises that prompt change lead back to relationships, death, or illness. These situations may literally bring us to our knees, as in prayer, where we are forced to search for an answer that can help us with the pain or trauma we are experiencing.

The Search
And now we begin our search for something that will heal what ails us. This is where we begin to do our research on different forms of healing, where we make decisions based on what we have previously learned or heard from others. The search may lead us along accepted paths, such as seeing a doctor or therapist who practices allopathic medicine, or it may open us up to alternative approaches such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and meditation. In fact, our search may lead us to try a multitude of both tested and untested therapies as we try to find our own, personal, best answer. Sometimes success seems to come quickly. Other times, searching seems to be a slow and frustrating task.

Next comes the stage that inevitably accompanies change. It usually comes just as we are getting comfortable in a new pattern. This stage is instability. Something triggers us to react from an old pattern, and suddenly we feel like we are back where we started. Worse, we may feel that we have regressed further back. In reality, however, instability can often be attributed to the greater awareness we now have. This stage, which can present itself at different points in our lives, can last a long time and use up a lot of our energy. What it often does is help move us past our starting point and out of inertia. For example, if we began to make our change on a physical level–e.g., cutting and dying our hair, starting the Adkins diet, hiring a personal trainer–over time, we may begin to experience rising emotions about exterior changes that do not create interior changes. We are not feeling fulfilled. We discover painful emotions when we lose weight and then gain it back. But once we make it through the instability phase, possibly several times over, we are able to take what we have learned and apply our new self-knowledge to what I call the big/subtle shift.

The Big/Subtle Shift
During this phase, in which profound effects may arise from what may seem to be small changes, we begin to understand some of the causes of our resistance or suffering. We see how we have not been living holistically or authentically. Although deeper roots and layers will always exist, becoming conscious of what causes us pain can be transformative. As we move through the big/subtle shift, we begin to shift from an external to internal focus, to gain new perspectives on life and our place in the world, and to develop an internal concept of power. Often during this phase, we hear a subtle click. We have an aha moment in which, after we have done a great deal of work, we suddenly begin to flow without needing to work so hard. This “flow state” is not permanent, but we do have a strengthened ability to move through difficult experiences with more ease. We feel stronger when we recognize the shift in ourselves and know that we are building greater acceptance of the self as whole.

Building on Successes
At this point, we may begin to build on the foundation of the shifts we have experienced. Maybe we begin to more deeply explore areas of life we never saw before. Maybe we begin to use validation and visualization to bring in a quality of life we previously felt we did not deserve. People will have issues to work with throughout their lives–this is what it means to be human–but at this point, they are usually able to more quickly identify these issues. They also have more tools with which to handle them. Many of us who make it to this stage become teachers for those behind us. We teach what we have learned. We are able to impart the wisdom of incorporating every part of our humanity, both the light and the shadow in the human self. Knowing these things, we can allow health and wholeness to flourish in whatever ways they can.

Whole Self (Recognized)
Although this article outlines distinct stages of our movement toward wholeness, like life itself, these stages are not necessarily linear. They do not necessarily come in sequential order and are seldom limited to “making it all the way through.” There is no timeline, no finality. The point of wholeness is to create consciousness at any level. No unbreakable rules exist. The process of self-discovery will move us through a range of emotions, from sadness to happiness, from anger to joy, from frustration to acceptance. We may shift from wanting to take a pill that will solve all our problems and make us feel better all over to understanding that nothing compares to being embodied. There are no sure guarantees of “achieving the goal” because “goals” change, re-form, and melt away over time.

Christine Garvin, MA, NE holds a master’s degree in holistic health education and is a certified nutrition educator. She works with clients to increase their health and well-being, and in particular, to improve body image and self-love. She is also a professional dance instructor and performer, and works with adults and children in several dance genres. Follow her on Twitter @livingwholesoul.


The American Holistic Health Association has compiled a collection of self-help articles to support your efforts to enhance your own health and well-being.

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