Personal Growth

Different Paths to Wholeness: Relationship, Illness, and Addiction

By Suzanne E. Harrill

"Soon the child's clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinion, preconceptions and abstractions. Simple free being becomes encrusted with the burdensome armor of the ego. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day… we become seekers."

...Peter Matthiessen

Have you heard the ancient statement, All Roads Lead to Rome? It can also be said that all paths lead to wholeness and finding your true Self (spiritual essence, child of God, an expression of Life, etc.). Some paths are shorter than others, however. All of us experience ups and downs in our lives as part of the human experience, and it is common to get caught paying too much attention to the lows. One long path to wholeness is to use challenges to justify being unhappy, feeling out of control, and powerless. A shorter path is to step into the fire and meet head-on the experiences causing us pain and suffering; it moves us to a more expanded place of wisdom and inner peace. In short, avoiding or denying our lessons is a very long unpleasant journey, whereas, facing them moves us to a better place. How do we discover a "shortcut to Rome?"

Consider experiences are neutral, just things that happen to us. The spin we put on these experiences makes them positive or negative. We each are in charge of shrinking or expanding our consciousness daily. The story we tell ourselves inside our minds about our issues, our past, or the reasons why we have a problem can keep us stuck as a victim of circumstances, and this path can last a long, long time. The path moving us to higher ground requires that we rewrite the story and use challenges as fertile ground to learn about self and grow spiritually. Common roadblocks that keep us stuck in negative thinking are problems in relationships, an illness or physical disability, and addictions, emotional and physical. Remind yourself daily that you have choices about how you deal with challenges and interpret them. Let's start with understanding more about wholeness.

Consider you are a whole person with ever expanding parts to yourself – physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Look at the physical level of your being; all the cells in your body are part of the same team. Each cell, system, or organ is doing its best to play the part it was created to be. Granted, some parts of our bodies struggle and need extra love and support from us, however they are all part of the same team. The singer Jewel talks about emotional wholeness in one of her songs, "We are never broken." Even though it is common to feel and interpret being broken down by some experiences in life, the truth is, when viewing your life from a spiritual vantage-point and learning to connect to and feel your Spiritual Essence you move out of "suffering over your suffering."

In accepting spiritual wholeness, you understand that you are much more than just a physical body with a thinking brain going through your day. Instead, you are a spiritual being, a soul experiencing life on Earth. Granted, in day-to-day living it can be difficult to feel the truth of your wholeness. It takes a shift in awareness to understand that you can pierce the veil covering your true Self. The many beliefs and patterns taught to you from families and society conditioned you to think the opposite. You then get caught up in physical and emotional drama through the challenges that arise. With "normal" awareness, problems dominate and it is easy to get consumed with what's not working in your life. Many teachers have shown the way out of the human dilemma of pain and suffering to experience the God within or one's true Self; that is what spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation, help you accomplish. Looking from the larger context of your true Self, you can learn to more fully appreciate the journey of your life as a precious gift, including all the ups and downs. I am not saying this is easy, as it took me many years to learn new interpretations for my issues and to do the inner work necessary to shift my consciousness. The alternative of staying stuck is no picnic either, so I encourage you to learn a few shortcuts for your journey, to move to higher ground.

It is helpful to see challenges with new eyes. Consider each is a lesson with the potential to build awareness. A daily practice of tuning into yourself with the intention to view things differently moves you to higher ground. This is done through contemplation, meditation, prayer, saying affirmations, journaling, listening to CD's and reading books from the many wise teachers expressing new ways of thinking and being.  You have to look beyond your frame of reference to grow the boundaries of your awareness and teachers show us the way.

Let us look at relationships to find new perspectives for challenges that arise. How do we learn and grow from the challenges that arise from living with another and at the same time create satisfying, successful relationships? The path begins with self and living with another person is one of the most powerful ways to know yourself. Besides all the positive reasons a relationship begins, the negative effects of each person's conditioning surfaces. Your issues are "in your face," when you live with another. It is hard to ignore your unhealed issues. The opportunity of seeing the patterns emerging, is to view them from an adult perspective; you have the power as an adult to think and do things differently than you did as a child where there was little power to change things. As you transform through studying yourself, gathering new information, and spiritual practices you can clear emotional trauma from the past and update your belief system to get different results. Knowing yourself, taking responsibility for yourself, and seeking greater awareness automatically helps you step on a path to create healthy, satisfying, love relationships.

Life is like a school with lessons to learn. Many of my lessons showed up in challenges with my close relationships. Much of my suffering was due to limited thinking patterns, such as; I believed I was the victim of other people's moods, words, and actions. I felt responsible for others' happiness and others were responsible for mine. As a young wife and stay-at-home mom, I experienced a good day if my husband came home from work in a good mood and my two year old did not throw a temper tantrum. I took their moods personally and allowed them to influence the quality of my day and my happiness; I paid more attention to my outside world than I did to my inner world, which I knew nothing about at that time. Fortunately, I wanted out of my misery, which prompted gathering information outside my frame of reference, the key out of most dilemmas.

Looking back from my present vantage-point, I did not know myself. My self-esteem came from outside myself, rather than from the spiritual strength within. The more self-aware I became the more I grew to see my part in conflicts; I had something to do with what was happening, so was not a victim. For example, I learned that my reactions were my reactions and not caused by the other person. I learned that I cannot change another, only myself. The curriculum I had unconsciously signed up for in life was to use my close relationships to know myself. I did educate myself and learned to take risks to change my patterns of thinking and behaving and eventually found pleasant result. If you have a relationship challenge, it is important to learn about yourself, to heal your own wounds, and change how you communicate, to name a few things that will catalyze your relationship.

Next, let us look at physical challenges, illness, and aging bodies as a path to wholeness and greater awareness. It is easy to get caught into feeling a victim and over-identifying with body challenges or body pain. Again, life is about learning lessons. The dominant ways some of us learn our lessons are through our physical bodies. Even though my dominant way of learning about myself was through relationships, I still have physical issues and I experience an aging body. It is helpful to remember that we all must live one day at a time and this is true whether one has a catastrophic illness, a physical limitation, an aging body, or whether one is young and strong and unable to imagine a day with physical challenges. The quality of our day in each situation is the same – it depends on our attitude and mental focus, how we use our time, whether we connect emotionally to others to give and receive love, and upon our connection to Spirit. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, so appreciation and getting the most out of today is important.

One of my favorite books is, Chop Wood Carry Water – A Guide to Finding Spiritual Fulfillment in Everyday Life, by Rick Fields, Peggy Taylor, Rex Weyler, and Rick Ingrasci. I will conclude this section with a passage from chapter 10, Healing. The famous author, Bernard Siegel, MD says it all with, "Seven Tips for Healing Yourself."

1. Accept your illness: Being resigned to an illness is destructive, allows the illness to run your life, but accepting allows energy to be freed for other things in your life. Acceptance is like saying, "I'll leave it to God." You know that the illness is there, but you also know that the future will be something you can handle, so it's no longer a burden.

2. See the illness as a source of growth: The symbolism I often use here is the salamander. If the salamander loses its tail, it doesn't get emotionally involved, it simply regenerates a new one. I think our primitive nervous system tells us that if you have a loss you grow something to replace what was lost. If you begin to grow psychologically in response to your losses, then you don't need to have a physical illness or growth anymore.

3. View your illness as positive redirection in your life: This means that you don't judge anything that happens to you. If you get fired from a job, for example you assume that you are being redirected toward something that you're supposed to be doing. Your whole life changes when you say that something is just a redirection. You are then at peace. Everything's okay and you go on your way, knowing that the new direction is the one that is intuitively right for you. After a while you begin to feel it. And, of course, fewer and fewer misdirections begin to occur in your life because of the person you become.

4. Understand that death or recurrence is not a failure if steps one, two, or three are accomplished but a further choice or step: If staying alive is your sole goal, you have to be a failure, because you have to die someday. When you begin to accept the inevitability of death and see that you only have a limited time (including the only time you really have, which is right now) you begin to realize that you might as well enjoy where you are at the moment to the best of your ability.

5. Learn self-love and peace of mind and the body responds: Your body gets what I call "live" messages when you say, "I love myself." And that's not the ego talking, it's just self-esteem. It's as if someone else is loving you, saying you are a worthwhile person, believing in you, and telling you that you're here to give something to the world. When you do that, your immune system says, "This person likes living, let's fight for his or her life."

6. Don't make physical change your sole goal: When someone comes to our groups saying, "I've come to get over my sickness," I tell them that's the wrong reason. Come to obtain peace of mind, acceptance and forgiveness. Learn to love. In the process, the disease isn't totally overlooked, but we look at it as one of the problems they are having and perhaps one of the fears. Learn about hope, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace of mind, and the disease may go away in the process.

7. Achieve immortality through love: The only way you can live forever is to love somebody – then you really leave a gift behind. When you live that way, as I have seen with people with physical illness, you literally have a choice when you die. You can say, "Thank you, I've used my body to its limit. I have loved as much as I possibly can, and I'm leaving at two o'clock today." And you go. Then maybe you spend half an hour dying and the rest of your life living. When these things are not done, you spend a lot of your life dying and only a little bit of time living.

Everything said so far about meeting life challenges and using them to grow in awareness as a path to wholeness applies to addiction. Addiction affects all of us, as it is bigger than being a person caught with a food, drug, or alcohol dependency. Besides physical addictions there are emotional addictions; we can be addicted to perfection, another person, being thin, work, exercise, security, sensation, power, fun, sex, fear, or a belief system to name a few. Co-dependency is a big one for many people.

Anytime we are caught in a pattern of over-dependency on another, focusing more on others' needs and problems than our own, taking care of another rather than looking at our own emotional, social, physical, or spiritual health there is a problem. For many, the unconscious pull of unrecognized emotional addictions keeps them stuck and hurting. When I first learned about emotional addictions it was helpful to learn to identify them. I learned it was a problem when I emotionally reacted to someone or a situation, felt powerless, victimized, or was judging a person or situation harshly. Ken Kyes, Jr. helped me understand addiction at this level in his book, Handbook to Higher Consciousness.

He said emotional addictions occur anytime we have an emotion-backed demand instead of a preference for something. The degree of our flexibility or inflexibility to allow the process of life to unfold moves us into degrees of addiction. The more rigid we are in thinking and behaving, the more addicted. John Bradshaw, in his many books, teaches that addiction results from not dealing with our emotional health and wellbeing; we are running from our feelings, do not take care of ourselves, or do not know that it is important to take care of ourselves emotionally.

The way out of being stuck in an addiction challenge is similar to all other dilemmas in which you find yourself. You must know yourself first, so self-inquiry becomes a way of life. You discover such things as, what your true needs and learn how to meet them, how to take responsibility for your own life. You are humble and learn from those wiser than yourself, and receive emotional support as it is very difficult to heal when you have no one to talk to and isolate yourself. Gratitude goes to the top of the list. Gratitude for this life and all the experiences that challenges provide.

In conclusion, there are many paths, more than are mentioned here, that can lead us to wholeness and knowing our Divine Nature. Some people are naturally curious and seek answers to understand problems and the mysteries of life – why we are here, what the nature of the human experience is all about, what happens after death. Others begin this journey because a difficult experience causes deep pain and suffering in their lives and the search for relief is the motivation. When in crisis, people are open to new information, new ideas. Let us learn to use challenges from our relationships, bodies, and with addictions as a path to greater understanding of ourselves to explore and experience our spiritual wholeness and oneness with each other and All Creation.

Allow the following poem to summarize the ideas presented.

Poetry by Sky Ann McGrath:


Used with permission by Sky Ann McGrath, Redwood City, CA.     3/31/2011

You may contact Sky Ann McGrath at This poem was influenced by the work of Mary O'Malley, a past contributor to this newsletter. Sky Ann began writing poetry in January, 2011 with the inspiration of an e-course offered through


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