Debunking the New Age Myth of Completeness. ~ Jessica Bahr

Via elephant journal
on Oct 13, 2012
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I would like to dispel the popular new age myth that we are complete and whole on our own, without each other.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this message and the number of ways it’s been packaged by well-meaning teachers, writers, gurus, etc. And while a part of me wants to take comfort in it (an existential ice cream fix), more often than not it leaves me feeling bereft. Like the way you feel when your heart knows it’s heard a lie even though your mind argues for its veracity.

The truth is, I don’t believe we are actually whole and complete. And I mean this in the dualist sense; because that is the reality we are living in. I believe we came from wholeness and I believe we return to wholeness, but I do not believe we are whole in this manifestation.

Since those three, now famous words, “You complete me,” came out of Tom Cruise’s mouth in the movie Jerry Maguire, we’ve seen the pendulum swing from a heart-melted, puddle gasp of, “Oh, how romantic and vulnerable!,” to the more hardened and pessimistic, “How needy and co-dependent.”

We are actually feeling sorry for Renee Zellwgger now, because we know more than she does, and we know she’s going to get hurt. We are wiser to the knowledge that happy endings only happen in the movies. Yeah, the gig is up and we will not be played the fool.

I want to halt the all or nothing pendulum; where on one side we lose ourselves and give our power away in relationship and on the other side we avoid relationship altogether. I am arguing for the healthy medium, which has been commonly shunned and perverted by the mainstream, and is being abandoned in many spiritual and self-help movements and modalities—that in fact we do need each other to be complete and whole. This is the dance of life. This is what drives the social nature of human beings.

Our incompleteness is the gravitational pull towards one another, as if we inherently know there is something in the meeting that is more than us and has something to add to our existence.

More than the individual I. If we were whole and complete, we wouldn’t draw one another in, we wouldn’t manifest other,we wouldn’t seek the lessons and expansion intrinsic to connection. Unless we are enlightened, how can we be whole?

A void dance (avoidance).

Part of the reason we need to believe we’re whole is because we are so uncomfortable with the void. We are a culture that stigmatizes the void. We are taught that if we have a void that needs filling it’s a negative and shameful thing. It’s assumed that the only way to fill it is from within. However, nothing is inherently wrong with a void or with filling a void. The void itself is signalling that something is missing, a signpost of deficiency, or perhaps it’s identifying an old wound that needs healing. It is alarming us of our dissatisfaction. A gift; a sign of life.

We usually misinterpret the void as having to do with some concrete, controllable attainment—better house, better job, better money, better looks, etc. Of course the opposite end of that spectrum is believing that we always need nothing outside of ourselves; this is where relationship gets devalued and distorted and often becomes a casualty of our inner battles.

The issue isn’t the void we have, but how we fill it. Finding meaning in our lives through what enlivens us, like our higher purpose, spirituality, intimate relationships, etc. is what fills us up. These are all examples of non-superficial ways to feel complete. Filling the void from the ground up makes for more solid and sustainable fulfillment, one that is in resonance and alignment with who we are and our passions.

We usually think of a void as bad – as if we’re broken and empty, as if our feeling of emptiness is a horribly negative thing. But I think the negative association comes from the ways in which people try to fill that void, the superficial and self-avoidant ways that usually lead to deeper voids and dysfunction/addiction.

Our culture corners the market on these void filling tactics in the form of superfluous sex, food, tv, shopping, alcohol, drugs, mood meds, superficial relationships, religion and certain models of spirituality. Substitute gratifications, when in reality, most voids are rooted in a systemic hunger for deep connection and real acceptance.

These (mostly) unconscious efforts give going outside of ourselves for fulfillment a bad name. Turning compassionately towards the void and not shaming it or trying to get away from it allows us to look into ways of filling it from a deeper source—within and without. It is where the two coalesce, where we usually feel our most whole and complete—completion is in the resonance.

There is a difference between filling the void versus anesthetizing the void. Our void wants to be filled with something nourishing and healthy to integrate and grow with us.

The bypass on the highway of one.

I feel that the we are whole beings theory is a bypass, a relationship bypass, an intimacy bypass common in spiritual and progressive communities (both of which I belong to), that often emanates from a wounded and jaded place rather than an authentic heart-knowing.

People will dogmatically say we need to find wholeness and completion on our own before getting involved with someone. We could be alone our whole lives trying to achieve this, causing us to both ignore or condemn the life force longing inside of us (while finding other, deflective ways to deal with it) and missing out on the opportunity for an alchemy that only happens through intimacy.

The mirror of our own reflection.

The pro-autonomous argument contends that the people  we do seek out and connect with are merely reflecting back to us parts of ourselves that are dormant, just covered up. We supposedly already have it all inside of us. In some cases that’s true, but in some cases it’s not. I possess qualities some people don’t have and people possess qualities I don’t have and will never cultivate in this short lifetime. We are sometimes attracted to those qualities because they complement us and are deliciously foreign, and yes, sometimes because they are familiar and offer us a mirroring opportunity to heal something from our past. Either way, we build a capacity for more when we do it together. Together we create a new space, a fertility for expansion – the Oneness happens in the spaces between.

We all have some degree of fragmentation, and while some of it can be healed on our own, some may require others for healing or never heal at all. Fragmented doesn’t have to mean dysfunctional. It merely means we learn to function with what we have and expand that capacity through relationship with our self and other. We are after all, filaments of the same great One, finding parts of ourselves in one another. The journey towards wholeness takes many.

Perfectly imperfect.

While I do agree that the more solid we are in all aspects of our being, the better self we have to offer in relationship, I don’t believe wholeness is something we achieve on our own or perhaps ever on the dualist plane. If you are looking for anything outside yourself, you are not whole.

Now, not whole doesn’t mean not perfect or not as nature intended. That’s where I think people get confused. You can be perfectly not whole and incomplete, because you have the perfect piece to contribute to other human beings and the world at large. Symbiosis is not a singular process. Are we not a symbiotic species living on a symbiotic planet? Why would this not apply to relationships when it is the very definition of relationship?

In the dualistic world we cannot know who we are except in relation to other. We get tastes of no-identity and of oneness, but if we were sustainably whole, we wouldn’t need each other for so many reasons on so many levels. The gotcha in the theory is that when we do experience glimpses of wholeness and the proverbial feeling of  home on our own, we inevitably want to share this place with someone anyway.

That is the difference between intimacy and its shadow form co-dependency; the meaningful distinction between sharing from a healthy place, or coming from a place of need and desperation.

This is not cynicism talking, it is optimism. It is optimistic because it takes the shame away from wanting partnership, closeness, connection with another human being. Debunking the myth that we are complete, whole beings is saying it’s alright to acknowledge and answer to the longing of togetherness, intimacy and fulfillment from a meaningful other. There is nothing more natural for our species. We need to give ourselves permission to unabashedly want this.

We just have to discern where that longing is coming from. Are we coming from desperation and looking for someone to fulfill us solely so we don’t have to do the work, or are we inviting someone to dance with us in reciprocal fulfillment?

No one can fill us if we aren’t also filling ourselves. If we’re filling ourselves, we establish a container—a solid foundation, if we’re depending solely on others to fill us, we’re merely a sieve.

It’s not to say that we don’t need times of deep solitude. We can all benefit from the lone pilgrimages and solitary vision quests. The transformative dark night of the soul wouldn’t tolerate a passenger, a ride along. There are some things we need to face alone, things we can only learn when we’re alone. Even in relationship we need to take time for ourselves to integrate and restore our individuality. Again, it’s not an all or nothing.

A bullet proof vest blocks the heart.

People are afraid to admit they want relationship, as if it makes them weaker. This is also tied to sexist conditioning. If you want relationship or intimacy, you’re being ‘the girl,’ and viewed as being weak.

This is so overly emphasized that I am seeing more and more women try to talk themselves out of the longing for partnership, and self-condemning if they want relationship. They are denying their nature by conforming to a rigid paradigm of autonomy. It’s as if the very we consciousness women celebrated is becoming endangered and little defended by those who were once its greatest defenders. In truth, any path of avoidance is the easier path, and there are people who do that in relationship and people who do that by avoiding relationship. We have to ask ourselves if our choices are made from avoidance or made from true intention.

We are shamefully apologizing for wanting to shine, wanting connection, intimacy, personally focused attention from a counterpart, wanting to be received and listened to. We actually start to think something is wrong with us, when all the aforementioned desires are actually what is right with us.

When we aren’t met, or we feel rejected or hurt, we blame ourselves. “How could I not be stronger?” “What’s wrong with me if I want approval from a significant other?” “Why do I need a witness to my life?” We withdraw to go fix what we perceive is broken, as if the relational aspect of our being is in need of mending. May we never forget that our species is social. Our nature is intimacy and connection…this is biologically and sociologically supported.

We all want someone to hear our song, to witness our story, to think we’re special and beautiful, to be singled out. This is okay, and much healthier than the shadow that comes from repressing it. We conformed ourselves into the masculine as a protective measure and also because there are few places in this world we get to express the feminine without being in danger—either hurt and shunned, emotionally or physically attacked. The world doesn’t feel safe and so we guard ourselves instead of finding allies through deep connection.

The we consciousness flies solo.

Romantic relationships have proven tricky for the awakening crowd; those who plummet themselves into the non-traditional and unconventional because the old constructs just weren’t cutting it for us anymore. We grew out of them. Now, we’re trying to figure out new ways that do work. We are literally evolving relationship and stumbling and fumbling our way through new terrain. It can leave us feeling such futility that we at first toy with the idea that we don’t need anyone at all. And that if we do, it somehow means we’re narcissistic, not individuated enough, not non-dualistic enough or on the slippery slope of co-dependency and neediness…or worst of all (insert scary music: duhn, duhn duhn!) falling away from our sacred path.

But what if that is part of your sacred path? Or sacred path itself? I believe we came here to love and be loved and that the more deep and meaningful the connection, the more we grow towards wholeness and touch god.

God dwells both inside and outside of us and in the space in between. Intimacy is spiritual practice.

It is contradictory. How can the open-hearted be so impervious to the omni-wondrous (made up word) dance between souls on that level of intimacy? Perhaps because intimacy is what scares us, or maybe we don’t believe it exists in the capacity we would like it to. We sense a depth in ourselves, but recoil at the thought that someone can’t meet us there. So we insulate, isolate, segregate, safeguard and even police its sacred fragility. We may fill the space with many other things to create a false sense of intimacy.

But what’s the difference between getting lost in relationship versus lost in our work, our art, etc. It is more acceptable to risk getting lost in our heads than it is get lost in our hearts.

The irony in this myth, and part of what makes it a bypass (sidestepping), is that a good number of these people who believe they are complete without someone or not interested in relationship with any one, often become interested in many. I am not judging this, but merely pointing out the fact that the supposedly self-reliant are often merging with various others in an effort to fill the void of connection too. But they are spreading out, rather than going down. We live in a culture that confuses more with better and stimulation with satisfaction.

If we’re afraid to take that chance to be truly open and vulnerable, then our side stepping can actually help to create the divide that perpetuates the avoidance and reinforces the myth. As creators of the myth, we’re inside of it and it’s hard to see. It’s literally a self-fulfilling prophecy. We have to crack open to wholeness.

Reframing a masterpiece.

Our culture disparages intimacy, and monogamy gets the worst rap of all. But who among us hasn’t been tempted to swear off or sidestep monogamy and its perils—myself included. We believe it to be unattainable or the cause of so much hurt and suffering, or just too much damn work! But why throw relationship out with the bath water? Let’s surround it with new life and new context instead.

What if we surrendered to the notion that we do in fact need others to be whole? That we are pieces to each other’s puzzle, different rhymes for a unified reason, distinct music notes in the great symphony, threads of a universal fabric…all needed to create the bigger picture, the masterpiece. This is a place I am drawn to time and time again.

Baring your soul to yourself is hard enough, baring it to another is harder still. Yet the aching inside us wants us to go there—riding to the edge for the scenic views, which aren’t visible from the safety of being inland. Inland will always be there to retreat to, but if we don’t go to the coastline and look out over the edge, we would never really know how much space is out there for us, to hold us, to expand into. It is infinite, and so are our hearts.

In the end, we give each other life and complete each other.

(This award-winning essay first appeared at In the Garden Publishing, where it was the winner of the First Annual Summer of Love contest).


Jessica Bahr is a freelance writer, who writes about subjects she is passionate about, including grounded spirituality, integral psychology, conscious relationships, media literacy, gender relations and healthy sexuality. She has been published by various online publications, including The Good Men Project, Spirit of Maat, and Elephant Journal. She recently won the “The Summer of Love” essay contest, hosted by In The Garden Publishing, and is currently working on her first book on the media’s impact on gender relations. She can be reached at [email protected].



Editor: Lori Lothian


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28 Responses to “Debunking the New Age Myth of Completeness. ~ Jessica Bahr”

  1. Lucy Anna Rhoades says:

    I heartily agree…

    The oft heard comment that until you are happy and whole in yourself you can't be in a healthy relationship always annoys me… as if it is even possible to become whole by yourself!!! The parts of you that get triggered in intimacy, in closeness, in relationship, will lay quiet and dormant until you come, once again, into the arena that those wounds were originally received in – in relationship and relatedness…. You can't heal those parts on your own!

    Another one that bugs me is that there is an assumption that it's me or you, not both… What I mean by this is that in my experience when I learn to love and accept and be compassionate towards another imperfect divine human, I also ease my unwillingness to love, accept and be compassionate towards myself, and vice versa… So when I extend more love, compassion and tenderness to myself I am more able to do that for others…. But this all happens at once! We are beings of time as well as timelessness, and it happens here, in life, in the big mixed up mess that is the world…. So much of personal and spiritual 'development' seems to attempt to control, analyse, box, and generally sort out neatly our glorious interconnected, time based, time travelling crazy experience of being humanly divine in a wonderful diverse world of 'others' that are beyond the wildest fantasy of samhadi…. if we can open up and really experience where we already are….

    Anyway, love your writing and your sensibility, thank you, more please….


  2. june says:

    I enjoyed this article and very much agree with what is being said here. As long as we are in this human form duality will be a part of our experience. As you said regarding the void, it's not a bad thing, it's what makes experience possible, life's longing to knowitself in the form of a human being. It has become so subtle, the way spirituality attempts to avoid the human experience, and this particular subject of completeness through intimacy with another is a big one. As you so beautiful articulated in this article, there is a middle ground. The paradox of our existence that we are both complete And incomplete simultaneously.

    Thank you!

  3. lavendercotton says:

    What a well-written article. I agree with what you right. And have myself been very confused this past year and have been torn apart by my desire to be with the man I loved, and the spiritual truth of freedom etc. Stumbling a lot lately, and the confusion at times feels overwhelming.. I'm still not sure what to do. But thanking you for shedding quite a light on the matter.

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    I'm not sure that "baring our souls" is necessary in a relationship nor is being dishonest. Usually what we are wanting to bare is our own confusion we want to claim as our own as if sharing it is some kind of test of sincerity and commitment. If you share a spiritual path and are diligent in it's method then what is left is caring for each other. This probably is all that we need. But if we are still searching for a deeper understanding in life without a common path then we are set up for failure in relationships which do not match. Do the dishes, take out the garbage, do the laundry, cook dinner, do your spiritual practice together, and do not hold on to your own personal confusion as if your partner should somehow understand it.

  5. Jeff says:

    Brilliant inquiry and contentions by a fresh new mind!! I love the way she rolls.

  6. Ed Pettit says:

    Even on this dualistic plain, which IS in the mind, I believe it is possible to see or have vision non-dualistically. In non-dualism, all is one and complete in terms of being without lack. Being as we are created. So it really becomes an awareness of our inherent wholeness that we establish and find inner peace. From this, our relationships are entered into without need other than to share the love and peace we hold and feel from within. My interpretation of finding wholeness before entering into relationship would be synonomous with being healthly in mind and spirit so that relationship becomes its extention. We cannot help but have relationships in this world, but until we are centered, at peace, and aware of our oneness and wholeness, our relationships will often mirror out own internal strive.

  7. Jeffrey Hammond says:

    Interesting and well-written article. I had not heard of the new age concept of “completeness.” I am in a community dedicated to “wholeness.” Are they synonymous? “Wholeness” is defined, in my community of shadow workers (coaches) as accepting all of our qualities, light and dark. We can say we don't possess a quality, but in reality that quality is dormant, awaiting to be unconcealed.

    Now, in this experience of “wholeness” there is no abnegation of needs – for intimacy, for love, for safety – our desires are all worthy. The more whole one becomes, the more we integrate these disowned qualities and pieces, the more we get in touch with our genuine selves. And the more we have the courage to expose ourselves, reveal ourselves, to everyone.

    I don't know if “wholeness” is in the same universe as this idea of “completeness.” But losing the separation between ourselves and the collective, with everyone, seems to me an invitation to connect, to honor our desires, and experience a deeper heart-based life. One with love and intimacy.

  8. Jessica says:

    Thank you for the great feedback everybody! I've read all of the comments and I appreciate thoughtfulness on the topic. Clearly, I’ve already weighed in on the topic (lol!), but I would like to recapitulate by saying that of all the things we do to feel authentically fulfilled and complete – like creative arts, a meaningful career, volunteering, speaking our voice, raising children, doing healing work, gardening, rescuing animals, etc., why shouldn’t and why wouldn’t relationship be one of those things? To encourage fulfillment/completion through all those other methods, but shun relationship/intimacy, as so many do on one level or another, is a type of discrimination of the heart. I’m not saying you have to have a relationship to be 'happy,' but intimate relationship can be (and often is) an integral part of the path of ‘completion’ and fulfillment, especially because of how much it teaches us about ourselves and about love.

  9. Vin says:

    plus its very helpful if you need help to clean out your garage.

  10. Hi Jessica…………….I believe that we are whole, complete in essence, that which is free is our need to fulfill our hearts desires for beauty and wisdom in our everyday lives that draws this sense of self and longing within into our moments of completeness. When we have our own sense of being as a place of completeness, all life is relationship , our sensitivity and sharing our hearts becomes one with the other and we are sharing universal oneness and light as a tool for acceptance of what is and what is immediate in our present reality. Energy moves and changes all the time, completeness is accepting this and knowing that we live in a world that is based on love and that we are in a holy state of completeness always. with or without a partner we dissolve into the one, the blessings of unity and true joy that is spontaneous and free, complete and whole ……….blessings and love…………

  11. Dawn says:

    Thank you for stating this, Padma. I think that quite often people confuse soul-baring regurgitation of inner confusion with true intimacy, then accuse their partners of lack of commitment and caring when the partner chooses not to share in kind. After all, they're sharing their inner-most thoughts, aren't they? Yes, but in a way that should be reserved for a therapist. Being present together, attending joyfully to the details of everyday life, and caring for one another deeply – that is the true intimacy. And this is perhaps not possible until we achieve some level of centredness and peacefulness within.

  12. Padma kadag says:

    I agree

  13. […] concrete, emaciated two-dimensional world behind?! I was raised to wake up every morning and desperately seek meaning in emptiness, on blank sheets of paper, thirsty canvases, half-empty glassesand coffee stained […]

  14. yogamamba says:

    I think it matters not how we see ourselves or choose to think about things – the reality is when looking at the creation there is only creation as a whole which includes everything in it – including you and I – and thats it. Whether we see ourselves as separate or as part of this whole makes no difference to the whole. Once our understanding of ourselves is complete and we see it as it is, no longer distracted by what we 'think' – because what we think makes not a spot of difference – we can only end up seeing ourselves as forming part of this whole totality, and can no longer see ourselves as being in any different from it or in any way separate.

  15. Matt says:

    Right on!!

  16. Christie says:

    This is soooo fucking perfect! Right on! Thank you soooo much for putting it out there! I'm so sick of the spiritual bypassers and fakes that want to shame people that know sacred relationship is where it's at! PURE FRICKING GOD! We can't talk ourselves out of our natural state by using big fancy words and repeating others spiritual HALF truths!
    I mean if all these people that preach we are already whole and that it's desperate to desire a soul mate to share your life with really practiced what they preached, they wouldn't be in relationship and go live in a cave or isolation somewhere alone! LOL I mean seriously. I literally had a spiritual teacher ask me condescendingly why I would want someone to share my life with? IT's over rated….blah blah blah… I asked him, "Well, why have you been in a relationship the past 17 years…?" haha
    So yeah…you hit the nail on the head!
    Sooo beautiful written, it brought tears to my eyes and a smile in my soul…thank you for expressing in words what I felt inside!
    And thank you for differentiating the "desperation" from the true sharing!
    Seriously…best blog ever!

  17. Anon E Mouse says:

    The truth is in paradox. If you believe that Oneness and Duality are different 'things' then you make a new Duality in the mind. Duality is Oneness. You are complete in Separation. Relationship is the Self loving itself. This is not an excuse to never be in Relationship on the contarary when you really start to live this truth that you are complete those 'others' that you so long for will be compelled to be with you because you want nothing. I write this without signature so as to remove the idea that I am here to teach you anything. The great 'I AM' is in dialog even in this Internet and these words are not to negate this article but to add to it. It IS true that we must relate AND when we do this from a place of wholeness we cn only love the Other more with out want. As a painter I have become attached to the painting on many occasions and you know what I cannot paint. When I lost the idea of a me paining well beauty and this is the relationship with the world. YOU are the complete Void expressing itself through the form of creativity which by its very nature is always changing and incomplete AND these 2 are the same oneness. Language is limited to Duality and it is this limited form which when expressing Beauty can express the formless by not saying anything specific. I have difficulty with a title that starts with 'Debunking' and 'Myth' in it. Myths are not somethings 'not real', Myths are how we create this world and we do not need to go around Debunking Myths (Did I do this Here?) in order to accept our own authority and write the story in the way we see so please I ASK write a story that helps you create in this world but do claim truth over anouther (Did I do thie HERE?) and instead rejoice in the paradox that ALL myths are true relativly speaking and that the Absolute can not have truth because it is beyond words. I leave you with words of Blake as it is poetry and has no claim in truth but expreesses the paradox of In the world but not of it beautifully. The infinite is finite.

    "To see a World in a Grain of Sand
    And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
    Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
    And Eternity in an hour."

  18. Nick says:

    Thanks Jessica, beautifully thought out and expressed. I appreciate it deeply.

  19. Ocean says:

    Great article until the short-sighted, narrow & distorted judgementalness against healthy openness and ability to share loving sexual nurturing with more than just one person monkgamously. Monogamy can be equally healthy as loving sexual relationships which are open to sharing with multiple people when honest, but it is an artificial duality to mistakenly & somewhat arrogantly assume that non monogamous sexual loving with more than just one person is an unhealthy or less healthy choice. They are simply equally valid, growthful and healthy choices for loving and learning. I’ve often preferred monogamy for myself, but also am exploring nonmonogamy more now and finding it to be at least as healthy when relating with people who share mutual emotional openness, appreciation, honesty and care for ourselves, each other and the beauty and benefits of sharing loving sexual vitality & empathic interest in each other..

  20. hippyhobo says:

    the problem is the idea that we can find ourselves in another person. you have to be true to the whole you to realize the person who is the rest of you. be completely yourself to see yourself in another. no one can complete you if you have no idea who you are

  21. shailendra tiwar says:

    Is it possible to have a fresh encounter with present without corruption by the past embedded in your intrinsic memory

  22. laportama says:

    I was becoming complete through faith and works, and I was expanded.

    PS>> EJ, PLEASE study up on the true nature and meaning of myths.

  23. laportama says:

    It's OK to be annoyed.

  24. laportama says:

    "completeness" isn't new age.
    It is a rabbinical meaning of the word Shalom.

  25. laportama says:

    That takes a lot of work. Ask Krishnamurthy

  26. laportama says:

    What would Plato say?