Wellbeing Keynote Address
Let It Be: Wellbeing as Fiat for a Life that Gives Birth to the Divine
By Ian C. Edwards, PhD
How fitting it is that this "Wellbeing Keynote Address" is delivered on the day the Church celebrates the Feast of the Annunciation. In many ways, this Address is an announcement, an annunciation of Wellbeing to the Duquesne University Community. It is a message to be delivered to those that will hear, for those and to those that are present, not just in form but also in spirit. It is a forerunner to a kind of "good news" or gospel of health that has its origin in the Divine, with the Holy Spirit as its inspiration. This Keynote Address is to serve as a meditation on the Annunciation to Mary, the Annunciation of the Lord, with wellbeing as a response, as a "fiat," a "let it be" to the messenger's call. A life of Wellbeing is none other than an imitation of Mary, the Mother of God. It will be important then to know the Mother that we are attempting to imitate by reading Luke 1: 26 - 38, those passages in sacred scripture that depict the annunciation:" 26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." 34 And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" 35 And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her."
In response to the angel's call, Mary said, "let it be." We are all called to a life of wellbeing, but very few of us know what wellbeing is or how to pursue it. It is often thought of as "happiness" but is it really happiness? If we pursue wellbeing as a form of happiness do we not run the risk of pursuing a state of consciousness, an ephemeral, transient state that is subject to change, a radical impermanence that we pursue with the hope of being satiated but never ultimately fulfilled? When Gabriel called Mary to her destiny, a destiny that she could have refused, was he calling her to a life of happiness? If we imitate Mary, we begin our "let it be" by saying "no" to the promise of a life of endless happy states, which is in fact, an illusion. While we all know this intellectually, our lived experience tells us otherwise, as we often run in search of that which will make us happy, attempting to satisfy one craving after another. Responding to the call of wellbeing through the imitation of Mary is a "let it be" to the call that allows us to give birth to the Divine in our own lives and to help others do the same.
So, with all of this talk of wellbeing, what is it that we are talking about? Wellbeing is Wholeness; it is ultimately your true nature. It is that part of you that cannot be reduced to a particular function; it is the irreducible subjectivity that cannot be transformed into an object. It is that which brings a sense of aliveness to your life. As wholeness, it is the practice of honoring yourself and others as mind, body, and spirit. It is a way of being; it is profundity, depth, in response to all forms of life. It is deepened love; it is the widening of care and compassion to include the welfare of all beings. It is a kind of interconnected contentment in the sense that you no longer pursue fulfillment at the expense of others. In essence, the other is no longer a means to an end but an end unto him/herself. Wellbeing is the path of lived wisdom where the great ideas of the past and present become part of an overall ethic of love. It is the power of community, social justice, and the art and science of caring for yourself and others in a world of engagement. It is the miraculous that abounds in everyday life making everyday life itself miraculous. It is the possible when we are faced with the impossible.
Wellbeing can be understood as an English translation of what Aristotle referred to as eudaimonia. Eudaimonia has been translated as "happiness" or "contentment" among other terms. Yet, it is more all-encompassing. The term itself is active rather than static in nature. It is a movement of the "eu-daimon," literally, the "good spirit." (In Christian terms, it could even be conceptualized as a movement or inspiration by the Holy Spirit). It implies virtue (or excellence), moreover, a practical or ethical wisdom, a wisdom that is lived from the source, which is the Spirit. When such a wisdom is lived, what occurs is flourishing, which is the idea that I believe corresponds best to wellbeing as eudaimonia.
When that messenger of wellbeing comes into our lives, as with Mary, fear is often our first response. It challenges everything you know to be true, from your chosen occupation, career path, relationships, often your very sense of who you are. The unheeded messenger can come in the form of a symptom - depression, anxiety, confusion, despair, anger, etc. It lets you know that the path you are on is not the path you were destined for, is not the path that was meant for you. At the point where the messenger appears as symptom, wellbeing has been repressed, blocked out of conscious awareness through repeated denial and self-disavowal. Through our own fear, and not away from it, we have to listen deeply to hear, "Do not be afraid," for the fact that you are called to a life of wellbeing - away from a particular career path and toward another, dropping one academic major in favor of one that is more meaningful, leaving a relationship for the sake of pursuing a true love that is not currently known, or realizing who you are regardless of how late in life your realization arises, etc., we are consoled by the fact that all of this means that we are, like Mary, favored. Yes, those that are called in this particular way, like no other, are actually favored, even though a struggle, or a wrestling with the messenger might ensue, as it did for Jacob before he realized, through the message he struggled with, that he was Israel, he who "struggles with God." It was through the struggle itself that Jacob realized his true identity, his wellbeing, which allowed him to flourish, but not be free from future struggle, as the name "Israel" suggests - he who "struggles" and not he who "struggled." Jacob became Israel, Mary, the betrothed to Joseph, became the Mother of God, all through struggle, by ultimately "letting it be." Who are you called to be? And, how can you let your calling come to be by getting out of your own way?
Regardless of whom we are called to be, we are called to be well, with our paths being individuated and unique. What if Mary remained the "betrothed to Joseph" by saying "no" to Gabriel's call? What if Jacob would have continued to wrestle with the angel carrying his namesake? Would the call to wellbeing have disappeared? No, as the Divine would have continued to call them in different ways all throughout their lives, nagging them, troubling them, interfering with their "plans," disrupting their desires, personal goals and objectives, at every turn, sometimes quietly and at other times loudly, but never to cease altogether. Jacob was to become Israel, whether he wanted to or not, Mary was to become the Mother of God, whether she wanted to or not. While each was free to say "no" and not "let it be," and therefore live lives as both Jacob and Mary, the wife of Joseph, they would have been bound for a lifetime of struggle with the messengers and messages they ignored. One wonders whether Jesus was free in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Agony in the Garden, to say "no" to what he was being called to do. Ultimately, it was Jesus's own "let it be" that allowed him to say, "Not my will, but thy will be done" that led to his own transformation into the Christ. Would Jesus Christ, Israel, and Mary the Mother of God have been happier if they would have refused the call? Jesus would have certainly suffered less, in avoiding the betrayal, scourging at the pillar, and crucifixion, but to what end, as he was called to do something that transcended the mere avoidance of pain, he was called to flourish and created opportunities for others to do the same. Jesus was called to be the Christ; thus, in avoiding his call by way of resolving his agony through refusal, he would have denied the resurrection itself. His life following such a refusal would have been a profound act of self-denial, marked by psychological, spiritual, and psycho-somatic anguish that would have extended his agony far beyond the "Garden," forever transforming space and time into suffering and death without life eternal, both in this world and in the world to come. On a personal scale, we are no different in our responses to the various messengers that have called us to our own paths of individuation.
What can be found from the annunciation passage, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, and Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, that after the "let it be," or fiat of each in response to the messenger or message, there is a departure of some sort, whether it be the angel's departure as in the cases of both Mary and Jacob or the departure of the internal/spiritual conflict as in the case of Jesus. This departure of either the message or messenger of well-being (flourishing) comes in response to offering one's own will as a sacrifice to the will of that which is greater than the individual desire - one can call this being aligned with the Will of God, destiny, the daimon, the Holy Spirit, or in Buddhist terms, by way of a realization of one's awakened nature. It is the falling away of self-deception, it is a realization of who one was called to be. Fear dissipates as one recalls his/her original grace, one's primordial well-being, one's call to live a Divine Life in the Spirit. This is akin to the knowledge that God has of each of us before we were born - it is through the realization of this knowledge that God's knowledge becomes our own, so that we see ourselves and others as God sees us - by way of original grace and primordial well-being.
Like Mary, we have to be "virginal" to give birth to the Divine. This involves going beyond all of our preconceptions of who we are so that we can identify with our original grace. For Mary, it was, "How can this be, for I have no husband?" With her ordinary mind, she could only make sense of the angel's annunciation from the point of view of a preconception about how beings come to be, which was perfectly logical and rational. But it was that very logic and reason that created her doubt. Gabriel reminded Mary that the child will be called "holy" as if to assert that the child's name will be "holy." In response to the realization of the who and what that dwelled within her, Mary dropped her preconception of who she thought herself to be, the girl who had no husband, and realized her true nature as the "handmaid of the lord." We can only give birth to the divine child within us if we ourselves know ourselves to be children of the Divine, or like Mary, "handmaids of the lord".
Wellbeing, in essence, is a life of "holiness," which is a life of "wholeness." While this way of living, as original grace, as primordial well-being, will not exempt you from suffering, it will allow you to remember who you are in the midst of it, which is a way to transform it by way of creating meanings that are both profoundly personal as well as transpersonal. It is the bringing together of mind, body, spirit, and shadow all in an integral embrace. It is the living out of one's vocation, career, and relationships as manifestations of one's call to wholeness. While no two people will live out their calling in exactly the same way, each will begin their journey by being called, being summoned by a deeply felt message and/or messenger, an angel. What is important is that we listen, and listen deeply. Many, if not all, are called, but "few are chosen." I think that this choice is ultimately ours to make. We are at liberty to either "let it be" or "let it not be." In choosing our vocation, we choose the person we are called to be (the person God calls us to be), we are letting the life of wellbeing, the life of holiness, the life of wholeness, live within us. Only when the Divine is given a place to dwell can it then enter the world so that it may be a beacon of light to shine before all. "Let it be" so that when you are seen, your wellbeing as original grace can be seen. No matter how it may appear, this is the Life Divine, the life of wholeness; this is the life you've been invited to live. Embrace it and be well.