Health is a slippery thing to try and define. I spend much of my time trying to understand health and healing by reflecting on concepts of wholeness – I am drawn to ways of being in the world that are grounded, sustained, meaningful, collected… I am continually asking what does it mean to be whole, what does wholeness look like, and how do I live into it? Some answers to these questions have arrived in the form of etymology.
“Just as materials obviously carry histories of the animal or the technologies that made them, where they came from in the earth, words also carry all of those histories. There’s a reason certain words work, and it’s because of the histories they carry for us. Lifting that to the surface of recognition is important.” Ann Hamilton
Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings change overtime. Studying the etymology of the modern words we use can be insightful and revealing; for me, the Old English word hal has been precisely that.
“Words make worlds.” Krista Tippett
Ultimately, words are built as containers for meaning. They are vessels to hold our knowledge, wisdom, and insight. In my living questions of wholeness, I learned about the vessel hal. Hal is the Old English for “healthy, sound, safe; entire, whole; uninjured; healed; genuine, straightforward; and holy.” The fact that there is a vessel that holds all of these concepts together is riveting. You mean to tell me that health, whole, and holy are deeply related in their very spelling and origin? That being sound, safe, and healthy is linked to genuineness, holiness, and wholeness? This makes so much sense to me that I feel it in my core, and it is so reassuring to learn that a world holding all of these concepts has existed and just waiting for me to discover.
“The word is the most powerful tool you have as a human; it is the tool of magic.” Don Miguel Ruiz
In his book, The Four Agreements by Don Migual Ruiz, the first agreement is: Be impeccable with your word. This agreement directs us to use words to say what we really mean, to use the power of our words for truth and love. Ruiz invites us to not speak against ourselves and others, to have integrity with the words we use. He believes that words are a creative force, that they are how we create the events in our life. I am inspired by the idea of being impeccable with my words, and one way I recognize the power of words is through spending time to understand their meaning; once I know what words really signify, I am able to live their meanings more truly. I am able to recognize the worlds they make more fully.
‘Health’ is a noun meaning the state of being free from illness or injury. I find this definition to be incomplete. There is so much more to being healthy and well than just the absence of disease, and finding the root word hal has given me the framework to talk about it. Health is being free; free as being in your own power, not under the control or confinement of another, in regards to the illnesses and injuries you experience. Health is also deeply connected to wholeness, healing, and holiness.
‘Wholeness’ is a noun meaning the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity, the state of being unbroken or undamaged; good physical or mental health. The state of forming a whole… unity… good health… Wholeness can also refer to holism, the idea that systems and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not just a collection of parts. Wholeness is also connected to integrity, the ethical quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.
‘Heal’ is a verb that means to become sound or healthy again; alleviate; correct or put right. ‘Holy’ is an adjective meaning dedicated or consecrated to the Divine or a religious purpose; devoted to the service of the Divine; morally and spiritually excellent. Devoted means to be very loving or loyal. Holiness is the state of being holy. I understand holiness as a way of being that holds love and loyalty for the greater power that connects all of us, dedicating time and effort to moral and spiritual excellence.
Words are incredibly powerful. The collection of words held in hal help me to understand that health, wholeness, healing, and holiness are much more than individual concepts. This vessel holds nouns, words that name, verbs, words that describe the action, state, and occurrence, and adjectives, words that name attributes. Within hal there is a whole grammatical set. A collection of words to contextualize each other. A collective. It is only through recognizing the relationship between the words health, whole, heal, and holy that I have been able to better understand what each word means.