“Both Wounded and Whole”

  • On September 28, 2017

A few months ago during a talk at an Open Circle event in Berkeley I said something like, “No matter what conditioning you have endured and no matter how flawed or lacking you may feel, you are essentially whole.” During the ensuing dialogue one of the listeners reported how deeply struck he was by this particular statement. “Every therapist should hear this!” he exclaimed.

It is easy for all of us, including psychotherapists, to fall into the story that we are essentially wounded. It is true that we are all affected by our conditioning – by our imperfect parenting, by neglect and abuse, by trauma and unhealthy attachment styles, and by the challenges of life itself. However – and this is critically important – we are never essentially damaged by these experiences. On a relative level, we are impacted, sometimes quite deeply. On an essential level, we are not. As human beings, we are always both wounded and whole.

Who we fundamentally are as open awake awareness remains untouched by our conditioning, regardless of the hardships we have endured. This has been repeatedly verified in my in-depth therapy and spiritual mentoring work with individuals over many decades. Certainly we can lose touch with our native innocence, sense of purity, and natural openness, as it lays buried or dormant, forgotten by the conscious mind. Yet we can and do have glimpses and intuitions of our wholeness in any moment. If our conditioning has been especially challenging, we may need to calm and stabilize the nervous system, before we can have easy conscious access to this underlying wholeness. Yet it is always here, unscathed.

As important as it is stay open to and to discover our natural wholeness, it is also important to acknowledge the limits and flaws of our conditioned body/mind. We don’t need to identify with these limitations, but we also don’t need to deny them. In fact, the more that we can recognize our native wholeness, the easier it is to accept our conditioning as it is and to lean into it with affectionate curiosity – not to change it but, rather, to be intimate with it.

This willingness to fully be with our experience – to fully feel difficult feelings, sense uncomfortable sensations, and to question core beliefs – provides an optimal inner environment for our conditioned body/minds to flower and become increasingly more translucent vehicles for the expression of our true nature.


Hi John, This is a beautiful and deep reflection! I particularly enjoyed the last paragraph about the willingness to feel uncomfortable feelings and sensations and how this is helpful for living a life congruent with nondual realization. I was thinking about this topic after work today, and noticing how this body-mind carries residual wounds and traumas, and also how these can serve as buttons that can be pushed. There's such a necessity for the light of Awareness to permeate and affect these areas. Rupert Spira says that majority of the sense of separation lies in layers of feelings in the body (much more so than in our beliefs) and I was wondering if that has also been your experience? I can say that in my experience, even if a belief has been seen through there are often unresolved corresponding feelings that linger.
    Thanks for your comment, Noah. In response to your question about how much of our sense of separation lies in layers of feelings in the body- it varies. In my experience, separative conditioning is subtle and complex. If we are speaking of developmental trauma, the strength of the imprint depends upon many variables. Certainly the earlier it happens and the stronger it is, the more it is stored unconsciously in the body and feelings. In these cases, the interpretive "story" is clearly secondary. In other cases, the story is the real lynchpin and deeply seeing through it with heart-felt meditative inquiry is the primary transformative step. In any case, there will always be residues of conditioning. How we are with them is what is most important. If we approach them intimately from presence - the light of awareness - they will gradually unfold over time. While I think it is unrealistic (and unnecessary) to be entirely free of psychological conditioning, it can significantly lessen in frequency and intensity.

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