By Adam J. Pearson
We were never broken.
That’s a helpful thing to see.
It’s helpful to see because many of us experience a gnawing sense that we are not enough as we are and need to become enough, that we are deficient as we are and need to become worthy of love and belonging, or that we are incomplete as we are and need someone or something to make us complete.
Each of these felt senses is born out of a story about “me” concocted by the mind. The stories are patterns of thoughts that we can innocently come to believe and feel lacking and hopeless when we do. “I am broken” is a tremendously common belief in men and women all over the world. As far as stories go, it’s amazingly universal. Innocently, many of us come to believe in this confabulation, a kind of story that Brene Brown describes as a “lie, honestly told.”
Thankfully, the truth is much kinder than this thought that argues with reality suggests. The thought clamors and roars, but gently, reality whispers:
Although we may sometimes have felt as if we were broken,
In reality, we never were, nor could we ever be.
How could this be so?
And why then is this story seemingly exert so much power over so many of us?
Why is it so easily believed?
Let’s explore the innocent weaving of the web of mind that seemed to have caught us in this subtle net of fiction, suffering, and confabulation. Beneath the stories of brokenness, the unbreakable awaits us. It isn’t far; it’s right where you’re seeing this radiant moment from here and now. But before we approach it, let’s explore how we came to believe in the story of brokenness and weave it into the tapestry of the “me” we took ourselves to be.
The Broken Tale of Brokenness
One reason that the story of the “broken me” can often seem to exert such a powerful hold over us is that we often been told many negative stories about ourselves, have internalized many of them, and have learned to recite them back to ourselves as if they were true. We were presented with interpretations and we came to believe them. Having believed them, we came to see through the interpretations; they showed us a world splintered by the story of brokenness.
“There’s something wrong with you,” someone may have said. And we may have come to believe them innocently, because we didn’t know better. We put on the tar-black glasses of “I am broken” and tried to see through them; but all we saw was an absence of seeing, because the glasses blocked our vision. So it is when we believe the story of “I am broken;” it blinds us to all the ways we are well and whole, here and now.
Another reason many of us have believed the story of the broken “me” is that many of us have felt felt the sting of failure, the rawness of trauma, the pain of heartbreak, the struggle of addiction, and the powerlessness of abuse. Out of any of these emotions and their associated events, the mind may propose the story that “I am broken” as a statement of the impact they have had on us, of what they have ‘reduced us to.” Innocently, we came to believe that the challenging events we survived had defeated us, broken us, shattered us. Is it true true?
Yes, what happened, happened. Feelings arose. Thoughts arose. Sensations arose. But were we ever broken? “I am broken” is itself a thought. The thought comes and goes in the wholeness that we are, the radiant, unbroken spaciousness that welcomes it in to the vibrancy of life in this moment.
Can we absolutely know that it’s true that “we are broken,” that we ever were, that we ever could be?
The Fantasy of Fixing the Broken “Me”
In addition, when this confabulation, the story that “I am broken,” takes hold in the mind, it often gives rise to a second, related belief, a sequel to the first story. This second story promises us that if“I”—the sense of being a long-lasting, independent, separate entity that emerges from the mind’s belief in its own narratives about “who I am”–can find just the right insight, just the right answer, just the right seminar, just the right practice, just the right solution, then “I” will shift from shame into wholeness, from deficiency into abundance, from brokenness to fixedness.
First, we assume we are incomplete.
Then, we look for something to complete us.
“I am incomplete” is a story.
“I need something to complete me” is its sequel, which pretends to be a solution to the problem, not revealed, but created by the first story.
According to this second fictional tale, with just the right amount of doing or having, “I,” who am now assumed to be incomplete, will become complete. All I need to get in order to produce this miraculous transformation, we innocently assume, is x, y or z: a perfect partner, a good job, a solid fortune, a good house, a perfect family, or a self-transforming spiritual experience.
Having believed I am broken, the mind imagines that it can make itself unbroken through the right combination of doing, having, and becoming. More having, more doing, more becoming. When the story of being lacking is believed, the mind’s solution is always to get, do, have, or become ‘more.’
But the truth is more subtle. “I am lacking” is a fiction. “I can become completed by more doing, having, and becoming” is a second story pretend to be a solution to the first story. Is that the real solution, though?
Or is the solution to be found in the simultaneously infinitely empty and infinitely full vibrancy of life in the present moment, prior to the stories of “lacking” and “needing to be filled in”?
That’s a possibility that’s worth investigating. Because if it’s true, then we are complete and whole and unbrokennow. We don’t need to have, do, or become our way into completeness. It’s present. It’s what we are now.
However, this isn’t a possibility that we tend to believe so long as we still hold on to the promise of “more.” I’ll be complete when I have, do, or become more. That’s the story in which we invest our faith and look to for our salvation. It’s what we learn from the media, from our parents, from our teachers, from our priests, from our gurus, from our friends, lovers, and family members. Let’s drop all our assumptions and look at it squarely as it is.
The Failure of the Promise of ‘More’
How well has the ‘solution’ that we need to acquire, achieve, or become ‘more’ worked for us? How well has it succeeded in generating a lasting and reliable sense of peace, fulfillment, and completeness while we believed the story that we were incomplete? What have all of the requirements that we placed on our own happiness and wholeness availed us? How well have we managed to buy, achieve, perfect, sex, drink, smoke, attain, or become our way into a lasting, reliable sense of being fundamentally okay?
I would suggest that, for most of us, the story of the need for ‘more’ to fill an imaginary state of lack has failed–but only miserably and completely–to provide what it promised. We learn to know the tree by its fruits and this confabulation reveals itself to be much like a deceitful politician in an election year: full of seeming hope and promises, but empty of actual results when the time comes to deliver.
We get, have, and become more, and then what? We invest all of this time, energy, and money, and yet the seeming discontent and lack remains. Why is that? Why does everything we try to add, obtain, or become fail to fill the inner void we seem to feel within us?
The story of that we need to have or become more in order to ‘become complete’ fails because it is out of harmony with the truth. The truth that we can come to see for ourselves is that there is no inner void within us; there only seems to be as a result of our belief in the story that we are lacking. And because there is no such void in reality, we never arrive at a sense having filled it.
The Futility of Seeking
Seeking for more never delivers on the promise of one day providing ‘enough,’ not because the products it finds are inadequate, but because the story of lack can only provide a sense of lack, not of having or being enough. The story that “I am lacking” or “I need more” keeps the sense of lacking going, regardless of what is gained, achieved, or become. Believing there is a void, we try to fill it; but rarely if ever question whether there is a void in the first place. And thus, it seems we never manage to fill it up…
When believed, the story that “I am incomplete” moves us to envision completeness and fulfillment in the future: in the next acquisition, the next achievement, the next lover, the next gamble, the next fix, the next drink. Not what we have here and now, but the next one. Always the next.
Thus, it is the assumption that we are lacking that creates the sense of void, the sense of void that drives the seeking, and the seeking that prevents us from seeing that we are already complete!
The more we look for something to fill the hole we imagine to be within us, the less aware we seem to become of the wholeness of our present nature. That is the tragic irony of our futile seeking: the very act of trying to fill an inner void only reinforces the illusion that there is such a void in the first place…
But there never was, nor could there ever be.
The truth, that we can investigate for ourselves by questioning all the stories that reinforce the sense of lack is that, in the absence of the stories, there is no inner void.
There are only a network of stories–uninvestigated thoughts about ‘me’–that produce a feeling of a void. We act on the feeling, and thus assume that it refers to something real; but in truth, it never was.
The Roots of the Void that Never Was
Why do the sources of comfort and external validation that we seek fail to fill the assumed void within us or fix the “broken self” we take ourselves to be? The reason has to do with the fundamental assumption that we are a separate, deficient self in the first place.
What does this story of a “broken me” present as evidence for itself? On what does this sense of being a broken self rely? If you look within, you can come to realize that it depends on and is entirely created by, the mind’s stories about “who I am” and “what happened to me” and the shifting, volatile grounds of memory, emotion, thought, sensation, and imagination.
Can anything lastingly secure be built on such shifting terrain?
Of course not. Any castle made out of changing materials–like sand, or thoughts, emotions, memories, experiences, and bodily states–can never last. Eventually it, too, succumbs to the sea of seeming change and time. Any sense of “me” that depends on volatile materials being a certain way or not being a certain way will change along with the elements out of which it has been built.
Belief and Identification Give the Stories the Power They Seem to Have
Thus, by identifying with the shifting contents of the mind, we seem to become enslaved by the ups and downs of emotion, experience, and thoughts. Discouraged, we try to claim a fleeting sense of control as the pendulum of our inner state swings back and forth between loss and gain, excitement and disappointment, ‘okayness and ‘not-okayness,’ and between “I’ve found it” and “I lost it,” again and again.
Slowly or rapidly, we come to see that there’s no way to stop the swinging of the dualistic pendulum while we believe we are caught in its swings and no way to fill the feeling of an imaginary void it generates while we believe that void to be real. The belief is what gives the stories the power, and once believed, the stories generate views of the world that seem as real as real can be while being nothing but fictions without substance or evidence to support them. We believe the story and then we identify with it.
Belief + identification = the feeling of identity.
Belief that “I am broken” + identification with the story of being broken = the feeling of being a broken self.
It’s that simple. The felt identity is produced by the belief and the identification. Do you see it? It’s so smooth and so slick. It operates so rapidly. But it’s still a heist, a con, a scam, and you are both the con artist and the mark. Until you cease believing and identifying with the story that isn’t true. Then all the power it seemed to have rushes out of the story and goes back to you. And in the absence of the feeling of being a broken self, you find out who you are prior to all stories. I suggest to you that what you are prior to all the stories of lack and deficiency is awe-inspiring, complete, and abundant beyond anything you could have imagined.
Without you, the stories of brokenness, incompleteness, and inadequacy have no power. They need you to seem real because you lend you reality to them. By questioning our beliefs, we reclaim the power that we gave them. And it becomes easier to question them when we see that the ‘solutions’ they propose to the problem of inner brokenness fail again and again and again…
The Birth of the Search
Thus, the core issue isn’t our search for relief; the core issue is the erroneous belief that we adopt before our frantic search for relief even begins, the innocent notion that I am either “permanently broken and beyond fixing” or that I am a “broken self,” a “wounded self,” that needs to be “healed” through practice.
Each of these ideas is a story. We first believe the story and then come to identify with it. Once we do, the mind generates the feeling of being the kind of self described by the believed story. That’s how the illusion of personal identity is born. And when that personal identity revolves around imaginary brokenness, lack, or deficiency, suffering is the result.
Once believed, the assumption of personal deficiency drives us to embark on the endless search for the thing, person, event, or experience that will “complete me.” If I believe that I am a “broken self,” then I will yearn to become an “unbroken self,” or a “whole self,” or a “complete self.” And thus, the pendulum of becoming and changing, gaining and losing is set in motion. The search for a solution is born out of the assumption of an imaginary problem.
A Refreshing Possibility
What if you were never the “broken self” you assumed you were in the first place? What if you were never the “depressed self,” the “anxious self,” the “shameful self,” the “lacking self”? What if you–that is, what you truly are beyond all the stories the mind has made up about the idea of “me,” and beyond all the getting and losing, wounding and healing–were never broken?
That is the refreshing possibility that I invite you to consider, that what you truly are was never broken. You may have had the sense of being broken, and you may have seemed to have been broken, but what you are was never broken.
This, of course, is not to deny the challenges you may have faced in the past. Many of us have survived abuse, heartbreak, loss, disaster, and tragedy. Many of us have struggled with depression, anxiety, fear, dissatisfaction, craving, and addiction. These struggles did occur and should be validated as such.
However, the refreshing truth that I discovered is that none of these occurrences ever broke what I truly am or made me “lacking“; they only affected what I believed I was: the stories of the mind about “me,” the shifting states of the body and emotion and thought. I was never defined by a hurtful experience.
We, as we truly are, were never broken and never could be. In order to feel that you are, you have to first:
- tell yourself a story of being broken (or incomplete, deficient, not good enough)
- then believe it,
- and then identify with the believed story.
That is a mental process with three steps. How could you, who exist before the three steps, be a product of their process? That would mean that you come after the process, as its output or product, but is that true?
How could it be? You don’t need a mental process to be; the mental process needs you to be. Therefore, you must come first. In truth, there is no brokenness to a sense of identity except in a story. That’s step one.
But you are prior to step one, you come first. Therefore, there is only one logical conclusion: brokenness can’t be your nature. The feeling of brokenness is produced by storytelling, belief, and identification. You are prior to all three. You come first. How, then, could you ever have been broken?
Resolve Desperation Before Inquiring Beyond The Despair
Of course, this message is of little value if you have the acute sense that you are in a state of crisis and emergency. If that is the case, and you feel like you could use some psychological, medical, or social work support, by all means obtain that first. There is no shame in drawing on the resources and support that are available to you; on the contrary, that is both courageous and intelligent.
When in the midst of desperation, there are useful tools that can help with questioning your thoughts, facing vulnerable emotions, challenging your mind’s stories, releasing trauma from the body, and so on. Many of the articles on Words from the Wind were purposefully written to offer these tools.
These techniques are not ultimate solutions, but they are helpful for getting the mind out of a state of emergency. They offer temporarysolutions that deal with transient expressions–thoughts and emotions. In the end, however, there is only one ultimate solution to the chronic discontent of a life of deficiency, lack, and incompleteness. It can’t be found in practices, thoughts, feelings, or experiences, but only in what we truly are beyond all that we think, remember, and feel that we are.
Anything produced by the three steps of the mental process mentioned above–(1) storytelling, (2) believing, and (3) identifying–can’t be you, since you come first, and the sense of identity produced by that process comes later. Moreover, the stories come and go, the beliefs come and go, and the identifications come and go, but you remain in their absence. If not a broken self, who are you?
The Ultimate Solution: Freedom From, not For the Imaginary Problem
Freedom from what we’re not–an imaginary “broken self”–is found by seeing that we were never that and discovering what weare in its absence.
What we truly are is not a product of mental identification, story-telling or memory. It’s not a product of thought, emotion, or experience. Contrary to what the stories we’ve explored above have suggested to us, we don’t need to “do” or “have” our way into it.
Our task is much simpler: namely, to explore whether this “deficient me” that we assume is so solid and underlies, owns, and claims all of the thoughts, experiences, emotions, and events that arise even exists.Is there a separate, “broken me”? Or does there only seem to be because we’re believing our mind’s interpretations of thoughts, feelings, and events?
The Absence of the “Broken Self”
In my own case, I looked for this “self” very deeply, thoroughly, and comprehensively in the inner landscape of the body-mind and I found no such “broken self” at all. What do we actually find when we set aside the stories and look within?
In my experience, inquiry revealed that thoughts arise, but no ‘thinker’ can be found. Feelings arise, but no ‘feeler’ can be found. Memories arise, but no ‘rememberer’ can be found. Actions happen, but no ‘doer’ can be found. Experiences unfold, but no ‘experiencer’ is found. A body-mind appears, but no ‘driver’ or ‘captain’ of it is found. The center of self-centeredness… is empty. All of these appearances–thoughts, feelings, memories, actions, experiences–are empty of “me,” of a separate “self” to unite them all together.
You are not defined by your mind’s stories about you; you are prior to them. All of these volatile elements of the body and mind come and go and you remain as that which is vibrantly aware of and awake to this present moment, here and now. What we truly are is not to be found in the changing and the transient; it is beyond appearance and disappearance.
The way to find out what you are is to find out what you’re not. Anything that comes and goes can’t be you, since you were here prior to its arrival and remained after it left. You are beyond appearance and beyond disappearance because you witness both in the body-mind’s thoughts, memories, perceptions, and sensations and before they arrive and after they leave, you remain.
Moreover, as we’ve seen, to produce a separate psychological identity, the mind has to go through three steps of a mental process: (1) tell a story about me, (2) believe that story, (3) and identify with the believed story, which produces a sense of an apparent separate identity. If the seeming separate identity is the product of a mental process, how can it be you? It shows up late to the party; you, the host, were here first. Who are you if you’re not your story of who you are?
Prior and Beyond
Thus, innocently, we came to believe that we were the ‘seeker’ of wholeness and fulfillment and that the medicine that would soothe our broken self was to be found out there in the world. The truth is the reverse; you are what you seek, not the story of you, but the reality of you. Where are you to be found? Where else but here, when else but now? What you’re looking for is where you’re looking from.
If you find out what you are, you’ll realize you were never at the mercy of what you’re not in the first place . The luminous emptiness, the awake spaciousness in which these words appear right now is prior to any appearance and remains after every disappearance. You are beyond anything words can ever conceive of, beyond consciousness and unconsciousness, gaining and losing, selfishness and selfnessness, becoming and ceasing to be. You are beyond and prior to everything you ever believed made you broken.
Prior is the key word here. You are prior to all the stories about “you” and prior to the identifications of the mind, not a product of them. You come first; then the appearances arise, and once they go, you remain. What you are was never broken, so it does not need to become unbroken. It was never incomplete, so it does not need to become complete. It was never not good enough so it does not need to become good enough. It was never wounded so it does not need to be healed.
If you directly taste what you are prior to all the stories about what you are, you will see that none of the suffering-causing stories the mind makes up could ever touch you. You are prior to and beyond them all; and that is the key to your freedom from them, a freedom that need not be attained because you never lost it. Nor could you ever. You are it.
The Story of the “Struggling Self”
Why can the truth be such a hard pill to swallow? As Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, “truth is a pathless land.” In my experience, I found that there was a kind of addiction to being on a “path of healing” that always stretched into the future towards finding the next insight, the next breakthrough, the next experience of inner freedom or transcendence. I was a healing junkie.
The mind liked the idea of being perpetually on a path of ‘healing’ because the idea of a path and of being a “broken me” gave it a clear identity; it was the “one in need of healing, the one that could be healed.” It believed that story and identified with it and thus a feeling of a personal identity was produced by the same three-step mental process we’ve already explored. Ironically, what became clear was that it was this very attachment to being the “struggling self” on the path of healing that was preventing the dawning of the awareness that I was always prior to the “wound” and the “healing of the wound.”
Thus, even the subtle identity of being the “self on the path of healing,” a very dear and cherished sense for many spiritual seekers, can keep us looking in all the wrong places to find out what we are: in the next answer, the next book, the next teacher, the next insight, the next practice session.
The truth is much simpler: what we’re looking for can only be found where we’re looking from. There and only there.
That’s the wonder of what we are; it’s beyond both the story of incompleteness and the need to ‘become complete.’ This is not an abstract concept or a spiritual pipedream; it’s a present reality, here and now. The vibrant awareness that these words, this whole room, this body, and the thoughts and emotions in the mind are appearing in right now is it.
It’s always available at all times with no thought or effort needed on your part. It’s enough simply to entertain it, to become curious about it, to give it a tiny little bit of interest and attention, and it will reveal itself as what you are and always were. It’s so simple and so beautiful, and you are it.
Illuminating the Paths
The complete beyondness of what we truly are, beyond all stories, beyond all pairs of dualistic qualities or states of becoming (e.g. getting or losing, wounding or healing, appearing or disappearing, arising or subsiding, etc.), is staggering, and realizing it reveals that we are prior to everything we ever identified with. What we are prior to all three steps in the three-step mental process of identification. In that priorness, our freedom lies, freedom beyond even the need to be freed.
The mind has nothing to do with this beyondness; it can’t make anything of it. No stories can be told about that which is beyond all characters and events; it lacks the meat to make a “me” out of. It’s incredibly difficult to bake a cake with no ingredients.
And that’s the pristine beauty of it: It doesn’t offer a path to illumination; as Paul Hedderman points out, it’s what illuminates all paths.
The Truth Beyond Appearance and Disappearance
What we are is radiantly awake to this moment here and now. It’s not to be found in form or even in some concept of ‘formlessness;’ it’s not even a matter of getting rid of something. It’s prior to the sense of taking on and getting rid of, beyond subject and object, process and representation. Beyond all appearances and experiences, not in more of them, that’s where peace is found, right here, right now, at zero distance from you, in that in which all the thoughts, feelings, events, sensations, perceptions, and memories appear here and now.
Beyond all burdens, beyond all breaking, you are. And what you are is not realized by adding on to what you take yourself to be, but by stripping away the mind’s identifications with everything you’re not. You are free from all beliefs, stories, and identifications, because you are prior to them all. When all that can be negated has been negated, you remain. Freedom from the need to be freed, that’s the giftless gift of what we are.
We were never broken.
Part of a series of Nonduality: