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Lions Roar : March 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2013 57 believes that humanity’s fundamental problem is that people are disconnected from their true nature. He adds that while this is a spiritual articulation, it is also accurate psychologically. He believes that this disconnection from our true nature happens in relationship, starting when we are children. Growing up, we are dependent on parents and other adults who are themselves disconnected. Through neglect, abuse, or simply lack of attunement, they transmit disconnection to us. “This is the beginning of relational wounding,” says Welwood. “The child doesn’t feel fully seen, valued, or loved for who they are. Now, you could say, ‘Well, it’s an imperfect world and nobody gets the ideal love,’ and that’s probably true, but not getting it does leave psychological scarring.” For some people, the wounds are minor and readily workable; for others, the wounds are deep and lead to complete dysfunction. Relational wounding creates a sense of deficiency inside, which we try to compensate for by proving that we really are loveable—that we really are good or strong or smart. Theoreti- cally it is possible to heal these wounds without the help of a therapist, but practically speaking, says Welwood, “it’s not real- istic—just the same way the spiritual path isn’t easy to do on your own.” The healing power of therapy, he asserts, lies largely in the relationship between the therapist and client. It’s so rare for us to experience being truly seen and related to by another human being that the therapeutic relationship “is like stepping into a healing bath,” he says. “You’re suddenly in an environment where it’s all oriented toward supporting you, hearing you, being with you, valuing you. Because that’s so much needed in our body and mind, we soak it up.” But is therapy’s focus on me and my personal story at odds with the Buddhist teachings of no-self? Welwood doesn’t think so. Most of us believe in a false self—the conditioned separate self or ego structure, which defends itself against threats and is a purely conceptual construction. When Buddhism says there is no self, that’s what it’s referring to. But then, says Welwood, there is the true person. Open and boundless, it grows out of the understanding of no self, yet has the capacity to lead a full, personal life that’s attuned to relative reality. “If you just live in the realm of no self,” asks Welwood, “then how do you work with relative situations? The essence of our humanness is relatedness. If you’re in a human relationship, you’ve got to process that relationship. You and your partner have got to talk about what you each like and don’t like, what is hurtful, and what is most important or meaningful to you. From the point of view of pure being, there’s no self and no other—there’s just being. But on the level of the person, you’re different than I am. If we’re going to be able to relate to each other, we really have to get know each other. That’s part of learn- ing to be in a relationship.” When asked why intimate relationships so often press our buttons, Welwood turns the question around. “What is the but- ton?” he says. “The button is our relational wounding. If your buttons are pressed, the question is, what is getting triggered? So instead of focusing on the other person and what they’re doing to you or not doing for you, focus on what aspect of the wound is getting touched.” If you understand how things that happened It is possible to heal our wounds without a therapist but, says John Welwood, “it’s not realistic—just the same way the spiritual path isn’t easy to do on your own.”