Giving “Wholeness” a Higher Meaning
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Thanks to its positive connotations, “wholeness” has become a buzz word in areas of life as
diverse as holistic medicine, whole-foods nutrition, and the human potential movement, which
aims to create a whole person rather than a separate, fragmented one. What these various
applications have in common is that wholeness is a choice—and there the problem lies.
If you are talking about whole foods versus processed foods, wholeness is certainly a choice,
and the same can be said for holistic as opposed to mainstream medicine with its reliance on
drugs and surgery. But speaking about a whole person is somehow different. If you consider the
issue a bit deeper, becoming a whole person is involved in the most fundamental questions
about what it means to be human.
The nature of human consciousness is such that we can take any viewpoint we want towards
our own existence. This goes beyond being an optimist or pessimist, beyond positive thinking.
Or even psychology. At the most basic level, each of us decides how to relate to reality itself. In
the modern era society teaches us to relate to reality through scientific, rational, logical means.
Nature, including human nature, is thus quantified, measured, mined for data, and arranged
through rational explanations.
From such a perspective, the human mind must be the product of the brain, following the basic
logic that brain activity can be measured and quantified. This fact seems so obvious that
neuroscience claims to be the prime, perhaps the only, way to explain the mind. Yet this claim
runs afoul of the entire subjective world, which obviously exists—everyone is aware of
sensations, visual images, sounds, thoughts, flashes of memory, etc., which occur “in here.”
This entire realm of human existence cannot be turned into data or quantified. (For some
background, you might want to consult the most recent post, “Why Math Is Leading Us Deeper
Even though modern society officially relates to reality through scientific, rational means,
people actually keep a foot in two worlds, attending to the worlds “out there” and “in here”
separately. In consciousness studies this is known as the subject-object split, but it is far more
than theoretical. Every experience renews the subject-object split, because in every experience
there is something “out there” that registers as a perception “in here.” Fireworks are shot off
on the Fourth of July, hot dogs are served at the ballpark, the sun sets and the moon rises—in
each case, the objective worlds presents a phenomenon, and the mind perceives it, usually
followed by a personal reaction—oohing and aahing at the fireworks, enjoying the hot dog,
feeling a romantic glow in the moonlight, and so on.
On the surface you might suppose that relating to reality through the subject-object split is the
only way to relate. If so, then aiming to be a whole person would be futile. Wholeness by
definition lies beyond any kind of split or fragmentation. In physics, for example, more than a
century has been spent attempting to fuse two irreconcilable domains, the quantum world of
microscopic phenomena and the so-called classical world of macroscopic phenomena. This split
pertains to everyday life because there should be a seamless connection between quanta, the
basic building blocks of nature, and all the things we see around us—rocks, trees, mountains,
So far the split has proved insoluble, however, and physics remains with a rift down the middle
that no one has been able to fuse or bridge. The same is true in the human mind. The world
“out there” operates through things like cause-and-effect that should seamlessly connect to our
subjective responses. Sometimes there is no serious rift. If you poke someone with a pin, they
will go “ouch” almost without exception.
Yet these predictable responses are few compared with the unique ways in which seven billion
people are building a life story based on their own beliefs, memories, desires, fears, and
predilections. You cannot robotize a human being, no matter how hard authoritarian regimes
have tried. There is always the unknown, unpredictable possibility of a new and unexpected
thought. That’s the source of our greatest human gift, creativity. But it is also the source of our
suffering. The unpredictable mind is intimately tied to the uncontrollable mind, which afflicts us
with guilt, shame, doubt, hostility, anxiety, and depression.
For centuries it has been declared, usually in a religious or spiritual context, that the cause of
suffering is the separate self. Isolated and alone, building our individual stories, we have no
connection to wholeness. We are like coral reefs amassed from tiny grains of experience, and
that’s that unless we can exchange the subject-object split—the very thing that placed us in
separation—for a new relationship with reality.
Let’s say that you accept the terms of this argument, or if you don’t, let’s say you have other
reasons for believing that wholeness is worth attaining. How would you get there? What would
it feel like? Might you not be better off with your present life, warts and all, than pursuing some
chimera? The answer to all of these questions is the same: they are the wrong questions. They
presuppose that wholeness is a choice when in reality it isn’t.
Wholeness is everything. It is the One, the All, or Brahman, as it was known in Vedic India.
Being whole, it cannot be accepted or rejected. It cannot be lost, either. To choose wholeness is
like saying “I chose not to exist yesterday, but I have decided to exist today.” Another
implication, which will surprise almost everyone, is that you cannot related to wholeness. There
can only be a relation between two separate things, and wholeness has no separations, no
divisions, no “this and that,” no “yes or no.”
As a result, wholeness offers the possibility for choiceless awareness. In choiceless awareness
you experience yourself as whole, which is to say, as pure existence and pure consciousness.
You still accomplish the things you ordinarily do in the world, but your experience is seamless
and unified. I realize that choiceless awareness sounds arcane if not impossible. We are so used
to relating to reality through the subject-object split that everything is a matter of A or B.
Countless choices fill our lives.
But these choices have not made us happier, wiser, or more certain about who we are and
what our place is in the universe. Indeed, no ultimate questions have been solved, which is the
legacy of separation. We peer into reality like children with their noses pressed to the window
of a candy store. This isn’t the place to detail what the journey to wholeness actually is (for
that, please see my book, The Book of Secrets), but the road to wholeness begins by knowing
what’s at stake: a complete shift in how we relate to reality. From there, the possibility of
higher existence opens up.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Chopra is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are The Healing Self co-authored with Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D. and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. Chopra hosts a new podcast Infinite Potential and Daily Breath available on iTunes or Spotify