The ego is a persistent contraction of awareness in the form of a collection of self-images that causes suffering through artificial self-limitation ~ Saiva Tantra (1) (Translated by Christopher Wallis)
Reflecting on this quote may be a good place to begin to reclaim our health and to recognize the reasons we are limited in our ability for self-love. The contraction of our awareness creates a separation from our true Self that results in fear, loneliness and all the self-sabotaging behaviors resulting from this separation. Helping my patients heal this separation from Self is the essence of my work as a physician and a core catalyst for healing. The false beliefs of our ego born from the contraction of our awareness form the roots of our symptoms that cause suffering in our mind and body.
As we move through life, the imprints and impressions from our family of origin and society affect our behaviors, beliefs and our relationship with ourselves from childhood and beyond. If we uncover the root of any issue we are struggling with, we can identify the contraction in our awareness. As children we are more expansive in our beliefs about ourselves and uninhibited in our self-perception, but over time, this changes. We become contracted as we are conditioned by fear. These contractions form patterns upon which our psyche and our relationship to ourselves becomes organized. We begin to perceive ourselves through the lens of limitation, feeling like we are “not enough” and become separated from our True or Authentic Self.
The journey through the first half of life is filled with imprints and impressions that distort our perception of ourselves and others and many times, life itself. Yet, something else inside us, deeper than these beliefs and perceptions simultaneously accompanies us. This is our authentic (Soul )Self. If we become conscious of when this emerges in even small ways, we can see how we were protected through difficult times, how we gained insight, strength and endurance and how we survived. This wondrous ability to survive and emerge transformed, informs us that there is more to us than our beliefs, distortions and contractions from our imprinted selves; that we do contain a deeper, more expansive, more courageous Self that continues to live, love, and experience joy and connection underneath our struggles and our fears.
Our ego, contracted as it becomes during the first half of our life, needs to be rendered, softened and reoriented during the second half of life. It must shift into serving the Self from now till the end of life versus being center stage as the decision maker as it has been. We may experience this in small ways initially, and if we remain conscious of this reorientation process, the ego is rendered further until it assumes its proper position in service to our larger purpose. Then the Self can take center stage. The context for understanding this reorientation is not present in our society, so people arrive at the midlife threshold with confusion and disorientation, searching for a deeper meaning to their life.
There are moments when Self shines through, when we feel more expansive and more aligned with it. For example, when we attempt to transform an unhealthy habit, we may feel moments of lightness, health, expansiveness and victory. If we bring our consciousness to these moments, we feel more aligned with the Self, more liberated, expanded and less limited in our ability to succeed. When we do, we have rendered our ego a little bit. As we continue our process of transforming the unhealthy habit, the feeling of expansiveness begins to gain traction and loosen the contracted ego that may negate our success. The more we bring consciousness to this expansive process, the more our ego is rendered. With persistence, the habit transforms and the contraction releases. During the second half of life, it is necessary and imperative to make this kind of expansiveness our new platform for living.
Our contracted awareness is a result of what we are told about ourselves and the nature of reality. The Western world perceives reality very differently than the East. The focus in the West is more rational, concrete, defined, dense, physical and ego-centric. The East includes some of these characteristics as well, though more prevalent in the collective, is a deeper understanding of life beyond the rational and logical. The collective worldview of the East values what is sacred and includes aspects(2) of the Feminine Principle(3). This worldview is inclusive of life, death, suffering, meaning and the importance of community. It is heart-centered.
There is also a recognition that the second half of life is a time of detaching from worldly goals and externally assigned values and turning one’s vision towards inner work where healing the relationship with Self is a priority. Transition into the second half of life is seen as an initiation into eldership and is taken to heart.
In the West, this worldview seems foreign and even somewhat pathological, yet a craving for meaning at this level is ever present in midlife and beyond.
So what is a good place for us to begin?
I say, start where you are. Take note of your relationship to yourself in all of its facets and uncover whether you have a loving and authentic one. Do you feel the need to compensate for how you feel about yourself? Do you find yourself doing things to make yourself feel better that are not healthy? If you do, then this is where the contraction, the separation from Self is palpable. This would be a good place to start. Having uncovered this separation, the intent of your inner work would be to heal your self-worth
What do you say to yourself when you see your reflection in the mirror? Do you feel admiration or love for who/what you see? If you feel critical or are filled with self-loathing (be it fleeting) this is where the contraction, the separation from Self is palpable. This would be a good place to start. Having uncovered this separation, the intent of your inner work would be to heal self-loathing and cultivate self-compassion.
What do you say when you are thinking about what to eat while under stress? Do you find yourself reaching for unhealthy comfort food or do you think about what you can eat to nourish your body under stress? Do you feel you deserve nourishment? If not, this where the contraction, the separation from Self is palpable. This would be a good place to start. Having uncovered this separation, the intent of your inner work would be to learn how to nourish yourself, and why you are worthy of this.
What do you feel when you need to invest in self-care? (This is a big one for many of my patients). Do you feel worthy to invest in your healing? If not, this is where the contraction, the separation from Self is palpable. This would be a good place to start. Having uncovered this separation, the intent of your inner work would be to heal what you consider your worth to be.
We can only start where we are. We have much work to do to render the ego as we age. The contracted beliefs of the ego in the Western world are harder to render as we live in a collective that values logic and rationality over feeling and sacredness. The externally assigned values are ego-centric not intrinsic. As we repair the separations from Self caused by contractions in our awareness, we can experience sacred moments more often. These are confirmations of contact and resonance with the Self. These are the moments when we feel our soul radiance underneath the contractions.
Intending to be in this state of awareness more often requires us to remain conscious of our contractions based in fear as well as the expansive Self underneath them. When we behave from the deeper level of expansive awareness, over time, the ego is rendered enough to serve the Self rather than run our life. This is a slow yet deeply spiritual practice, critical for us to cultivate in midlife.
Reflecting on this process and putting forth our intention to live consciously is a good place to start. It has the power to heal some of our deepest wounds and can begin the process of reclaiming our health at the deepest levels.
©August 2018 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative
Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of – Becoming Real: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife
2014, Medial Press.