April 26, 2011

Ego Embrace: from struggle to liberation.

Some weeks ago while engaged in asana or the physical yoga practice, I came upon a realization that shifting my mindset or attitude also has a profoundly positive impact in my life.

When I first embarked upon the yogic path, I practiced Pattabhi Jois’ Ashtanga primary series. Initially designed for young males in the Indian military, its initial appeal to me was not remotely surprising, given my life story up until that point. I had been a loyal gymmer for close to two decades and as a UN peacekeeper, for much of my working life I was surrounded by military presence.

Religiously each morning I’d arise and clear out my living room area, to make space for the intimate Mysore or self-practice community that we had created in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Since then I’ve noticed a pattern with Ashtanga and me. I’d practice it for a finite period and then revert to while still powerful, a more Vinyasa flow oriented practice. Flexibility and adaptability were the lessons that I needed to learn through my practice.  Discipline, one of the hallmarks of Ashtanga yoga, had already been firmly engrained since childhood.

Along the way, I had alluded myself into believing that the reason for my inability to commit wholly and fully to practicing Ashtanga was because of its adverse effects on my ego; i.e., giving rise to my competitive nature. Being an astrologically feline creature, one whose default is already ensconced in ego, I felt that I didn’t need to lend any more strength to it.

The Shift

Recently, one morning, for whatever reason, I chose to step onto the mat and engage the primary series, something that I hadn’t done for several months. While flowing gracefully through it, I understood in an instant that what I needed to do was to grant my ego the opportunity to guide and assist me through this physically challenging practice rather than try to suppress it and lay blame to it for my inability to perfect all of the postures in the series.

I was humbly awestruck by how this seemingly simple shift in conscious awareness had created the required opening for me to take my practice to a deeper level. Postures that were initially unavailable to me opened up like a lotus flower unfolding.

Like a microscopic device, I probed further to see where and how the choice of my words and thoughts may have been restrictive, like during my self-inflicted struggle with handstands. In hindsight, perhaps if I’d approached handstands from a place of play and invited the ego along for good company and measure, I’d have saved myself from the drama, so to speak.

In love and play I emerge into handstand

Nowadays, whenever approaching handstands and other potentially challenging situations in my life, I issue the following special invitation to my ego:

“Ego, how would you like to show up in this scenario? In trusting you, I invite you to support me fully in this endeavor so that the outcome is of benefit to me and others” my higher self lovingly requests. In firmly believing that through the proper invocation of the ego that what may initially seem impossible is on the contrary open and available to me, ultimately, I am able to create freedom and space in my life.

Words carry tremendous energy, weight and power. Whenever and whatever we are battling with, fighting for or struggling against, invariably we will lose.  While action-oriented, the choice of such words carry a great degree of resistance within them.

Mis-appropriation of the ego’s role within our lives is not uncommon. Rarely do we hear stories about the ego being celebrated along the path. Instead, we are advised against entertaining the ego. For example, whenever we practice asanas, we may be invited by teachers to focus on our own practice rather than the person next to us. The mere fact that we may even be tempted to push ourselves beyond our comfortable limits for me serves as an indication of the nature of the ego. In acceptance and embrace of this ego essence it [ego] becomes our guide rather than us becoming its victim.

Unconsciousness gives rise to lives that are lived along polarities – the either/or paradigm. As awareness opens up consciousness, we may discover that life resides within these supposedly stark opposites rather than at diverging ends of the spectrum. Applying this notion to a definition of the ego that reads:

The part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity

our ego is [potentially] the best companion, friend and guide we could ever possibly wish for.

Today I welcome Ego with open arms and heart.


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