The ego – self axis that I described in the last post is a construct. That is, it is an attempt by depth psychologists to convey the psychological dynamics and relationship between the ego and self. Neither the ego nor the self are physical - they are not things that we can physically observe and manipulate, etc.. Yet we do use language which makes it sound like there is a real axis of some kind. We refer to our “centre” and feeling “centred” or “uncentred”. We speak of feeling “in alignment” or “out of alignment” with ourselves, and “together” (or not), “balanced” or “unbalanced”, etc., which does suggest that there is some reality to there being some kind of central self core. (Another expression we use is feeling something “at our core.”) We seem to have the ability of consciously “pulling ourselves together” when we feel “scattered” and when we are pulled in many directions, trying to please others, thinking or worrying too much, having too many distractions, or otherwise becoming disconnected.
We sense this inner pole intuitively, and in fact, numerous spiritual traditions speak of a central column within us. Some even have visual representations of it – the shushumna in the Yogic tradition, the Middle Pillar in the Qabala, and even the cross as a symbol represents this central channel which aligns and stabilizes us, and keeps us connected to our selves. Scholar, theologian, and author, Cynthia Bourgeault writes that the wisdom tradition refers to “a vertical axis”, the invisible spiritual continuum that joins the realms together.”
This vertical axis is often referred to as a “tree”. We are like trees, which have roots reaching deep into the earth and connecting with other trees and other beings, and they have branches reaching toward the stars. We, too, are connected to the realms of both earth and “heavens”.
We can become more aware of our centredness as well as our discombobulation (refers to being discomposed), by checking in with ourselves and becoming accustomed to the various feelings and degrees of centredness or its opposite. We can also become more aware of how we are thrown off-centre and/or pulled out of our selves.
Though there are any number of things that can throw us out of alignment, what often de-centres us is our concerns about the opinions others have of us, sometimes even to the point where we have no sense of self at all. To any degree this concern can keep us from living our own lives, and for some, it isn’t until the proverbial mid-life crisis that they start to question whose life they have been living. Others never have such an “appointment with themselves” and never ask the question at all.
I have written about this in a previous post, but letting go of concerns of others’ judgments is different from not caring about our impact on others. When we are centred, we take responsibility for ourselves and refrain from blaming or criticizing others. We are empathic and compassionate to others and do our best to not cause harm, (but sometimes our actions will still not be liked.) Blaming and criticizing can not only cause harm to others, it pulls us out of ourselves, which is harmful to us. It is impossible anyway, to know what others think of us and truly, it is none of our business. Still, even with the best intentions, we can be pulled into viewing ourselves from what we believe is the perspective of others, thus losing our centre.
Years ago, I made a commitment to myself to be as authentic as possible and not allow judgments of others to throw me off. This was in a workshop I attended, at which we each performed a personal ritual at the end. A personal ritual marks outwardly an inner experience and/or intention, bringing to it extra awareness and power, especially when there are witnesses. For part of my ritual, I handed other group members a piece of paper, each with a judgment, opinion or observation (positive negative, and neutral) I believed others might have of me. I then sat in the centre of the circle as people read out loud the various “opinions”. I allowed different feelings to emerge, while still trying to maintain connection to my core. This ritual has stayed with me. It doesn’t mean I never care what other people think, I still do occasionally, but I know I can make a choice to return to my central axis which connects me to a deeper and more essential reality.