Ahamkara: Parts and Voices

Lesson 18:
Ahamkara: Parts, Voices and Selves: 

In yoga, whether in meditative posture, or a more dynamic one, we are tracking the ongoing flow of energy and information moving through various layers of embodiment. We begin with gross sensations such as tightness in a muscle, or restrictions in the breathing, and in time, asana practice opens us up to the more subtle sensation/perception/information flowing from cells tissues and organs as well.

In the next section of our explorations of the energy flows of the body/mind, we have come to the mental creations that are involved in the ‘sense of self’, the ‘I, me and mine’ thoughts. As mentioned in Mind: Part 1, the role of a mature ahamkara is to create a sense of self that can remain stable while it organizes the many layers and levels of mental life. This requires integration with the buddhi, the innate intelligence. This is not necessarily an easy process as, for most of us, the buddhi is lees than fully developed and this self sense morphs into a complex constellation of competing and limited ‘selves’, each claiming to be the true ‘I am’. As these are contructs of prakriti, they are inherently limited and impermanent and thus cannot be the ‘True Self’ or Purusha.

As we discover in mindfulness, where and how we pay attention greatly shapes this self sense and the development of these partial selves. Also, awakening simply allows attention to have a deeper and longer sense of just resting in ‘Now” /timelessness/drashtu svarupe/ Purusha. This resting in timelessness will gradually shift the self sense from the partial selves to “I am this (timelessness), the “True Self”. Then the True Self is both Unique and Universal and operates through the other ‘selves’ to bring creativity to the world.

Because we also inhabit the world of time, prakriti, or impermanence, as the Buddhists would say, we have and need these other ‘selves’ that appear and modify our energy, our behavior, our actions in the world. Some of these ‘selves’ are creative, compassionate and wise, and arise out of our deep connection to the fullness of the present moment, the True Self. We want to nurture these. Others are small-minded, self-centered, petty, and destructive. These sources of suffering are based upon trauma, habit and conditioning and can be modified through mindful attention and thoughtful practice, what Patanjali calls in I-2, ‘citta vrtti nirodha’, ‘resolving the dysfunctional mind states into healthy flow, or ‘citta prasadana‘ from I-33.

imagesI have experience with two approaches to the exploration of these ‘selves’ which come from western psychotherapy. The first is known as “Internal Family Systems”, and was developed originally by Richard Schwartz. In brief, the IFS model postulates that the human mind often has numerous ‘sub personalities or selves, that are called ‘parts’, (implying that none are the ‘whole’ person). They are probably of different ages, with different skills, deficits, life experiences and desires. They are all valuable and necessary to the healthy functioning mind, but, for various reasons, often take on more problematic, conflicted or destructive roles.

Also, in IFS there is a “Self”. This Self is the seat of consciousness, is already and always highly integrated, and ideally is the CEO of the mind. Its role is to delegate authority and mediate disputes among the parts. The Self is not a part, but can be lost in the background noise of conflicted parts. Think of it as the integrated linking of Ahamkara and Buddhi, to use the yogic terminology. The role of IFS therapy is to help differentiate the Self from the parts, establish the “Self” at the center where it belongs, and help the ‘self identity’ remain grounded in the ‘Self’, rather than jumping from part to part. The centered ‘Self’ can then help resolve conflicts amongst the parts Unknownby giving each a voice to be heard and a role to play in the ongoing flow of mind activity.

According to IFS, when trauma upsets the mental/emotional system, polarization arises among the parts and they organize into warring factions, usually taking on extreme roles. These factions generally fall into three categories. The managers try to ‘maintain control of the confusion, usually by repressing the injured, wounded, unhappy parts. These unhappy parts, known as ‘exiles‘, are too painful for other voices to acknowledge, so they are kept ‘locked up’ in the unconscious. If any of the exiles ‘escape’ and start to demand attention, or take over, the ‘firefighters’ jump in and try to ‘extinguish’ the intensity of the exiles. They will try anything to dissipate the fire, including encouraging over-indulgences in drugs, alcohol, food or sex. Thus, although they seem to have the same goal as the managers, that is, keeping the exiles quiet, firefighters often operate by creating even more damage and suffering, leading to even stronger exiles, requiring more work from the managers. It is a vicious cycle of repression, explosion and suffering. Only reestablishing the ‘Self” can begin to restore order to the system. The role of the therapist is to help the client ‘differentiate the ‘Self’ from the parts, and then facilitate a dialogue between the Self and the various parts, to help sort out healthy roles.

The second pyscho-therapeutic approach that I have experienced is known as the ‘Big Mind’ process, an offshoot of “Voice Dialogue”, created by Hal and Sidra Stone. Big Mind comes from the insight of Zen Master Genpo Dennis Merzel, or Genpo Roshii, who met imagesthe Stones when they were brought in to help resolve some conflicts in the Zen center he was involved with. He later combined Voice Dialogue with Zen insight to expand the number of ‘voices’ available. In Big Mind,  the word ‘voices’ is synonymous with ‘parts’ in IFS. They are the sub personalities of the psyche and can be dualistic or non-dualistic. You can see the obvious parallels to IFS in the voices. Some dualistic ones include the: protector, controller, seeker, doubt, anger, fear, the damaged self, victim, the wounded child, shame and the rejected one. The non dualistic voices can include Big Mind, Big Heart, Great Joy, Great Gratitude , Great Doubt, and the Master.  These all arise from a grounded sense of Self as unbounded and free. Like in IFS, the dualistic voices have a key role to play, but need to be seen, heard and integrated into the ongoing flow. The Non-dualistic voices are responsible for this healing.

As you explore your own inner voices, you may find some that are familiar and some that have been hiding. Name them if you can and let them speak. Be observant and creative. Create voice collectives or sub systems that can work together harmoniously. If the exiles manage to escape surreptitiously and you find yourself reeling from the emotional shock waves, you have to find ground and some spaciousness. Then you (the Self) can negotiate.



Beginning: Related Links
1. Developing Mindful Awareness
2. Attending to the Breath
3. Orienting to Grounding and Lightness


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Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8


Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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