Mind, Body & Ego: How To Live With Sensitivity In A Sensory World
Editor’s note: this article was originally published in 2015, but has been revised, edited and brought out of the archives…
I was lying in the dirt, my face pressed into the ground, bawling.
One moment I was on the side of a boulder, the next I was rolling on the ground with a sickening pain in my ankle.
I pushed into the earth with my hands. Tiny bits of granite stuck to my cheek as I looked at my foot. Everything seemed to be intact, so my husband, Aaron, took my pack and I limped back through the desert, to the car.
So here I am on crutches, “walking” with a protective boot. And this is what I’ve learned:
This experience? It’s not happening to me. It’s happening to my body
Ok, so this is a gross simplification of a really profound teaching of yoga philosophy. In essence, you are not a body, you are a soul living in a body.
At the outermost layer of your awareness is your manas, or mind. This is where information coming in through your senses passes on its journey inward. It takes in all the sights, sounds and smells of the world.
The manas is the thinking facet of your mental instrument. It gives words and descriptions to the impressions and experiences that are being made upon it and stores memory for future reference.
Throughout life, subtle impressions from your experiences are left on you. These samskaras are not just stored in your manas, but are also stored in your energetic or etheric body, upon which your physical body is built.
If you tend to be more sensitive or open, then you may feel or take in more that those who are not.
Either way, your experiences, memory and body are all inextricably linked. It makes a messy, entangled and confusing experience —one we call avidya, or misunderstanding.
The great misunderstanding is to believe you are your thoughts, your experiences and your body.
Your spirit, or atman, however, is much bigger than any of these. While all of these parts of you are true, they are each only a single part of the bigger picture.
Your spirit is experiencing these feelings and what it’s like to live in a rich, sensory world. It’s that old saying: You are a spiritual being, having a human experience.
You are not your body. You are a soul living in a body.
The vast storehouse of information in body and mind, is shared with your intellect, also called your buddhi. This aspect of you has the power of discernment, differentiation and choice.
While the manas gathers information and explains, labels and classifies what it sees, the buddhi is the judge who can recognize patterns and habits, weigh decisions and play out scenarios.
And yet, you can be in the exact same situation as someone else and have a completely different experience.
What is it that makes the difference?
It’s your unique expression of Self. Your personality, your individuality. It is your ego, or ahamkara.
The ahamkara brings your individuality into the arena of seeing, recognizing, discerning and aligning in the way that is best for your particular soul.
Yoga asana strengthens the boundary and nervous system of those who are more sensitive so they are not so overwhelmed by all the information coming in. Calmed and quieted, you can acknowledge your uniqueness (ahamkara), the knowledge from your memory (manas), your interpretation of your experiences and your reflection (buddhi) upon it all.
Yoga would then have you make informed choices and actions to better align with the truth of who you are (atman) and what you came here to do (dharma).
All day long, I unraveled from my fall, and everything made me cry. It was like a release valve was switched “on.” Out tumbled the flood of old, stored up emotion and the release of worn out patterns.
The unhealthy samskaras let go and made way for a paradigm shift.
I feel a new-found freedom to be with experiences instead of to feel a victim to them. My body is injured, but for the first time in my adult life, I realize I’m not injured.
I’m not feeling guilty or like I’m being punished.
I feel connected to the Aham —the pure “I am” Presence that isn’t attached to anything at all.
There is a new space between my body—its stored memories, pain and trauma—and my soul.
I’m more at peace.
Utpaladeva, a great yogic sage, calls it the ahambhava, the I-feeling. He suggests this as a solution to the challenge of avidya: instead of identifying with the ahamkara, distill your experiences down to identification with the Presence within. Look for the Aham beneath the ahamkara to find spirit moving through you…
If you’d like to practice this in an embodied way, check out my yoga class, here.
And if you’ve enjoyed this and other articles by Paisley, please consider making a contribution through the PayPal button below to keep this site running.