Ego & Soma - the Body-Mind Relationship
“Another outcome of Somatic Meditation practice is a more nuanced view of the ‘mind-body relationship’ – or in our terms, the relationship between the left-brain/thinking mind and the Soma. As mentioned, particularly in modern societies, there is a tendency for the left-brain, ego mind to function in a way that can only be described as pathological – that is, overly rigid, disconnected from the body, solipsistic, dysfunctional, and ill. In this, its linear, logical, linguistic style resists the Soma; and more, it dominates, marginalizes, and denies what somatic consciousness knows. If we are historians, we may want to trace this pathological development back to the rise of agriculture and the more and more complex societies it brought, where left-brain function increasingly became the most important adaptive function favoring survival.
When the left brain and the Soma are not communicating, the ego mind operates in relative isolation from the Soma. Then it is able to develop a logic that is relatively self-enclosed and self-convincing of the idea that things could not possibly be other than what it thinks. As McGilchrist explains, it takes its own concepts as reality itself, even when, as recent experimentation has shown, contrary information is present to the Soma’s perceptual field. Smug ‘denial’ in the face of overwhelming somatic evidence to the contrary seems to be one of the pathological ego’s special skills.
Often amid considerable distress, through the gritty, hands-on, somatic meditations, one comes to a direct and sometimes disturbing perception of the pathological ego as it functions in one’s own life and experience. The somatic practices serve to expose the left-brain pathology. When this happens, when we begin to observe our left brain functioning from within the larger awareness of the body, the authoritative, dictatorial, self-certainty of our thinking mind begins to seem artificial, forced, and even nauseating. We are no longer able to believe unquestioningly what we think. Thus begins the process of dismantling the isolated ego; in the process, we begin to make more room for the unique reality and far more inclusive and accurate knowingness of the Soma.
At the same time, as we work our way through the protocols and their phases, we begin to notice another option for our ego, operating in a nonpathological manner, a not-quite-so-linear way, in increasingly intimate connection with the Soma. The practices bring this about by establishing links of communication – growing new neurons, neural fibers, neurological connections – between the direct experience of our Soma and the left hemisphere. As this happens, we see that our left-brain, ego mind does not disappear; instead, it begins to feel more wholesome and healthy, more realistic, connected, and grounded. At this point, our ego mind is becoming increasingly transparent to the new information that is constantly arising from the Soma, from the darkness of the unconscious. Many indigenous peoples – relying on symbolic and ritual practices – do exhibit this kind of collaborative relationship between conscious mind and Soma, and one suspects that in the course of human evolution the distinct yet functional relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the ego and Soma, was likely the original state of affairs.
As new information comes in, we are able to ‘update our files,’ in Jill Bolte Taylor’s metaphor, and delete those files that are out of date. The healthy ego consciousness is thus receptive to – and nourished and reinvigorated by – the continual influx of new data; and it is able to change its point of view, as needed, in an ongoing way. The ego consciousness is then open and malleable; it is fluid and flexible; it is able to let go of ideas, preconceptions, and beliefs that no longer apply and reform conceptual pictures, the maps, that are more apt and appropriate to reality as it is showing itself, right now.
Seen from the standpoint of Somatic Meditation, the ego has two primary functions: first, a self-imaging function, and, second, a managerial function. In terms of the self-imaging function, our conscious mind is continually engaged in the process of defining and redefining – and protecting and maintaining – our identity: who we think ourselves to be now in relation to what we think of as our world and who we think ourselves to be over the course of our life (our story). This has the potential to be an entirely healthy and creative human process. The managerial function puts into operation and actualizes in our life the intentions, plans, and agendas arising from our self-imaging function.
When the self-imaging function is pathological, it is forming and reforming our conceptual identity in isolation, in ignorance of and often contradiction to our actual experience and in opposition to the facticity of our life and world – as directly and unerringly known by our Soma. When this happens, then the managerial function is in the service of this pathology and serves to prop it up and reinforce it. By contrast, when the self-imaging function is operating in a wholesome way, through its transparency to the Soma and constant updates based on somatic data, then the managerial function acts as a reflection of and in support of our healthy self-imaging.
Somatic Meditation shows us a way through which, by entering through the gate of the Soma, we can heal our dysfunctional, pathological ego. From one point of view, the process could not be simpler. When, through somatically grounded meditation practices, we turn our attention to our Soma, we are already healing the neurological and cognitive breach between left brain and Soma. The more we attend to our Soma, the more we are able to tune in to its own style of awareness. And the more we tune in to this, the more we are able to unlock the inborn, natural tendency of the mind to heal itself.”
Reginald A. Ray. "The Awakening Body. Somatic Meditation for Discovering Our Deepest Life." Shambhala, 2016.
*** This book is a concise, beautiful distillation of a lifetime of body-based meditation practice ***