While weeding the carrots last week I was amazed at the tenacity of hoary alyssum, and yet I am equally as perplexed by the intricate layers of my ego, after some serious dismantling.
When I awoke paralyzed in ICU after a tragic fall skiing, I floated in an odd sensory state of an active energy body, yet there was no physical movement below my face. That on its own felt distorted, but what was even stranger and what caught my attention, was that I felt borderless.
I couldn’t tell where I began or ended.
Even though the only thing I could feel, access or move was my head, I felt my physical body as disproportionately everywhere. The ‘me’ of me seemed to be formless. I was floating past the thick ICU walls—hearing my daughters coming, I was drifting through mountain passes to Nelson to console dear friends, or feeling vibrations of love coming into my ICU cubicle from all directions.
An Unclaimed Garden
It felt like it would always be so—this unusual yet reassuring, expansive state. I appreciate this state now, as an indication of a psychological experience at the time, more than a physical reality, however scientifically described. I distinctly remember feeling like I was a newborn human, in the sense that everything seemed novel, beautiful. My mind had yet to claim opinions, judgements, attachments or aversion to anything at all.
Waves of colours, vibrations and intuitive hits from dear people near and far continually flooded my awareness, a cascading tropical waterfall of fluid love, warmth and support. I suggest the liminal, light-filled state I occupied could be referred to as a place of undifferentiated awareness.
Fortunately for me, prior to my injury and year of hospitalization I had been exploring deeper studies of yoga. Those teachings took me beyond my physical asana practice, because as an athletic woman I was admittedly attached to my physical prowess. That initial fortune had come to me in my youth through my mom, who had a personal relationship with yoga and Swami Radha. Mom’s books by Radha were like mother's milk for me back then, during my turbulent anorexic teens.
Curiously, years before my paralysis at 47, I had given to mom on her 80th birthday, the last published book by Radha: Light & Vibration – Consciousness, Mysticism & The Culmination of Yoga. This book, which years later l rediscovered, has been pivotal in tilling the weedy soil of my mind after my fall and to this day.
During the early days of my spinal cord injury, in that liminal but obscure state I occupied, I knew all was well when I recalled Swami Radha’s words from that profound little silver book. “The body is the vehicle for the brain. The brain is the vehicle for the perceptions and the manifestation of divine Light, and that Light, to whatever small or a great degree, is the link between human life and the cosmos.”
The Nothing of Me
The place that I woke up into, a kind-of zero-point, was and is fascinating to me. I sensed the importance then, a potent and rich bed of pure potentiality without personality, without desire, identification or agenda.
Of course truthfully I didn’t really know what I would do with myself, with ‘being paralyzed’—yet I knew the limitations were not in the teachings, only in my mind. Radha explains further in that text and tells us: “When greed and self-importance are dissolved, self-awareness becomes present. We have to see where self-importance, greed and false pride…interfere with our essential luminosity.”
One of the things I’m understanding now, is that without the full acceptance after the devastation, without the full surrender of my ego—my identity-self, to whatever the devastation and loss revealed, I was bound to suffer. Looking back I sense the ‘great beings’ provided protection in those early days in ICU by dissolving my ego into that formless state. However unbeknownst to me at that moment, there was still much work to be done.
Indeed, I think it is common knowledge for everyone, that it is the ego which is responsible for anger, fear, doubt, desire, attachment and most all suffering. According to “the Bhagavad Gita, the ego is an aspect of the eight fold division of lower divine nature, which is made up of the five elements, the ego, the mind and reason” (7.4&5).
I know we need an ego to animate our physical form in this reality, that became clear to me when I felt like I didn’t have one in the early days. At a certain point, as I floated in the states of love and pure essence vibration, where there was no movement except energetic, I was aware that in order to bring myself back into my body, and claim my physicality, I also had to reconstitute my ego. It was a bittersweet reunion: the formless love-essence of myself retreating so my identity and person hood could claim physical ground and self expression.
In another keenly insightful book by Swami Radha: Hatha Yoga -The Hidden Language, Radha makes reference to the ego a number of times, as she eloquently unpacks the symbolism and metaphorical meaning of various Asanas (postures). The ego, for instance, is dismantled through the posture of the plow, where she makes reference to the “dignified” work of the plow. The fields are the dharma and the weeds the clinging worldly existence, and we are to diligently plough our way to wisdom, sowing and reaping towards those “imperishable fruits”.(87)
It May Take Lifetimes
Sadly, my midlife reincarnation was a sublime but temporary state, except for the paralysis. My job of weeding was far from complete. The ego moved in fast despite my attempts to grasp at the peaceful state of neutrality and equanimity. I experienced self-doubt and its opposite self importance first—they creeped in, as I tested and tempted my prognosis.
Turns out the great reveal has been more like the grave dismantling—initially of who I thought I was. Gradually as I recovered my physicality I uncovered my projections, my ideas of perfection and with it the need to be right, my ego’s need to compare or judge, and more of my attachments to physicality. Once my physical self recovered and I became more capable and involved in the material world, I soon encountered my defensive personality patterns, which resurfaced like those darn alyssum weeds wherever my emotions were unruly or overgrown.
Hubris vs Humility
Through my fifties and menopause I continued to reclaim who I was beyond my disability, parenting and teaching yoga. In the toil and revelations of those processes, I further discovered the need to release my ego’s notion that I am somehow special. It was Lord Krishna from the Gita who states in Sloka 3.27, “that ego misleads a human being to think she/he is supreme.” But ultimately for me, it was the more dangerous problem of seeking approval and thereby becoming a traitor to creativity and to my authentic self. Through continual challenges to my independence and self-determination, it struck me that there could be no possibility of healing oneself without the reconciliation of ego defenses and crucially—the complete dissolution of victim consciousness or any attempts of self-pity.
I would come to understand that redeeming oneself becomes the continual gesture of reclaiming the “luminous self” with empathy and compassion.
As we unravel our narrative, I suggest that the loss of ego equates to the shifting of one’s consciousness from being here either unconsciously or purposely for yourself, to being here consciously as a co-creator with Source, the Life-force. A perspective which I believe, we could all use more of, at this time.
Growing is Ongoing
I am continually learning how it is possible to NOT allow that ole Ego to run the show and the many ways my tricky ego holds on.
Aligning our energy to the Source Intelligence is a pivotal shift in one’s being. In Hatha Yoga - The Hidden Language, Radha encourages us: “The hard crust of greed, revenge, mercilessness, deafness has to be broken up so that the seeds of understanding and compassion can be sown; and so that the fruit of the true self, a heart full of love and devotion, a mind receptive to divine wisdom, can be enjoyed.”
I think It’s important for us to know that our pain is not in vain. As we forgive, acknowledge, repent, pray, invoke, and intend for our energy to be free of anything that is unlike love, the more spirit provides us the way.
The beautiful mystery of this journey is that the more we accept and surrender to the lessons with gratitude and allow the grace and mercy to redeem us, the more we feel at peace with all parts of life and ourselves.
Self-love is an intimate, on-going conversation with Source.
Whilst we reside in the physical, I know there is a place where we can be engaged and connected emotionally, intellectually and spiritually without ego, with each other.
Cultivating our humility empowers and inspires us, and is where we feel the communion and union with self, other and Source - the pristine bed of pure consciousness. Until then, we plough and till the fertile soil of our awareness.
Mary-Jo Fetterly is a Yoga Teacher-Therapist and Best-Life and Mindfulness Coach.
Mary-Jo is the author of Where Science Meets Spirit, The Autobiography of a Paralyzed Yogi, being released this fall.
Learn more about her remarkable journey.