Becoming Our Inner Sage: We Are Our Own Master
The Interplay of Ego and Instinctual Intelligence
As we more and more awaken the Healer within and enliven it with devotion, there is less and less victimhood. Instead, agency, power and sense of choice and responsibility arise. We may grow appreciative or even honored for these imprints that used to be called wounds. When that happens naturally (without forcing it to happen), the imprints, or the wounds are transformed into a personalized source of medicine available for the healer to perform healing in the world. – Spring Cheng
There is a common misunderstanding about the teaching of eastern spiritual traditions in modern times. Some people believe enlightenment is a state of being elevated or even detached from our basic instinctual nature. I believe a more accurate statement is that enlightenment is an ongoing process of integration between our spiritual essence and basic instincts.
Let us understand these four phases with an embodied exercise that involves our hands and the lower belly. The belly area below the belly button is what the Taoists called Dan Tian, the Elixir Field. This is where our “gut brain”, a large complex network of neurons, is located in the GI tract.
While modern medicine has just begun understanding the importance of this “second brain”, it has been the primary focus of Taoist cultivation for millennia. Cultivating Dan Tian, the Elixir Field, leads to a kind of intelligence and a way to navigate the world that is more instinctual, intuitive and spontaneous. However, this instinctual intelligence, more prominent in indigenous and pre-industrialized cultures, is often misunderstood and denigrated, labeled as “primitive” throughout the era of colonization and modernization. As a result, for most of us who were brought up in a modern world that emphasizes intellectual achievements, this instinctual intelligence is suppressed and its unconscious expression carries the imprints of collective trauma as a result of the suppression.
In this exercise, we will invite our hands to represent the intellect-based Ego and our belly/pelvis to represent the instinctual intelligence.
We will do this exercise in a sitting position. Lay our feet firmly on the ground. Adjust our spine so that the spinal discs stack right on top of our pelvis. First, we lay our hands on our lower belly or the pelvic bones as we turn our attention to breathing. We feel the expansion and contraction of our belly, the subtle vibrations of the pelvic bones under our hands. With every breath, our belly (instinct) is softening, more open to receive the hands (Ego), as if it were a womb receiving a fetus. Eventually we feel our hands and belly are in a sweet mutual embrace. This is the Being phase of evolution.
The emphasis of Being is an oceanic feeling of belonging, a sense of being a part of the larger life where the bonding is given and unconditional, without needing proof, just like a fetus nestled in mother’s womb, or a seed sleeping in the embrace of earth.
Next, we start to gently move our hands, one at a time, out of the sweet embrace, sensing and exploring our environment. Following our impulse, slowly our hands reach to the left, right, up, down, front and back, always maintaining a keen sense of connection with the belly or the pelvis. Responding to this slow movement, the pelvis follows the moving hands, swaying gently. We will soften our muscles and skeletal structures so that information about the movement can flow freely between our hands and pelvis.
This is the Doing phase. In this phase, the hand (Ego) differentiates from the belly (instinct), exploring its environment with an active agency. It still maintains a connection with its base, the lower belly and pelvis, while the lower belly and pelvis respond to its leading by following its movement.
This is a healthy development of Ego. Unfortunately, the current state of our culture at large has not learned how to support this healthy development of ego. We suffer a great deal from an unhealthy expression of ego.
We can explore what this unhealthy Ego feels like by isolating our arms and hands and locking our lower belly and pelvis. We can still move our arms and hands, reaching in different directions. However, this time, the movement is isolated to the limbs and the pelvis is unresponsive to the movements. Try it out. You probably will feel stiffer, with more effort to reach and grab, and with less range of motion. Does that remind you of what expression of an unhealthy ego feels like?
When there is a disconnection between the Ego and the more basic instinct, a more narcissistic version of Ego arises takes place. Without the support of basic instinct, we feel insecure with our pure being and presence. We become hungry for attention, prone to excessive domination and control.
The emphasis of the Doing phase is differentiation and autonomy. In this phase, the hands (Ego) find their own autonomous agency.
Next, we will reverse the role of hands and lower belly. We will initiate the movement from our pelvis and allow our hands to follow. (You may have already spontaneously started doing that in the previous phase of exercises.) For the hands and lower belly to maintain a live communication, hands and belly are naturally trading roles, taking turns leading and following. As the belly leads and hands follow, we experience the phase of Allowing. This is a more Yin version of Ego development, a pivotal aspect of Eastern Asian cultures influenced by Confucianism.
If you ever have a chance to live among cultures that celebrate Allowing Ego, you will have a visceral sense of the more Yin aspect of the Ego. Being part of those cultures, people are naturally more relaxed and less agitated. An Allowing ego is respectful of elders and authority, yielding one’s personal desires to collective interest. It is forgiving and humble. This is not at all self-judging or self-effacing. In contrast, its humility is the natural fruit of a deep wisdom of how insignificant our human knowledge is in the context of the evolutionary processes of the whole universe. There is a deep appreciation for the vast mystery of the unknown in every living being.
While the emphasis of the Doing Ego is differentiating oneself, developing one’s agency and sovereignty, the emphasis of Allowing Ego is a harmonious relationship with a larger whole.
Doing Ego, when not balanced by Allowing, leads to isolation, dissolution of collective coherence and competitive behaviors that can be destructive. Allowing Ego, often presented as a form of collective ego (usually defined by ethnicity, faith tradition, or belonging to a certain geographical location), when not balanced by Doing, can lead to stifling of individuality and a blind trust in authority and tradition.
In my journey from East to West, I have received precious gifts from both cultures about the Doing and Allowing Ego. I have also tasted the bitter fruits of the unhealthy expression of both the Doing and Allowing Ego.
The reason I chose to leave China was precisely because in the Allowing-dominated culture, my Doing Ego could not find the right conditions to thrive. My desire for freedom of expression and the sovereignty of individuality felt greatly suppressed and stifled. Furthermore, I also acutely felt the stifling of Doing Ego in my parents, grandparents and my ancestral line!
When I first moved to the United States almost thirty years ago, I landed in graduate school. I was quite shocked and confused by the predominant and excessive expression of Doing Ego. The cultural environment encourages people to bolster one’s own achievements, status, and capability above others. It was absurd to me that everyone was so obsessed with being rich and famous. There was a lack of cohesion and belonging among my fellow students. Collaboration was often formed under short-term goals, thus shallow and easily broken because of over-inflated Doing Ego.
Today, as I continue working on integrating my own Doing and Allowing Ego diligently for almost three decades, I experience both greater freedom and sovereignty, harmony and belonging within the cultural environments that I choose in both East and West. My colleague Stephanie Mines said: differentiation is the condition for union. I wholeheartedly resonate with that. I would add to it: differentiation is the condition for union, while union always propels further differentiation.
Now in the last phase of our exercise, when both our hands and pelvis have developed agency in leading and following, a dance may emerge between our hands and our pelvis. Both can lead, while still maintaining communication and listening to each other. The movements become coordinated, flexible, and creative with infinite possibilities. Slow down, and really relish how your hands and pelvis interact, feeding each other information. The movement can be ever so small and subtle; there still will be an exquisite sweetness.
Eventually, you cannot tell who is leading and who is following anymore. Your hands and lower belly become one again. This is the phase of Becoming. The emphasis of Becoming is creativity emerging out of a state of union. After differentiating and developing their respective agencies, the hands and lower belly unite again. Yet this unification is different than the initial Being phase. It is a re-union after the differentiation.
The Becoming phase has moved evolution an octave beyond, spiraling outwards, providing a new ground for the cycle to begin again. This is when creativity as an energy just flows without being attached to a specific “creator”.
Inner Sage is not attached to specifically the Becoming phase, but the integration of all. In fact, you can put Inner Sage at the center where wholeness is.
Now, after the Becoming dance, let’s return our hands back to rest on our lower belly and pelvis, regenerating in the deep pool of belonging. We have completed a micro-journey of one spiraling of evolution. A new round of spiraling is ready to begin. Next, you may choose to explore the relationship between tailbone and head, or shoulder and wrist, or knee and chest, or any infinite possibilities of combinations.
The Four Phases in Healing Context
Now, let’s apply this four-phase lens and examine a healing context. For healing to take place effectively, we first need to honor the Being, the mutual belonging that has brought the healer and patient together. This is a sense of belonging before we assume our specific role as Healer and Healee. My grandfather was the doctor, in fact, the entire hospital, for the village he lived in. He did everything from internal medicine, to midwifery, to dentistry, to mending bones. His patients were his neighbors, relatives, friends and fellow villagers who were responsible for taking care of the land together. This shared sense of belonging provides a rich ground from which the healing takes place.
As Regenerative Health practitioners, how do we cultivate Being? Before we “do” anything to the patient, the patient needs to experience we are with them, honoring them as a unique expression of wholeness. This requires us to become aware of our unconscious projection, judgment or biases, and the underlying pain and grief. It requires us to actively transform our own pain and grief, so we can embrace those around us who present us with triggers. Often a wholesome Being is experienced on a subconscious level, not with explicit verbal communication, as Being is more of a felt sense than an intellectual experience.
As healers, we have already earned some kinds of credentials that showed our efforts in Doing. Often patients come to us seeking our specialty and expertise. In the allopathic setting, this is the predominant aspect of medicine: physicians DO something to the patient, usually through a chemical or surgical intervention. Even in holistic settings, that is also the expectation: the healer doing something to the patient. A massage, acupuncture treatment, or manual manipulation.
In energy medicine, however, healing happens primarily in the Allowing phase, when the healer provides a space to listen to the body and allow the intelligence of the body to lead. The potency of TARA approach developed by Stephanie Mines also lies in the deep and exquisite listening supported by this modality. In the style of acupuncture in which I was trained, we learned to “listen” to the meridians and “read” which acupuncture points were indicated.
As energy healers, we listen with our own sensory apparatus, as well as our intuitive imagination. For example, when I listen deeply to an acupuncture point, an image of mountain or a bright sense of color may appear. If I decided that these images are information that the body communicates to me, I may enter an inquiry process (engaging with my Doing Ego) with the patient to figure out what to do with this information. Stella wrote extensively about clinical cases centered around Allowing in her Substack channel Resonant Attention, which I highly recommend.
The Allowing phase is not at all passive. It requires an active composting of the unhealthy Doing ego accumulated by our modern civilization. Otherwise, our listening would often by contaminated by the noise of our own Doing ego. I often think Allowing Ego is like mushrooms, eating up the contamination of the unhealthy Ego spilled over by the rampant, unconscious Doing ego.
The last phase of Becoming takes place when the healer and patient co-evolve and co-create, for example in a communal healing circle. This is a healing technology vastly underdeveloped in the medical establishment of the dominant culture.
In a healing circle, one person comes into the circle and presents her issue with transparency and vulnerability. Every member of the healing circle listens deeply with their hearts, offering a prayer, a gift, a reflection or a story of their own related to what is being shared. Healing energy is sourced by the space formed when people come together in a circle with that intention.
A healing circle may be led by a facilitator, but healing may happen to everyone including the facilitator. In fact, a healing circle does not treat the issue presented by the person at the center as something exclusive to the person at the center. The issue presented is an aspect of healing that wants to take place in every member of the circle.
In energy medicine and Regenerative Health paradigms, we acknowledge that our body is actively evolving. Healing is not just about erasing the symptoms, but also about setting the conditions to empower our body to further evolve.
Our body has immense capacity and intelligence that is far beyond what our current state of medicine or even science understands. Our physiological process can collaborate with our spirit to fulfill our life’s purpose. It can sense what wants to happen in the future and prompt us with signals. Here is one simple story that illustrates this.
Once I was invited to give a workshop on an island in BC Canada. I found myself attending a local fair where hundreds of people gathered. This was a new community in which I had just started to engage. My intention was to find someone who could help me plug into the community and get the word out to promote my workshop. However, the circumstance was such that I only had twenty minutes.
I held that intention in my mind and then released it, detached from whether this intention would be fulfilled or not. As I entered a meditative state, I felt a tension in my shoulder and neck. This was a physical issue I struggled with at the time as I spent long hours typing on the computer.
Following the prompts of my body, I started wandering through the different tables in the fair. There were many wonderful vendors selling interesting crafts and art. Then my eyes landed on a batch of hand-made shoulder pillows filled with fragrant herbs. One would warm the pillow up and place them on the shoulder to relieve the tension. Exactly what I needed to relieve my shoulder tension! I purchased a pillow right away. As I chatted with the vendor, it turned out that she was exactly the right person I needed to talk to. She was very interested in my work and happily signed up for my workshop.
The word got spread and I had a fulfilling experience with the workshop engaging that community. My shoulder got much relieved from the pillow too. This experience did not happen by chance. From when I was a young girl, I started to develop an intimate relationship with the sensations produced by my body and respected them as wisdom. Growing up, I was sick a lot. My parents, growing up with their parents who had medicinal knowledge, primarily treated me with folk medicine, with very few pharmaceuticals. I almost never took a pain killer for any pain. Through years of listening and respecting my body’s intelligence, my body became an important ally in navigating through the uncertain territories of life.
As I stood at the fair with hundreds of people, my mind didn’t know how to locate the person I needed to talk to in 20 minutes, yet my body could sense exactly where that person was located and honed right in. However, my body did not necessarily speak in words (sometimes it does!). It talked to me through sensations.
The sensations our bodies produce, joy and pleasure, pain and discomfort, potentially contain rich information about our past, our ancestors as well as our future destiny and life’s purpose. It is a deep tragedy that our culture conditions us to seek only pleasure and avoid pain. As a result, our pleasure becomes shallower. Furthering the tragedy, our dominant medical approach often deadens and numbs the pain and discomfort, flattening the rich, multi-dimensional experience of life into a chemical prison.
However, we can release our bodies and the intelligence they contain through healing circles, through embracing the four phases of evolution in self-care and through caring for each other!
To conclude this essay, I invite you to reflect on the qualities of these four phases as summarized in the table and chart below.
The Being phase is symbolized by womb-bearer bearing a womb, the original source of belonging, a human capacity universal to all genders. The Doing phase is symbolized by a warrior holding the sword of differentiation, honing her unique gift or contribution shaped by the process of individuation. The Allowing phase is symbolized by a healer, holding the vial of elixir, inviting the differentiating Ego to regenerate itself by dipping deeper into the ocean of belonging. The Becoming phase is symbolized by a great magician of the cosmos, bringing the divine calling from humanity’s shared destiny, the “sperm” that fertilizes the womb of belonging, a spark of cosmic creativity that re-unites us at a higher octave.
I would like to comment on the Healer archetype specifically in regard to Wounded Healer. From the Allowing perspective, the wound that the Healer took on is an essential initiation. Our soul, which resides in the infinite and timeless realm, thus impossible to incur injury, allows itself to absorb certain imprints of the world in the shape of “wounds”, so that the Healer archetype can be “initiated” or “joined” into the world. When the Healer self is asleep or inactive, we may interpret these imprints as wounds. But as we more and more awaken the Healer within and enliven it with devotion, there is less and less victim-hood. Instead, agency, power and sense of choice and responsibility arise. We may grow appreciative or even honored for these imprints that used to be called wounds. When that happens naturally (without forcing it to happen), the imprints, or the wounds are transformed into a personalized source of medicine available for the healer to perform healing in the world.
One final note: I evoke the archetype of Womb-bearer, Warrior, Healer and Magician to symbolize the four phases. However, this is not to say that Womb-bearer is locked in Being phase, and Warrior in Doing, etc. Far from it! For each archetype to express its full potential, they all need to fully integrate all four phases. However, if they were being called into the circle of a quartet, then the particular phase they are assigned to is the unique and prominent contribution they make to the collective whole.
Questions for further reflections:
Can you identify areas of your life that are predominantly in the Being, Doing, Allowing or Becoming phase?
Can you identify a phase that is your natural mode, a default evolutionary strategy, and a phase that is in its practice mode or early development stage?
Can you identify the four phases in your practice of self-care, or your healing practice?