Modern Elder, Ancient Wisdom – The Power of Self-Reflection
Breathing new energy into old ego patterns can sometimes ‘ventilate’ habitual entanglements that we have built up over a lifetime. Ventilating these built-up patterns is important for disentangling complex ego defenses that have in fact served us throughout our life, however, without the ability to self-reflect, our own minds can become an obstacle to wisdom and growth.
This is the advice of Tibetan Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön. Learning to be with the inner discomfort that naturally arises in moments of uncertainty and change in life provides us with an opportunity to see our edges and our ‘habitual entanglements’ up close. It is true that with age comes the ability to be wise and discerning, but it is not an automatic transition from young and naïve to old and wise. Our greatest opportunity to transform ourselves with age is in our own capacity for and cultivation of self-reflection.
In moments of confusion and inner discomfort, the degree of our ability to reflect (E.g. remaining present with and awake to inner discomfort) gets stronger, which means we either commence a process of disentanglement, or alternatively we tighten our knot of mental confusion by clinging to our ego’s narrative that gives rise to our automatic defenses.
For example, Pema Chödrön’s beloved teacher Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say if you want to get ‘disentangled’ or ‘unconfused’, you must first understand your entanglement. Here, entanglement can be seen as a metaphor for our own ‘habitual patterns’ that could also be described as our ego fixations or “personality.”
Western Psychology quite often treats personality as “fixed traits” such as: extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conservative, or agreeableness. To some extent this is accurate for some of these quite stable traits such as the introversion and extraversion aspects of personality, but it is not the whole picture.
Buddhist psychology treats everything including people’s nature as fluid and dynamic. In many respects this is a more complex way to see ourselves and reality, but ultimately it is much more helpful for seeing our “entanglements.” Moreover, it gives us hope that we can disentangle, or loosen these habitual patterns that keep us stuck on “repeat” in a sort of self-imposed prison of emotional angst.
Midlife gives us the opportunity for review and can wreak havoc for those unwilling or unable to see their own entanglements up close. Ventilating our ego-fixations and entangled thoughts, emotions and behaviors is helpful in setting us on a path to freedom. Sitting quietly with yourself, whether through meditation, or silently walking in nature can bring you into a state of “quieting the mind.”
Tibetan Monk, Mingyur Rinpoche reminds us that quieting the mind frees you from “monkey mind.” Knowing your entanglements is a step towards freedom to see life, yourself, and others as they are without the narrative of who I should be or who I shouldn’t be, and this brings an enormous sense of peace and wellbeing which may see you exploring new possibilities.
We may never find ‘the way out’ of the maze of our own mind, but we can develop tools to be at home within it, embrace our mind’s propensity for complexity and recognize that we can be simultaneously lost and found within it. The “art of becoming” is about dropping who you think you should have been and growing into life’s fullest expression of yourself.
Natasha Ginnivan is an Australian-based academic, researcher and blog-writer of lived experience, aging and transformation stories. She’s an MEA Online alum and here’s her blog: https://mobilisingwisdom.com/