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All of Me: Balancing the Aspects of Self

(Image Source: http://6thsunridaz.com/indigenous-mexica-teachings/aztec-medicine-wheel/aspects-of-self/)

(Image Source: http://6thsunridaz.com/indigenous-mexica-teachings/aztec-medicine-wheel/aspects-of-self)

Written By Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC, NCC

Being Human
Many years ago, one of my spiritual teachers told me (simplistically, I thought) that a human being is like a tricycle. The three wheels are the physical, cognitive, and emotional selves. Optimally, according to that teacher, there is also a spiritual self that is the driver of the vehicle.

Four-Part Harmony
There are other quaternary models that serve as an overview of how we function. The Aztec one, above, does not necessarily give predominance to any one human aspect over another. Otherwise its elements are the same.

  • Each of us has a physical self that must be cared for if we are to thrive. This includes proper diet, rest, and exercise. If we do not value the physical self, our other aspects will be affected. Those who have a critical physical illness, for example, do not often awaken with joy to meet the possibilities of a new day. Usually they have not slept well and are wondering how they will summon the strength to face the next 24 hours. Their thoughts and emotions (their cognitive and emotional aspects) may revolve around unpleasant health issues. They may be too sad and tired to reach for spiritual resources that they never before even considered. In other words, the entire self is affected by physical dysfunction.
  • Our cognitive aspect, at least as far as Western society is concerned, can easily take predominance over our other aspects. Our thoughts are so seductive and so all-consuming that we may exercise our brain to the exclusion of all else. I worked for years in close proximity to academic environments, and I met many people who were brilliantly cognitive but who lacked the emotional development that is necessary to the creation of happiness. Some of them neglected their physical aspect as well and faced major health obstacles as a result.
  • [A primary issue with cognition-oriented Clients is that they often try to do their EMOTIONAL processing with their highly-functioning brains (i. e. “analyzing”, “reporting” or “describing” rather than feeling). This is invariably unsuccessful. A cognitive understanding of our pain is only the first step in therapeutic processing. This is what some early psychoanalysts failed to see. It is a good start, but when we use our brains to process deeply emotional issues, we are using the wrong thing to accomplish the task. It is the equivalent of attempting to sew with our toes. It is like trying to crack an egg into a bowl using our elbows. Emotional processing must be done with the emotions. That is the natural way.]

  • When our emotional self is constricted, we will not find joy. When we can’t feel, both our joy and our pain escape us. A hospital Client with a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder once told me that she saw no color. She said that her life was like a dull, black and white film. When her mother died, she said, she felt nothing. Emotions must be felt. When, on the other hand, the emotional self is excessively dominant, chaos can result. When the emotions are not balanced by our physical and cognitive aspects, we risk making hasty and unconsidered decisions in the various arenas of our lives – interpersonal, social, business, financial, and others as well.
  • Our spiritual aspect has to do with our ability to make sense, to assign meaning to our life. It may involve the numinous, but it does not have to include a metaphysical or religious component. If our human journey does not make sense to us – Why am I here? Why do I have to go through all this? What is the point? – then we will have great difficulty attending to our other aspects.

Balancing Act
The above is, as I emphasized, only a model, but models can help us to sort and simplify matters. They can help us understand a predicament that is causing us to spin in confused disarray. When we feel out of sorts and do not know what to do… when we are lost and the path is not clear… a model can be a helpful map to delineate or to structure, aspects of an issue needing clarification.

A Common Example: Questions for the Client on a Diet
The physical aspect of the problem is, obviously, excess weight. Is the weight itself the only physical aspect of the problem? Or are there health issues (hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes) connected to the weight gain?

Possible cognitive aspects of the problem might be revealed in the answers to other questions. What are your habitual thoughts about food? Are you even conscious of them? Do you think about food a lot? Even when you just ate a meal? Do you think that food can solve problems? If so, why do you think that? Do you eat to stop thinking, to avoid certain thoughts? Do you eat to handle stress? Is food an escape? Do you eat when you are bored? Do you think that food is entertainment? When do you most often overeat?

Possible emotional aspects of the problem might be deeply rooted in the past. What is your emotional history with food? How was food treated in the home where you grew up? Was there ever a shortage of food? Was food used to comfort you? Did parents use it to comfort themselves? Was it ever given to you as a reward? Was it ever taken away as a punishment? Was it ever used to reduce stress? To calm fear? How did you learn to feel about food in your family of origin?

Could there be spiritual aspects to the problem? Is it possible that food holds symbolic meanings related to your life? To your human journey? Think of the Biblical and even mythological episodes involving sustenance. Might they shed light on your relationship with food? I have a friend who has issues around food. I offered to teach her to meditate as a means of stress management. She declined to do it with me. She said, “Lane, I am afraid of the silence. I am afraid of what lies inside of me that might come up if I meditate.” Could that be a key to her overeating? Is she eating to keep some part of herself “down”, to keep it from coming to consciousness?

In Search of Integrity
Each person seeks wholeness. We want to feel complete, to feel integral. Most of us engage in a conscious and unconscious search for balance. Many of us search in maladaptive ways. If you feel out of balance, come and talk to one of us. Tell us and tell yourself what you need to address in order to feel whole and at peace.

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