The COVID-19 Pandemic, more than any other collective event in the history of our lives has informed us of the gaping difference between the terms “nourishment” and “ego-gratification.”
Ego-gratification is a feeling pursued by the masses when anxiety arises from being with oneself without worldly support. An example of this can be seen on social media, which has done an excellent job in amplifying and normalizing this behavior as the masses flock to their posts to see how many “likes” they get from the sound bites they put out. “I got 500 Likes,” they tell themselves, which their egos translate to “I have 500 friends who agree with me, so I must be ok”. But this form of false reassurance from the outside ultimately feels empty and perpetuates the illusion of belonging. In fact, it energizes societal values like fame and status. The social context is vested in perpetuating the status quo, what it normalizes, and the path of least resistance. How many of us have watched societal pundits who having presented their authentic work decades ago, now ride on their egos gratified by New Age proclamations? They give the market what it wants to hear, no longer assisting in true transformation. If they were, we would not be in the state we are currently in.
We can all relate to how seductive ego-gratification is. It offers a temporary high that palliates anxiety. The ego has anxiety management systems that it creates around itself – busyness, alcohol use, shopping, food addiction, pornography, and also social media. One of the most common ways the ego manages anxiety is in its attempts to be validated and praised by upholding the views of the majority. This offers a (false) sense of belonging and merely a temporary relief to anxiety born out of a separation from the Authentic Self.
Mass consciousness is threatened by authenticity. A person’s authentic behavior does not support the values society upholds. Not belonging does not bring us comfort. Yet ego-gratification does not provide nourishment. It merely palliates the anxiety we feel. We can convince ourselves that we have 500 likes from ‘friends’ on social media, but these are not friends by the true definition of the word. A true friend is one who mirrors back both your strengths and weaknesses and is committed to mutual growth. A true friend is in the trenches with you when you are struggling. A true friend sees your shadow and still loves you. “Likes” from social media “friends” are a flash in the pan, bringing the ego a temporary high, then dissipating. This feeds a new kind of neurosis where you need to continue to post to feel palliated. It becomes a kind of addiction for external validation. It does not truly nourish the heart or soul. True nourishment runs much deeper than external validation.
When people had to spend time outside of their comfort zone during the Shelter-at-Home phase of the Pandemic, the rates of depression, suicide, violence, abuse, and addiction skyrocketed. One of the reasons for this was because people were physically removed from society and had the time and space to reflect on meaning in their lives. This collective ‘pause’ was a drastic alteration of dependence on external validation which caused feelings of emptiness to surface. This uncovered a deeper lack of alignment with the Authentic Self. The symptoms that arose from this were an indication of the lack of self-nourishment.
As a primary care physician, I have seen an uptick in weight gain, apathy, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, and amplification in feelings of shame and self-hatred in my patients. The society offers little-to-no true support or understanding for these feelings. We have normalized palliating them, but do not offer ways of transforming them. Transformation is difficult. People post how they feel (on social media), hoping for nourishment and guidance, but what they get instead is validation that is short-lived. This can actually be an impediment to the transformational process as the palliation of discomfort often arrests the struggle necessary for transformation and wholeness. The emotional symptoms in our society reflect this. The work of alignment with our Authentic Self is an inside job, rife with the struggle caused by the tension presented, between the inertia of societal values and the intrinsic nature of the ground of our being. This part of us does not care about societal values. It only values our quest for truth and meaning.
The very nature of transformation and alignment with Self requires us to depart from society and its collective value system and go solo on our inner journey with guidance, patience, and tenacity. This is a long hard process, one which is unpopular, as it does not align with normalized inertia, quick fixes, or ego-gratification. It takes us back inside ourselves to evaluate and discern our relationship with ourselves. If not addressed, we are in danger of remaining out of alignment with our Authentic Self and will likely continue to substitute true nourishment with ego-gratification. This often results in a life without meaning, one that may be supported by the outside world, but not our inner self.
The word nourishment means “a substance necessary for growth and health.” It has become a keyword in my own quest for living authentically. For me, it represents my longing for loyalty to the truth, beauty, authentic connection, and meaning. It always creates a tension between societal values which often pull me back into them, triggering the struggle to align with what I long for and deeply value. For me, ego-gratification is no longer enough to sustain the journey that will result in my alignment with Self. I would rather belong to the few who resonate with authenticity than be ‘liked’ by many who are driven by the inertia of the masses. My sense is this deeper process of alignment may be the very catalyst that can deeply heal the symptoms of our hungry egos far more than any medications we can take or addictive behaviors we are led by. Maybe “what nourishes us” is what we need to attend to in order to heal the emotional symptoms of this Pandemic. Maybe this is our opportunity to shift our values to more authentic ones.
© July 2020 Kalpana (Rose) M. Kumar M.D., CEO and Medical Director, The Ommani Center for Integrative Medicine, Pewaukee, WI. www.ommanicenter.com Author of 2nd Edition – Becoming Real: ReclaimingYour Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. She is currently accepting new patients-call 262.695.5311 for an appointment. During this time of the COVID19 pandemic, she is offering both telephonic or in-person appointments for those people free of symptoms.