“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
~The Gospel According to Thomas
We are all products of our imprinting. We are imprinted by our family systems as well as society at large. If our parents accepted society’s values and lived from them, our sense of worth becomes aligned with those values. Society’s definition of success is based on the degree of money and social status a person has (extrinsic worth), rather than who they are (intrinsic worth). If our relationship with ourselves is defined by extrinsic worth, based on how productive, popular, and rich we are; who we do not hold as much value relative to how much we have. According to this perspective of worth, we can easily fall prey to compromising our intrinsic worth in favor of our extrinsic worth. Pretty soon, we find ourselves sacrificing time with our loved ones, our health, as well as what gives us meaning. Society considers this a worthy sacrifice.
The vast majority of people I see in my medical practice have experienced this. They tell me they are unable to find time to exercise, cook meals, attend to the needs of their bodies as well as their inner life. After a while, these compromises begin to erode our relationship with ourselves. As meaning is lost, symptoms of depression and anxiety begin to surface. Loss of meaning is bad for our immune system. It is the worst kind of stress. If our symptoms are medicated and suppressed, we grow numb to them and lose the incentive to attend to their cause. A feeling of emptiness ensues and life takes on what I call “an auto-pilot existence.” Our alignment with external values usurps our sense of self-worth. This erodes our relationship to the deep Self.
This is an example of Pavlovian conditioning. Pavlov discovered that when a bell was rung as dogs were given food, they associated the sound of the bell with food. After a while, when the bell was rung, although the food was not given, they began to salivate. The dogs associated the sound of the bell with food. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we are imprinted with external values when we are rewarded for our performance that offers a promise of money or social status. By the time we leave home, we associate success and self-worth with external values. A majority of people live out this Pavlovian life track only to discover a deep emptiness within by mid-life. Our inner self is unimpressed with money and status. The only values that satisfy it are those which honor who we are, our authentic self. The rewards for this are meaning and integrity, which always tops this list.
Midlife brings powerful shifts in the tectonic plates between extrinsic and intrinsic values and worth. The physiological and biochemical changes underway in the body also herald major shifts in the deep psyche. Our instinct begins to tell us that something in our life is amiss. Through these shifts, we are offered a chance to redirect our focus from external to internal. If the inner stirring required for realignment to the deep self is not heeded, we risk learning through a crisis, in the form of an illness, a failed relationship, or some form of loss. This is meant to be the wake-up call that facilitates the possibility of correcting our relationship with ourselves by aligning with authenticity. Common symptoms in midlife such as anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep, and a feeling of emptiness evoke a call for an alignment with intrinsic worth, one based on meaning and integrity.
I have seen tens of thousands of patients who have shared their inner knowing that the deepest cause of their symptoms is a lack of meaning. They have achieved success by society’s standards, only to find that they have compromised their connection to their authentic Self to accomplish this. Many have stayed in abusive relationships both personally and professionally, to uphold a façade, the value system they are entrained to live from. No matter how many accolades they receive, the emptiness continues to surface. External validation is merely a weak substitute for intrinsic worth. This must be attended to, especially in midlife.
Society’s definitions of success and worth promote patriarchal values. These are attained through competition, compromise, and a sacrifice of what really matters. Health, balance, self-care, and authenticity are all aligned with the Feminine Principle. The collective is caught up in achieving recognition from patriarchy at the cost of the Feminine. Fortunately, during midlife, we have the opportunity to shift priorities from the former to the latter.
During this midlife passage, our inner life takes precedence over the outer, no matter how much material success we may have. We must leave our early imprints behind and live from the call of the deep Self. There is a feeling of comfort here, even though the journey is difficult, as we find ourselves leaving family and people behind who we adapted to in order to belong. What we belonged to is the collective normalization of patriarchal values. What we are returning to is our deep authentic Self. The intent to live in this manner reorganizes the platform of our value system. We begin to detach from what is impermanent and shallow and connect with what is authentic and eternal.
If we are lucky, our life will not cooperate with external definitions. When we begin to listen to the inner call, life shifts tracks leaving the outer for the inner. What may be lacking in externally defined value, we gain in a sense of meaning. Living from meaning requires us to sacrifice extrinsic value for intrinsic worth. At the end of the day, our alignment with meaning is all that matters. This reflects our alignment with our authentic self. Living this way restores our feeling of self-worth, even when society rejects our movement into authenticity.
When we align with the Feminine Principle in midlife, we can reclaim health and balance. This brings a level of integrity and contentment that no amount of external validation can provide. This process requires courage and consciousness and is a form of transformation that Carl Jung termed individuation. Individuation is a responsibility and a journey we must all accept. It is only then that we can live from a place of true worth.
©March2018Kalpana (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: Reclaiming Your Health in Midlife 2014, Medial Press. Dr. Kumar is happy to accept new patients; call 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.