Coming into Ourselves
Knowing ourselves changes everything. We’ve already got so much of the medicine we seek within us. We can transform our well being, our capacity for challenge, our self-understanding, and our self trust when we come deeper into ourselves.
It’s this sort of awareness we find through embodiment.
Most simply, embodiment is an intimate awareness of our integrative being. Embodiment unpacks the typical distinctions we make between physical and spiritual, between mind and body, between emotions and intuition. These boundaries can be helpful as we get to know ourselves, but awareness moves us beyond these boundaries. Thich Nhat Hanh said, when it comes to awareness, dualism doesn’t serve. He invites us to consider cultivating awareness as cultivating light. “When light shines, darkness does not disappear. It doesn’t leave; it merges with the light. It becomes the light (Nhat Hanh).
More than a philosophy, modality, or rule of practice, embodiment is an experience. It’s already ours. The practice of embodiment is about engaging consciously in our dynamic being. We do this by getting to know that intricacies of this experience and bring it to our conscious process.
In understanding and evolving our embodied relationship with self, we are able to make conscious decisions in our inner and outer landscapes, within and without, that represent our wholeness and contribute thoughtfully to our environment.
Not Another Healing Modality
In practicing embodiment, we become conscious of the relationships within our system. How the dynamic of spirituality shows up in our cells alongside our capacity to navigate trauma and our ways of being in relationship with one another. The embodied experience is one of wholeness--an affirmation that, despite our limitations, our imbalances and inadequacies, we are in fact all things at once. And we have an extraordinary capacity for wisdom in this experience of dwelling on earth. Steven Harrod Buhner implores us to challenge our linear perspective with more integrative consideration:
"There is nothing in the world that is merely mechanical, nothing that is not alive… Apparently static material forms, mountains and water, are the body and blood of a living ecosystem, the Earth, and they can never be accurately viewed in isolation from the whole. They make up one complete, living organism… We must step up the complexity of all of this to see it more clearly." (Buhner 36)
Just as we feel with the nerves along the edges of our fingertips, we have the capacity to sense our experiences within our bodies. To begin to practice embodied experiencing, we must recognize this. We have the ability to distinguish our organs, our fluids, our bones. Just as we build muscle to strengthen our movement, we can also strengthen our awareness and develop a conscious exploration of our physiology that informs not only our physiological self-understanding but also how we understand mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic expressions through the body.
An Embodied Meditation
To cultivate this embodied awareness, begin simply. Rest on your back, with the soles of your feet on the ground and your knees pointed to the sky. Breathe gently, and bring your awareness into your bones. You might start by thinking of your bones, their structure and form, and then let your bones begin to move your knees back and forth from side to side. The bones initiate the movement. Notice how this feels. Take a break; breathe.
Then shift your awareness into your muscles. Think about the muscles through your legs, and allow your muscles to initiate the movement of your knees. Notice the quality of this movement. Pause for several breaths; let your body rest.
Finally, bring your awareness into your fluids. This may feel sort of abstract, but our fluids are as essential to our physiology as our bones and muscles. They navigate all sorts of channels in our body, create buoyancy in and around our cells, and support our mobility in fundamental ways. As you think of your fluids, let them initiate the movement of your legs. Notice what this feels like.
Through this exercise, you may begin to distinguish certain qualities of these layers. Perhaps it feels different to move from each of the layers, or maybe you notice a change in speed, weight, or flow as you move.
The practice of embodiment moves us deeper than simply discerning what’s what among our layers towards realizing the distinct qualities, roles, and capacities of these layers. With practice, this connection can inform our daily living, enhance our well being, and especially grow our capacity to navigate challenge and trauma.
Yes, a Practice
Like mindfulness and cooking from scratch and handstands, embodied awareness requires cultivation. It’s a beautiful exploration to incorporate into a meditation practice, a space of prayer, or your bedtime relaxation. More resources become available over time and intuitive knowing increases, so that a person may connect with their spleen in a bout of digestive issues or listen intimately to their cellular fluids to support more ease in a rough conversation. We can begin to understand embodied awareness is an exercise in self care.
When we define our medicine as that store of resources that support us in our healing and well being, embodiment or embodied awareness creates the foundation upon which all other medicine might work. Our deep knowing—our inner wisdom, our intuition— is our most basic resource. We seek other supports, like massage, chiropractic, coaching, divination, nutrition, counseling, that bring us back to relationship with ourselves. We seek these out to come back to homebase. But we needn’t go anywhere to move back to our foundation. Our embodied awareness is that most intimate, ever-present resource.
In All Its Potential
The practice of embodiment transforms the way we navigate our healing processes as well as our day-to-day. This intuitive wisdom draws together the fullness of our brilliant physiological presence with our mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual capacities, so that we feel the wholeness of our potential in any challenge of our lives. Honoring these layers allows us a new way of being in relationship with ourselves and with each other and informs a dynamic, relational, and resilient lens for living in community with other humxns and with our environment. The self-understanding that comes with embodiment practice reorganizes our needs and allows us to seek more clearly and efficiently those resources we need most. It also draws us beyond ourselves, to new conversations around health and community.
"One of the finest moments in our new sensitivity to the natural world is our discovery of the earth as a living organism… The genius of our sustained inquiry into the inner functioning of the planet finally brought us beyond a microphase perception into the larger macrophase awareness that the entire planet is a single organic reality that needs to be addressed in its spirit and person qualities as well as in its physical aspects." (Berry 18)
We’re creatures. We dwell on this planet in intimate, reciprocal, and synergistic relationship with our environment--with humxns, with all sorts of animals and fish and plants and fungi, even with the minerals and water and light, all resources we rely on in this living. The qualities we experience within ourselves are present too in the world around us. As Thomas Berry expresses so poetically, the experience is potent: “Everywhere intimacy, the mutual presence of the life community in all its numinous qualities” (Berry 15). As we navigate the shifting requests from our environment, from all our communities--humxn and beyond humxn--our responsibility for true understanding grows.
Our nature as humxns and as creatures draws us into this intimate participation. Conscious or not, the relationships within and around us are essential for our being. Through understanding our connection with these we are drawn deeper into ourselves. And we move deeper into authentic, integral, intimate dwelling with purpose, clarity, and vitality in this life.
Berry, Thomas. The Dream of the Earth. Sierra Club Books, 1988.
Buhner, Stephen Harrod. The Secret Teachings of Plants. Bear & Company, 2004.
Nhat Hanh, Thich. “The Sunlight of Awareness.” Adapted from The Sun, My Heart: Reflections on Mindfulness, Concentration, and Insight. Lion’s Roar, Lion’s Roar Foundations, 31 May 2017, www.lionsroar.com/sunlight-awareness/.
© Graham Wesley 2018 All rights reserved.