Being in the body or embodying a quality of being.. what does it mean? Embodiment is described as a felt sense of knowing that cannot be held exclusively by our rational minds. Our concepts about the present moment are broken down by simply being present with whatever arises. We discover empty, open awareness when we don’t mentally project the past or future on the present. This is the tantric yogic view where we reside in this open awareness; being with life as it is, being with what arises, being in intimate relationship with all of life.
This immediate direct perception is found in many disciplines: phenomenology, anthropology, sociology, spiritual studies, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and mindfulness to name a few. Different disciplines have similar themes: embodiment is practical and challenges conventional understandings of ‘self’ and ‘world’ as separate. We have the capacity to allow our thinking minds to be a servant to the body, or embodied wisdom.
Body and mind offer unique intelligences and recent studies in neuroscience reveal that the body perceives much faster than the mind. The body therefore can lead the mind. I have been reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell talks about our ability to determine what is essential from a very brief period of experience. Spontaneous decisions connected to embodied instinct are often as good as—and often better than—carefully planned and considered ones. It is our (often unconscious) programming mixed with prejudices, projections, cravings and aversions that block us from following this gut instinct.
This study makes me think of the study of Somatics. Somatics is a therapeutic modality that uses body awareness to bring about psychological and physiological well being. It is most profoundly and effectively used in working with trauma. Soma is an ancient plant medicine first written about in the Rigveda, the oldest Hindu text written approximately 5000 years ago. Soma was used ritually to induce ecstasy and god-like realization. Perhaps this points to a connection between embodied awareness and Divine realization. Soma has ancient Greek origins as well, defined as body and mind intelligence together, not separate from one another; both are part of a living process. Many of the approaches in the field of Somatics address the body-mind split found in Western culture and body-mind synchronization is explored.
This Somatic Intelligence is also described as heart, mind, gut and intuitive wisdom. It can be broken down as direct perception not mediated by concepts, open and not ego based. This is Jung’s Objective Intelligence. The thinking mind does not experience things directly, instead the Somatic Intelligence does. Neurologically the connecting link between Soma and our left (rational) brain is tenuous. We loose the ability to perceive what the body knows. Our life needs to be led by our intelligence that is not ego driven, the left brain needs to be lead by this. New research in neurobiology states: most of what is generated by the left brain is actually initiated by the body. The body comes to conclusion first and then the left brain catches on.
In “The Mind’s Past,” Michael S. Gazzaniga, one of the world’s foremost cognitive neuroscientists, calls into question our everyday notions of self and reality; the ways we construct who we are and how we perceive the world around us based on how we perceive our past. He explains how the mind interprets data the brain has already processed, making our left, rational consciousness the last to know. He posits that what we see is frequently an illusion and not at all what our brain is perceiving. Our left brain pretends it is in control. The left brain needs something to do, so let it pay attention. Awareness and mindfulness seems to be the link between mind and body. It is a practice, not something that we will arrive at fully. Somatic embodiment will always be a journey leading to more and more transformation. If we see this process as a part of existence, of life then we don’t need to see our disconnect as a problem or mistake. Rather an opportunity to be brought back to the present, over and over again… one more time, forever.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about 2 important researchers in the field of direct experience:
- John Gottman an influential therapist and researcher well known for his work on marital relationships and parenting. He has conducted over 40 years of breakthrough research on family and couple relationships. After analyzing a normal conversation between a husband and wife for an hour, Gottman can predict whether that couple will be married in 15 years with 95% accuracy.
- Paul Ekman, a psychologist who created the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), shows that that the face is a rich source of what is going on inside our mind and although many facial expressions can be made voluntarily, our faces are also governed by an involuntary system that automatically expresses our emotions.“Emotional Awareness” is the title of the book in which conversations were recorded between the Dali Lama and Paul Ekman.