A Dialogue on Awakening the Body (Embodiment)
Q: Scott, you say that the body has to awaken, not just the head. How does the body awaken?
Scott: If you listen to what people say when they have an initial awakening in the head, they point to the mind as being quieter, more spacious, or even empty. That’s the experience of the head awakening. There is less density in the mind at that point, less or no identification with thought. A body awakening is experiencing less or no density in the body, with less or no identification with emotion or sensation. They are very different realizations.
Q: I’ve heard people who have awakened say that “there is no body” or “I am not my body.” Isn’t that the same thing you are talking about?
Scott: It could be, but not necessarily. There is no way to truly know someone else’s subjective experience. “There is no body” or “I am not my body” could be a description of the experience of less or no density in the body or it could just be the head awakening talking, so to speak.
Q: What do you mean by “it could be the head awakening talking?”
Scott: Many people, upon having a head awakening, initially sense their body (their whole being actually) as being empty and spacious. But it’s really that they are experiencing a newfound emptiness in the head. The body is still contracted on a deeply unconscious level. For some, it takes years after that initial head awakening to begin to experience just how contracted the body is in certain areas. So they are speaking initially from the head awakening, having not come to the point where the contractions of the body have become conscious and certainly not to the point where they have dissolved. Not every teaching or method brings about a head awakening first. Some traditions focus first on the body so that when the head “awakens” the body is already pretty clear. But I find this to be rare in our modern spirituality circles.
Q: How can one know that they are speaking only from the head awakening when they say “There is no body” or “I am not my body.”
Scott: They have to trust their own experience completely. But mostly, they have to be honest with themselves and others. They have to move beyond the idea that they are fully enlightened or fully whatever just because they have had some sort of shift in the head and then remain open to what else has yet to be seen. A contracted body has a way of showing up as addiction, depression, anxiety, unresolved trauma and a host of other things. An initial head awakening can feel, at first, like a final landing point, until this other stuff starts to surface. If one is honest, as these contractions remain, they will start to see the difference between an initial head awakening and a later body awakening (also called embodiment). For example, saying “I am not my body” while still experiencing an addiction is a contradiction. As long as there is addiction, there is contraction and vice versa. When there is addiction, one is still identifying to some degree with the body, which is screaming for relief and survival as a separate self.
Q: How do you know that as long as there is addiction, there is contraction?
Scott: By trusting my own experience (and watching the experience of thousands of other people). These contractions are like deep pockets of resistance and density that practically scream for relief through addictions.
Q: But not everyone is addicted after an initial awakening.
Scott: They might not be addicted to spiritual seeking anymore and they might not be addicted to drugs or alcohol, but if they pay attention to their experience, they will likely see some addiction to a substance or activity, even if the activity is something like work, food, sex, facebook, intellectualization or things like attention, acknowledgment or praise. For those who don’t find any addiction of any kind (rare), the unresolved contractions might show up as sluggishness in the body, bouts of depression, ongoing low-level anxiety or unresolved trauma. If we pay attention, our bodies are always telling us where we still experience separation, even after an initial head awakening.
Q: You said, “When there is addiction, one is still identifying to some degree with the body.” What do you mean?
Scott: All one has to do is pay attention to the mechanism in play on a moment by moment basis. When you experience an addictive thought, there is a corresponding sensation somewhere in the body. If you pay attention, that area of the body contains a sense of being separate from life, from others, and/or from the substance or activity to which you are addicted. It’s an aspect of your experience that feels divided. It longs for wholeness, so to speak. It longs for relief. It feels like a matter of survival on a very visceral level, as if you must reach outside yourself in order to feel satisfied or whole. You are identified with that part of the body. There’s a sense of “me” in that contraction. The experience of complete undividness or wholeness is not yet there.
Q: There must be some people who do not experience addiction after an initial awakening. Does all of this apply to them?
Scott: We really aren’t just talking about addiction here. Addiction is just one manifestion of a lack of embodiment after an initial head awakening. I’ve worked with many who have experienced bouts of depression, anxiety, deficiency stories or unresolved trauma after an initial head awakening. Unless there is some mental illness (which may be the case for some), these things are also a manifestation of leftover contraction. The body stores everything from the past that has not been resolved.
Q: Doesn’t the mind play a part in that?
Scott: Certainly. In fact, if you go deeply into inquiry around body contractions, you will likely see memories, words and pictures showing up, as if they are embedded in these sensations. With the Living Inquiries, we use a process called “mining” to pull out this unconscious mental material and let it dissolve.
Q: So if the mind is still involved, why do you focus on the body after initial awakening?
Scott: Because the mind stuff is largely unconscious. Like I said, it often feels unconsciously embedded into these contractions. It’s the contraction you feel mostly. It takes a lot of skill to begin really seeing what the mind has stored in the body. It’s like the body is a hidden cavern of unconscious material. You have to bring attention into the body to unlock the door to that cavern. Then you can begin to see the unconscious mental material locked inside there. This is why the focus is often on the body after an initial head awakening. The head awakening brings a quietness of mind so that you can really begin to feel how the body has stored the past.
Q: Aren’t there people who have had a complete awakening in one instance, such that there is no embodiment needed?
Scott: Probably. But again, you cannot know someone else’s subjective experience. It is left up to each individual to be completely honest with himself and others around this subject. Premature claims to liberation are just that… premature. The best way to know where someone is with regard to embodiment is to follow them around all day, to see if there are any addictions, depression, anxiety or triggers around old trauma. The majority of people I have worked with did not have an all-encompassing, complete awakening of mind and body. Mostly, the body awakening or embodiment comes later. For me, liberation is not an endpoint. It is an opening that keeps on opening. There is no end to that deepening.
Q: So one is never fully liberated? They must keep seeking?
Scott: Ha ha, well…no. Once a head awakening happens, usually the spiritual seeking dies. Embodiment is not about seeking really. It’s more like a natural unfolding that takes place. The most you can do is watch it and help it along by resting with whatever arises and using some good skills to undo the contractions gently and lovingly. It’s more like a surrendering to the inevitable. You can delay the unfolding through bypassing, by continuing to go back to addictions or by being closed off to the possibility of something deeper.
Q: Shouldn’t post-awakening also be about relationship? With all this focus on the body, what about leftover triggers and issues that arise in relationship?
Scott: Deal with the body and the relationships get worked out. The body is storing all that trauma and the emotional blockages that make relationships and intimacy difficult or challenging.
Q: I’d like to go deeper into this question of “how.” How does one become embodied?
Scott: For me, it happened through bringing attention into the body whenever I would feel that longing for anything outside myself (apart from the basics of survival like food, etc). The longing was showing me where contraction was still present. It felt like a relief to finally come down and just feel that contraction, rest with it for hours and hours, until it dissolved on its own. Inquiry helped alot, especially mining. If you keep your attention gently within a contraction for long periods of time (without any fight, freeze or flight response happening) everything you need to see, all of the unconsious mental material, will arise and fall away. As it does, the contraction starts to dissolve.
Q: Why not just stop at a head awakening? Why should anyone be concerned with embodiment?
Scott: No one has to be concerned with it. But if one remains open, he or she starts to see it as a natural process. It just sort of happens, whether we consent or not. Consenting to it helps it along and keeps us from delaying the process. Consenting is different than seeking. Seeking has a sort of urgent push towards the future. Consenting is all about present moment resting with whatever is here and allowing it, and investigating the various ways you are fighting, freezing or fleeing the body. I use the term “infinite patience” to talk about this process of consenting to embodiment, without an urge to get anywhere. Just a natural unfolding that is watched and allowed.
Q: What is life like during embodiment?
Scott: It can be very painful. After all, we spend most of our lives in our heads or looking outside ourselves. To go deeply and silently into the body we bump up against everything we have been running from our whole lives. The contractions have a way of “bouncing us back out,” meaning it sometimes feels easier just to go back to an addictive substance or activity (get back on facebook, bury one’s head into a cell phone, eat some donuts, check out porn, go shopping, find someone to praise or love us, etc). Or we may bounce out of the body back into the head, getting involved with overintellectualization as a way of hiding the pain of the body from ourselves. But if one sticks with resting with these uncomfortable contractions, there is a huge payoff.
Q: What is the payoff?
Scott: Imagine no longer being addicted, no longer able to feel depressed and rarely, if ever, feeling anxious. Imagine that no earlier trauma has much hold on you at all. It’s like a distant memory that is no longer attached to any emotion or sensation. Imagine not trying to manifest anything in life because nothing feels as if it is missing and no part of your experience feels divided or cut off from any other aspect of your experience. Life just happens and you are ok with whatever happens. Imagine no longer seeking anything at all outside yourself. And imagine feeling as if the body is completely transparent from head to toe. It’s truly like “I am not my body,” but there is no self-deception in that statement anymore. No more bypassing. It’s truly your experience at that point. It’s a very joyous and liberated way of being. Very hard to put into words. But essentially, it’s the absense of contractions in the body.