What is embodiment anyway?

The word 'embodiment' is appearing everywhere these days so I thought I'd share my definition, excerpted from Radical Wholeness:

So the undoing begins with the basics. If it doesn’t, we will remain stuck in the place where so much contemporary work on embodiment finds itself—where we gently turn our attention to the body and listen to it, or observe its sensations, or patiently notice the breath. All of these practices have value, but it’s hazardous to mistake them for embodiment. Embodiment isn’t about quieting the thoughts in the head and noticing the sensations of the body from there—it’s about bringing the abstract intelligence of the head into relationship with the body’s intelligence. Wholeness is never either/or—it’s both/and. So the popular advice to “listen to the body,” well-meaning as it is, is stuck in the Story of division. The phrase itself suggests that you are in one place and your body is in another. It implies that you are separated from your body as though by a wall, and the best you can hope for is to put your ear to that wall once in a while and listen to what’s happening on the other side. So although its intention is to foster embodiment, the advice to “listen to the body” actually reinforces the very divide that it’s seeking to overcome. Similarly, the instruction to “notice the breath” assigns you the role of spectator of your own life: sitting up in the head you observe the sensations of your breathing. What a different thing it is to allow the center of your awareness to descend from the penthouse suite and merge with the thinking of your being as it lives through those sensations, so that the here-and-now experience of breathing is the here-and-now experience of ‘you’—of your embodied presence in the world. You are the breath, alert to what the world reveals. Embodiment isn’t about sitting in the head and paying attention to the part of you we call the body—it’s about fully inhabiting the intelligence of the body and attuning to the world through it. It’s about listening to the world through the body. It’s about feeling the world through the breath. For our purposes, then, we might say that embodiment is a state in which your entire intelligence is experienced as a coherent unity attuned to the world. In that state any distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘the body’s energy’ becomes meaningless.

5 thoughts on “What is embodiment anyway?”

  1. For me, singing meets this idea of integration. I read the music, I produce the sound, I listen to myself and — when I’m really doing well — I listen to the rest of the group and bring myself in tune with them. When performing, there is also the audience. I think that’s about the most I can do all at once, and its great. Humans have sung for a long time, but now we hear so much professionally recorded music that most people are intimidated. I tell people that if you can hear and you can speak, then you can sing. But it will take some practice before you can do it well. So go to church and sing the hymns.

    1. Doug, I feel you so much on this. Singing and sounding has been a beautiful integration practice for me. Phillip speaks to this when he says that our voice is really like a song, it tells the story through sound more so than words. In my lineage song has been a practice regardless of its pitch, its seen as a way to move energy and invoke energies. Thanks for your share!

    2. You are so right about singing, Doug, or with any performing art for that matter. If you are segregating the intelligence of the head from the body and putting it in charge, it just doesn’t work. It’s the surrender that gets you there.

  2. thank you so much for this article. it is so important to keep aware of language, as pointed out here. I find that speaking in images can help to convey a state or feeling (embodiment) that one can only know through experience, through embodied learning. embodiment can’t really be explained 😉 but it is wonderful to talk about it anyways. it’s one of my favorite topics.
    ‘filling the body out from within’ with my presence and awareness is one of those images that help me to return to embodied sensing, in case of too much head.

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