Making nature mandalas on the farm, photo by Ashley Hallmark

Coming Home: A Path to Embodiment

What we can learn by coming into into deeper relationship with the sacred in our bodies and in this world.

“Be still and realize the truth of who you are within this body.” — The Dākinis

Embodied Understanding

There are some ideas you just can’t get conceptually. Embodiment is one of them. By definition, it cannot be accessed through the head. It is necessary to approach the subject with a great deal of humility because it comes to us straight from The Mystery. Embodiment can only be experienced in the body and through the wisdom of the body. It requires a kind of perception that has been ignored and disparaged in our culture for a long time. So, don’t feel badly if you don’t yet get the meaning of it.

Embodiment is the ability to inhabit one’s body fully; bringing awareness to the intangibles of life force (prana, qi), consciousness, intelligence, space, and sensation that animate us. It is a continual process of settling into and finding intimacy with oneself — being able to interpret and influence the subtlest states, moods, and changes. Another word I like for this is ensoulment.

Becoming embodied is a process of coming home; being centered in oneself. The result is the ability to access types of intelligence — direct, valid, non-conceptual heart knowing (buddhi); various types of spontaneous and intuitive knowing; instinctual perception; gut feelings; and the like — that we override or ignore in our addiction to the mental, cognitive realm. Through the wisdom of the body, we become more empathic and more sensitive to the subtle experience and needs of others, too…this can lead to deeper, more meaningful relationships.

Most of us have vacancies in our embodiment moment to moment; places where we are numb and void of awareness. Some more than others. Some days more than others. This is perfectly normal. Sometimes this is due to physical pain and discomfort; sometimes it is the result of uncomfortable or overwhelming emotions and trauma; sometimes we go on autopilot, or we simply forget that we’re in a body.

To walk the path of embodiment is not about reaching some goal of perfect embodiment where you have 100% awareness of yourself at all times. Even the most embodied people navigate numbness and absence. The beauty is with practice we can catch this experience — numbness is a feeling, too — and work with it to find the source and cause of the vacancy. We learn to check in with the body when in doubt and to trust its knowing moment-to-moment. What we want is to improve our ability to sense and receive the subtle messages the body is trying to give us that can help us live a more sensitive and awakened life. The body is constantly relating to its environment and surroundings, other beings (seen and unseen), it is this information that can help us become better people living in alignment with our own nature and Mother Nature.

In our contemporary culture the centrality of embodiment hasn’t been fully grasped, yet. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s been forgotten. Maybe it’s considered a nice-to-have, not a need-to-have. Yes, it would be nice to have access to more intuition and sensuality, but I don’t really need it. I believe this is changing. People are waking up to the fact that we cannot navigate the intensity of these times — these transitions — without being centered squarely in the body. That in fact, many of the maladies of modernity (including “physical” disease) are born out of our deep and pervasive state of disembodiment — a state of affairs that has compounded over generations. Our disembodied ancestors built a culture of dissociation that keeps us numb and reinforces a way of relating and being in the world that is disconnected from self, other, and all of life. As long as we create and live from this place, we perpetuate what ails us.

This culture of absence has nearly run its course. A new one is emerging and it demands our embodied participation. What wants to be born through us — enlightened culture — needs us to become better human beings. We need to be the people who can birth this; the “parents” it requires. Already so many have heard the call: to heal our wounds; to cleanse the system of toxicity of all kinds; to relate with more honesty and transparency; to set and respect healthy boundaries; to become sovereign within ourselves; and to become present to our own experience and the unfolding of Life as it moves us.

From a certain point of view, it may seem ironic that getting ourselves out of our current predicaments requires diving deeper in. We can’t bypass what is happening to us now. As my teacher, Dr. John Churchill says, “We’re not practicing to get ourselves out of here, but to get ourselves deeper into what the situation holds for us.” We need to fully inhabit the state of things before we can change anything. This is hard medicine to swallow, but trust me…it’s better than the alternative if the current social trajectory is any indication. Embodiment is the way.

My Own Homecoming

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Eliot, “Little Gidding” Four Quartets, 1943

For me, the path to embodiment was an absolute necessity. It would not be dramatic to say, a matter of life or death. From the start, I was a hyper-sensitive person, extremely fine-tuned, without a strong foundation. I came to understand later, that on a deep level I was unsure about being here on Earth at all. This was, of course, due to karma and trauma in me and in my family system. It now also seems central to my dharma, or mission.

Very early in life, I got the message that my sensitivity was “too much,” so I shut it down and tried to adjust to the culture of dissociation I’d been born into. I was only partly present for most of my childhood and my young adulthood was dominated by depression, addiction, and self-destructive behaviors. I couldn’t imagine how I would make it through life. Therapists tried to convince me to take anti-depressants. I understood why they would suggest it. But, I knew in my heart that I didn’t need the medication, I needed healing. I was determined to find a way.

The way was yoga. A beloved Buddhist boyfriend in San Francisco took me to my first yoga class in 1996. I will never forget how I felt in that class and afterwards. It was a turning point. For the next ten years I was obsessed — in a good way — yoga became a central point of focus for me. My inner yogi was awakening. During that time I found a therapist who could help me begin the process of collecting my fragmented self, and quit my demanding corporate job. Beyond asana, I studied yoga philosophy and Sanskrit. I also began to dance regularly with the 5 Rhythms community.

Over the next decade, my connection to my body deepened through regular practice and exploration of different movement modalities. I found spiritual teachers outside the world of yoga and began to study Buddhist Tantra, shamanism, and Western esoteric traditions. Birthing my daughter at home was a catalyst for my awakening to the Divine Feminine, and required me to find within myself the earthy patience and nurturance of motherhood.

My daughter’s hands

For a long time, feeling better was its own reward. At that time, I would have told you I felt embodied. I had no idea how much deeper I would go…or how deep it is possible to go. I began to see that even my seeking contained the seeds of avoidance. I’d always been harsh with people I experienced as participating in “spiritual bypassing” — John Welwood’s term for the “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” — until I realized I was doing it.

I began working on my core wounds with the mystical teacher and trauma expert, Thomas Hübl and his community. It was then that I realized — really realized — how I was still looking for the escape hatch. Doing the trauma work was a humbling experience. I saw that even with all the healing I’d done, I’d just scratched the surface. Life began to show me how much trauma I was holding in my system, how much of my capacity for sensing and processing emotions was offline, and how little access I had to the ground of my own being. I had a lot more healing to do before I could feel myself fully; before I could trust that the Universe really does love me and is here for me; before I could truly claim to have an embodied understanding of embodiment.

Like some other of my biggest life lessons — the integration of the Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, the responsibility of awakening, parenting, the embrace of empathy — embodiment was an idea I thought I understood long before I actually did.

At first the understanding was intellectual. Living in my body was an idea. The earth as my home was an idea. I understood them at that level. Eventually, the understanding dropped an octave and I began to feel the resonance in it. It became true for me; a sensation, a state. Finally, as I integrated chunks of fear in my system, it dropped another octave, clicking into place as a way of being in the world and being in my body. It filled me up and occupied all the spaces that had once been numb or empty. I was transformed by it. I was no longer the same person I was before.

A mandala I made during this time.

As I look back, it strikes me that all of it was a slow and steady descent into the body — from that first yoga class. All of it was a rescue mission instigated by some higher or deeper intelligence (my own?) to keep me here, to ease my suffering, and to enable me to bring the nectar to others. When it finally dawned on me that the union, freedom, and state of completion I was looking for — yearning for with all my heart — was right here within this body, I became very relieved and very excited at the same time.

The relief was in what I can only describe as a homecoming. Like the feeling of returning home after a long journey, putting down your heavy bags and marveling at the pleasant familiarity of your surroundings. As clarity descended on me, I could see how I had consistently put my faith in people and ideas outside myself…and how exhausting this was! Surely, they know better than me. Surely, this practice will do the trick. I could feel my mind release its anxious vigilance. That old fear of missing out or being left behind was gone. Nowhere else to go now. Nothing else to do. Just a sweet sinking into the soothing goodness of it all.

The excitement was in the prospect of having found the territory at last. Ah! Here we are: HOME. It’s a thrilling moment of recognition. Suddenly, I felt a renewed sense of commitment, certainty, and courage. There was no chance of getting lost now in the glow of my own hearth. Anyway, there was nowhere to go: I was already home. Stabilizing myself in this view, and sharing it with others, has become my work.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” –Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Coming Home : A Practice of Embodiment

One of the great gifts of the pandemic year was the crystallization in me of a practice I call Coming Home. It’s an embodied meditation practice. In a sense, it’s a feminine meditation modality in that it seeks not to transcend matter, but to inhabit it fully — deepening our connection to the body, Earth, each other.

The practice was built on a tripod of what — for me — constitutes the fundamentals of embodied experience:

  1. The development and refinement of inner and subtle competencies: we have to start with awareness itself. We have so little practice with sensing, perceiving and tuning into intuitive and direct ways of knowing. We are constantly practicing the refinement of our ability to know what our experience is in the moment with precision. We are practicing identifying our emotions, feeling the movements in the subtle body and the energy centers (chakras), and holding that awareness even as we come into relation with others.
  2. Cultivation of a sense of grounding — a strong base — in the body and a sense of connection to earth through ourselves: without this ability to feel and be the ground, we cannot hold the intensity of experience. We must have a strong and stable base to go deep, to excavate the unconscious and to weather the storms of emotions that pass through our systems moment-to-moment. Most of us in the modern western world are extremely ungrounded as a result of early childhood attachment issues, generational trauma and cultural conditioning. Most of us are energetically walking on tip toes or focused mainly in the head in the cognitive realm. Coming into the body is coming into the base levels of existence, survival level stuff. We have to work with the emotions stored at the base to liberate them. This gives us more capacity and keeps us present. This is the main focus of this work. It is the opposite of spiritual bypassing: the descending path of the mystic into the body versus the ascending path up and out into a state of “heaven” that might actually be dissociated or limited. This is about surrender and trust.
  3. An expansion of the view — How we view experience is experience. Through embodiment, we activate “the somatic eye.” This is an ability to “see” with a combination of the heart, the right brain, and the entire nervous system. Instead of being fooled into understanding based on an interpretation of the illusion of reality, we tap into direct, valid cognition. We know things with the body that the mind cannot fathom. Trauma also impacts our ability to see the whole, so working with an expansive and inclusive view, helps us tap into the healing power of relational fields and energies beyond this material form. Maybe the most important aspect of the view is the belief in the fundamental or basic goodness of the Universe, the view that the Universe has our back. We cannot journey effectively without this view.

Out of these fundamentals arose five pillars for practice…Subtle Competency, The Ground, The Vow, The Crown, and Imagination. There are actual skills-building meditations and exercises for each. As we strengthen them, these pillars create the actual structure into which the soul can descend and come to rest within the body. These pillars are like the architecture of the temple of the body.

“My Body, My Temple” by Autumn Skye

Through subtle competency we access inner knowing, intuition, and intimacy with experience;

Through surrender we lay down our defenses and find stability in the ground of being;

Through intention — our vow — we generate fuel for the fire and shape outcomes;

Through the crown, we hear the whisper of the future and find our sovereignty;

Through imagination, we shape reality and play with our potential for magic.

The result is a deeper embodiment — ensoulment — and trust in the process of emergence working through us. We can act with courage and certainty even when presented with chaos. When we find safety and a sense of confidence IN OUR OWN BODY, we can stop defending ourselves and open to the rawest, most intimate, experience of being alive. From here — at home in ourselves — we can handle our psychological eventfulness. We can handle the ups and downs and not project onto others or freak out.

“In the Tantric view, ordinary life is the perfect arena. Through the practices we aspire to develop complete openness to all situations and people and emotions because that’s where our liberation lies. That’s where we are freed not from our life, but to live our life. Life constantly invites us to let go and develop acceptance and love of our life.” –Reggie Ray, Vajrayana teacher

As a result of practicing these competencies, we can expect:

  1. Healing/Whole-ing/Integration: I love to talk about whole-ing because this is really what it feels like to integrate more parts of ourself. We become more whole, more coherent. There is more of us here. This is a healing journey, to be sure. The more healed and whole we are, the more present we can be through a myriad of situations. We begin to trust that we can handle all that life has to offer.
  2. Mastery of the alchemy of the body: We are working towards agency and the ability to work with our internal states effectively. The process of coming home teaches each of us what works for us in terms of returning to a state of equilibrium when we feel off base; or regulating the nervous system when we feel contracted or triggered. We can use our minds and many of the practices here to literally change our biochemistry and therefore our view.
  3. World creation: Ultimately, when we can dissolve illusion and find a greater state of comfort in the naked rawness of experience, we can build new worlds. We we are truly present in the world, we are no longer experiencing life as coming at us or as something that happens to us. We see that we are co-creators of this Reality. This is something I expect to work with in more detail in a subsequent essay or set of practices. For now, it’s enough to know that we are working to become wise world-builders so we can stop the suffering that comes from building unconscious worlds…as we’ve done for many generations. These practices help us to get closer to the real laws of causality, time, and space. They reveal mysteries.

“We use the body to take the mind into subtler and subtler realms. In ‘the creation stage’ we choose what to see and how to see it. We make the world in connection with others. We create a perfect universe in order to feel what it’s like to be confident and secure and not be afraid. And therefore, be open to the rawest, most intimate, and deepest type of sensitivity. To open into a state of total security.” –Bob Thurman on Tantra

Coming Home is an antidote to the great malady of modernity. These practices are meant to awaken the wisdom of embodiment, the feminine, relationship, the elements, the Earth. So many of us seem to be here now reluctantly and half-heartedly. This is a symptom of a grave disconnect from Life, from Earth, from our bodies. We are numb and dissociated for fear of really feeling the gravity of the situation. We are also disconnected from our joy, the incredible lightness of being, the bliss that has the potential to vibrate every cell in our bodies. People are often surprised to learn that they are as frightened by the highs as they are the lows. This life — in its fullest — is a roller coaster ride.

While the process of embodiment results in many physical, physiological, and psychological changes in an individual, there is also a requisite shift in values. As you come home to the body you begin to live by a different set of principles. In my experience the key ones are:

  • We no longer override the body.
  • We welcome all emotions — processing them at the level of sensation and honoring them for their intelligence.
  • We go forward in all endeavors with courage; in fearless pursuit of the truth of experience.
  • We have more patience with ourselves, even our mistakes.
  • We have infinite compassion for others because we recognize the symptoms of emotional turbulence and avoidance.
  • We have extreme intolerance for abuse of power and anything that is a sacrilege against life.

It’s almost too beautiful to imagine the potential that exists when individuals embrace themselves as they are; thereby creating the possibility of embracing others as they are; thereby creating the conditions for healing on a planetary scale as we all come into a deeper recognition of our belonging here together. As my friend Quanita says, “What will it be like when we truly accept that we belong to each other?”

Then, Why Are We So Disembodied?

Coming home isn’t easy. Really being at home with oneself and within oneself is complex. This must be understood before embarking on the journey. It’s important to be realistic about the amount of resistance we can face when we decide to stop searching for something outside ourselves, when we face the demons of exile, and stop leaving.

I say this to encourage those who feel resistance as we set out. There is a deep and intuitive knowing that the waters will be choppy, the way will be intense at times. Our inner and Highest Self already sees the entire map of the terrain. We know. Still, we go.

Carl Jung, Red Book

Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for. The damned thing in the cave that was so dreaded has become the center.” — Joseph Campbell

For most of us, the process of coming home is like trying to land in a traumatized environment. The descent of the soul to earth can be a rude awakening. We must come home to our DNA, which carries the memory of our ancestral trauma; home to the relation of our parents; home to our family system with all its beauty and dysfunction (for many of us); and home to the broader society which is in large part constructed of collective trauma agreements. The meeting of spirit and matter, dharma and karma, is a combustion and you are the result!

We’re not striving for a pleasant experience here. We’re practicing to be fully present with what is; whatever the moment has to offer. This is true power. This is where wisdom emerges. This is freedom. If we are attached to feeling good or to the idea of “making progress” we will be sorely disappointed. In this process, there is literally nowhere to go. Most of the time, we’re trying to escape our experience, so the real trick of coming home is in the staying; recognizing where that feeling of home comes from, where it lives within you, and a reliable path to getting back there again and again.

If you find any of the explorations difficult, you’re probably on the right track. The resistance you feel could be a result of the friction that happens when information comes into contact with trauma. When movement hits the frozen parts of us there can be heat and an accompanying discomfort. Have you ever noticed how irritation often proceeds insight? There is a “cost” to integration and gaining wisdom and that is the giving up of our comfortable, but limiting, beliefs and the thawing of our frozen and numb parts.

Over time, what you find is that you begin to feel more comfortable with the discomfort. You even begin to enjoy it. I have had my greatest spiritual breakthroughs on the other side of massive personal upheaval. Not always…but frequently. Shedding is a big part of the experience of growth. Ask any snake.

Self-compassion is maybe the most important thing to bring with you on this journey. We have to travel with care and warmth. We are healing ourselves and sometimes the past. We are carrying the pain of generations in ourselves, so move gently. What we do when we decide to come home is courageous, heroic, and significant. We can never lose site of that.

While this is a journey only you can make — you can only get there with the help of others. Ram Dass said it best, “We’re here to walk each other home.” Know who you can call when you’re deep in pain or confusion. It might take a while to figure out which of your friends can sit with you without trying to fix it; which of them can tell the difference between your voice and the voice of your wounded parts and speak to the right part with the right words. These are special friends and rare. Part of my motivation for bringing these practices to more people is to grow our circle of friends infinitely until we change culture itself. We need more who know what this process is really like.

“When others praise your sudden arrival, I will remember the long bravery of your descent.” — Toko-pa Turner

The Home Stretch

I do believe that this language of embodiment is what we must learn (or remember) if we are going to become the people who can navigate this time of transition on the planet. Only by being here fully can we feel ourselves as we are: one with the Earth, one living organism. And from this place, we can act in relation to all of life and allow the wisdom of life to operate as us and through us. If we continue to act at half capacity, addicted to the mental, one foot in and one foot out, we will surely miss the point.

Not resisting your experience, living in the presence of a greater truth — with more awareness, more respect for emotion, more attunement to the subtle layers of life — is a radical act! It is personal evolution when done alone, and a collective revolution when done together. We are re-creating culture when we commit to living with more presence and awareness moment-to-moment; rewriting the rules of engagement. Truly, I cannot see another a way out of the multiple intractable problems we are facing now. It’s a developmental step in consciousness that needs to happen — not towards more abstraction, but towards more intimacy.

When we do this, we receive gifts we could never have imagined…or maybe we have imagined them, but never dared dream they might actually come to us. We feel more alive than seems reasonable. We have more range of motion; see more in every situation. The idea is to live in direct relationship with Reality as it streams through you — to go where the energy flows. To become a true agent of change in your own life and in the world.

Embodiment is the path to coming into intimate relation with all of reality as it is — not needing it to be different. Actually savoring every moment as it arises as a chance to shed, drop the veils that stand between us and what we could be experiencing. The ONLY way to live a life like this — in complete communion with life itself and other living beings — is to be here fully; to be present, activated, and capable of handling our own emotional content without projecting, reacting, or freaking out.

This kind of embodiment takes work. And it’s worth it. The path of embodiment is the most human journey we could ever hope to make. And it might be a central reason we come here to this planet — to feel and to heal (which are one and the same) for and with each other. The body can be our greatest guide.

What I am proposing is that we need to master a set of skills that can help us come into the body and listen to the intelligence and insight it is constantly sharing with us. There is an art to this and it requires both discipline and creativity. It also requires an unlearning of so much of the dogma of rational, scientific materialism. Most of the practices I teach come from Vajrayana Buddhism, yoga, shamanism, feminine wisdom, and esoteric mystery schools through the ages. The work is basically, a calling forth of all the wisdom of the body human beings have ever had — much of it is quite old. The whole thing is a work in progress and I invite you to come participate!

There is nothing that’s not in you. The seeds are all there, waiting to be nurtured. My deepest hope is that you will find solid, unshakeable ground within yourself; a profound love for yourself; and a direct, valid and true view of the interconnectedness of things and your place within it all that will forever change the way you walk in this world. Both feet on the ground, heart lifted, vital and awake. For this is the state of grace where we can meet each other, trust each other, and move together as one. Coming Home to yourself, to all our relationships, and to this earth while we’re here.

If you are interested in trying Coming Home for yourself, sign up here for my newsletter here or join one of my ongoing meditation classes.

Journaling prompts:

  • What is my motivation for embarking on this journey of embodiment? What is driving me to seek a deeper relation to Self and Home?
  • What happens when I imagine coming home? What sensations and emotions are present?
  • What is your relationship with your body at this time in your life?
  • What does the idea of exile mean to me? Do I feel in exile? From where? Is there a history of exile in my family’s lineage?
  • When or where have I felt most at home?
  • When I meet someone who feels grounded, what is it I feel in them? What does that evoke in me?
  • How does restlessness appear in my life?
  • Do I trust the ground? Do I feel safety at a fundamental level in my system?
  • Have I accepted that I am here on Earth in this life? What parts of me resist being here now?
  • How can embodiment help me be more discerning? Help me ‘think’ and make sense of things better?

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Schuyler Brown

Schuyler Brown

www.artofemergence.com, futurist, facilitator, intuitive strategist, teacher of feminine wisdom principles.