Updated: Nov 18
A manifesto for deep embodiment
Imagine a moment in which you surrendered yourself into the embrace of another being you love (a family member, a lover, a pet, doesn’t matter). Recall the sense of completeness, connectedness, perfection of that experience. You were deeply together with someone else; they were deeply with you. Each and every part of your being was lively present to that experience, fully immersed in it, tuned into it.
Even if you think you never had such a deep experience, you might still discover a longing for it within you. A sort of inner gesture towards finding something like it. A striving for a resting place, where you can surrender completely and feel that you are completely loved and in love. Listen to that longing.
Be it the memory of a particular lived moment, or the fantasy of a deeply rooted longing, all beings are capable of connecting with this sort of experience. Should this connection be completely undermined, their existence would lose its root and fuel, it will crash upon itself, and eventually dry out, like a plant cut at its stem.
Nonetheless, even when we can still connect with this experience, we ordinarily tend to impose myriads of limitations upon it. We think and imagine that such an experience of complete connectedness, love and surrender can happen only in special external circumstances, only with a unique Other, or only when we are in (or will have achieved) a special state or condition.
These limitations are not just thoughts or ideas. They are blockages, cramps, contractions, that prevent our ability to widen our sight, deepening our ability to listen, expand our understanding, and move our bodies freely. They are ossified mental patterns, sclerotized emotional loops, and stiffened joints that chain our limbs. These limitations are normal, in the sense they are often there, in a way or another. But they are not necessary, they do not have to be there. They can be overcome.
Imagine what it would look like if you could drop even just some of these limitations. Imagine how it would feel if you could be able to experience that sense of love, surrender, connectedness, freedom not only in very unique circumstances, but as a more easily accessible, common, perhaps default condition of your being.
In the process of growth, transformation, evolution, limitations are helpful sometimes. They create a shell that enables certain parts of us to be sheltered while they are still too soft or fragile to meet directly the clash with the rest of the world. Limitations are like dams or filters, they block the otherwise overwhelming flow of reality, allowing only a little stream to move through us, so that we can remain in touch with some of it, without being swept away by a force we do not yet know how to drive. In this sense, limitations work like scaffoldings. They can (and sometimes must) be used to support safety and development. But at some point, they can (and must) be set aside.
Limitations are created by enclosing what is open, by making stiffer and more rigid what is pliable, by narrowing the scope of what is naturally wide, and by limiting the range of motion of what could move in all ways and all directions. Hence, the progressive disassembling of limitations is nothing but the reversal of the same process that led to their creation. We need to reopen what was closed, broadening the scope of what was narrowed, and recover the ability to move freely what was chained.
Opening refers in particular to the whole body-heart-mind field of experience. Limitations create traces, patterns, habits, that reduce the scope of this field and impose fixed ways to travel through it, or just live in it. Then, only part of the vaster landscape remains accessible, while the rest is neglected. This often manifests in gestures of grasping, attachment, stiffness, through which we anchor, rigidify, even dumb ourselves. The practice of opening entails the opposite, namely, a progressive reconquering of our natural pliability, flexibility, and freedom. Opening means to access a state of balanced, equanimous activation in the whole field of experience, in which all parts are equally engaged with one another, and yet no part is more prominent than the others. This is a way of coming back to our original condition of indeterminacy, our natural pliability and malleability, not yet shaped in any rigid form, and yet capable of taking up any.
When we are open, we can listen better. Listening means switching from a reactive mode (in which we try to face as quickly as possible what is coming towards us from the world), to a mode in which we actually allow ourselves to sink into the background of our experience, into the world around, into the horizon within which we move. We momentarily suspend our proactive attitude of doing, and create a space to first look, explore, sense, feel, get familiar with the broader landscape within which we are.
Ultimately, listening aims at the realization that being-part is both the problem and the solution of our condition. Being-part is a problem when we live it as a lack, as a form of exclusion, or as a vulnerability to hide behind walls and arrogant pretensions of control. Being-part is the solution when we see that we can being-part only because we are already part of something larger, something all-encompassing, which moves, throbs, and lives in us, through us.
By listening to this, we can fully express ourselves. We can come back to our engagement with the world, with our force, energy, and longing to let our being burst forth, expand, become. This activity, now, is no longer an effort to build up scaffolds, walls, enclosures, limitations. Rather, it is the freedom of being able to take on any form, playing all masks, enjoying all rhythms, knowing that they all belong to us, and yet none of them exhaust what we actually are. We can love them all, because we no longer have to choose or confine ourselves to any of them. In this way, we discover that the experience of surrender, love, connectedness that we imagined unique and rare, or simply longed for without being able to encounter, is in fact our natural state, the baseline from which all our actions and aspiration emerge, and to which all eventually come back.
If you don’t open, how can you listen? If you do not listen, how can you express yourself? If you don’t express yourself, what’s the point of all the rest? Open. Listen: Express! Olé.
How different is this proposal from that of many other contemplative practices and traditions? On the one hand, it is not too different. For instance, yoga postures can be a very good tool for opening; meditation exercises a valuable training for listening, and conscious and ecstatic dance a perfect playground for expression.
On the other hand, most traditions are victims of a certain trade off. They often limit themselves and their scope in order to defend their own identity, uniqueness, and distinguishing difference. Opening is great, but it remains barren without listening, and useless without expressing. Listening is great, but it remains enslaved without opening and powerless without expression. Expressing is great, but it remains foolish without opening, and ungrounded without listening.
Moreover, most traditions put their highest stake in the rediscovery of the broader horizon that encompasses the limited experience of oneself, getting in touch with the ‘whole’ of which anybody is part. Since being-part is the problem, dissolving somehow in (some kind of) whole seems the solution. The fallacy here is that if one really understands how being-part is being-part-of-the-whole, then one should also realize that the purpose for the part is not to go back to the whole but to enact it. Or to put it the other way around, the whole did not express itself as a part for the sake of eventually getting back to itself as a whole. Or to use mythological terms, God did not create beings for the sake of letting them dissolve back into its own divine nature, but in order to live and embody itself through them.
The mistake, here, is just that of stopping too soon. Discovering the broader horizon within which our ‘being-part’ is rooted is a very radical change compared to the ordinary limited and self-confined perspective. But it is not the goal, it is not the end, it is just a crucial turning point. Neither is the goal elevating our ‘being-part’ to the nature of the whole, by ‘divinizing it’. God (to keep using this word for the sake of brevity) does not need to be reminded by its own creatures what does it feel like to be God—it knows that already. The goal is the opposite, to be fully a part, to be authentically a finite expression—of something infinite.
This is deep embodiment. Ordinarily, embodiment is seen as the (more or less tight) connection between mental and physical components of our being. But this view is predicated on the assumption that mind and body can drift apart, and that we have to consider both as finite parts in their own right. Once we understand the deeper meaning of ‘being-part’ (which is being-part-of-a-whole), then mind and body cannot be really seen as ever being separate or dissociated (dissociation is just an idea we might have about mind and body, a limiting representation, not a reality). More importantly, both mind and body are necessarily seen as focal points within a boundless field of experience, belonging to that field, expressing its infinitude in a finite, unique form. Deep embodiment is not just the deep intertwining of mind and body (which is a reality that can never be undermined, even when we think otherwise), it is the intertwining of finite and infinite, the embodiment of the infinite in the finite—and vice versa. Deep embodiment is the experience of the whole world as that embrace in which one can fully surrender, fully be, being fully loved and loving, fully connected, and fully free to express this all.
It would be possible to elaborate further on the philosophical and metaphysical underpinnings of what is mentioned here, or to delve deeper into the possible historical sources and connections between what has been presented and what several contemplative traditions have taught. While this might be a worth-engaging intellectual endeavour, it is not strictly necessary. This endeavour necessarily operates in the domain of representation, memory, language, imagination, reason. All good, all helpful, all scaffolds to ease our being to gently relax, and feel safe enough to open up—after all, the main purpose of linking certain teachings with certain lineages, traditions, and communities of practitioners is to create a sense of safety (the teachings are safe, and we are safe while trusting and practicing them), which is the first step for surrendering to their transformative power.
But this intellectual endeavour might also be bypassed or postponed. If we can just connect back to that fundamental experience of surrendering into a loving embrace, and reflect on its usual limitations—this is all that is needed to justify and explore the rest.
This is Olé—Open. Listen: Express!—a complete toolkit of contemplative practices, carefully integrated so that they can complement and enrich one another. Its goal is to empower your experience of being ‘you’, with its uniqueness and its interconnectedness with all that is around. It can be a spiritual path. It can be freedom itself. Just try it!