God’s Body

“I am the path and the goal, the upholder, the master, the witness, the abode and the refuge, the loving friend, the origin, the foundation and the dissolution, the resting place and the imperishable seed of all…I am immortality and also death, and the existent and the non-existent am I, O Arjuna.”  Bhagavad Gita 9.18

Embodyoga offers us a unique opportunity to experience God in our bodies.  Much has been said about the body/mind split, and much healing has happened in recent years as we awaken to the reality that body and mind are one whole, integrated through and through.  We know that health and healing require the re-integration and re-partnering of body and mind, rather than viewing them as individual systems to be “worked on” individually and separately.

But we also have historically created and experienced a false split between matter and God. Not just science, which in its modern dogma of fundamental materialism often denies God altogether, but religions and spiritual traditions throughout history have put God up, up, and away, out in the cosmos somewhere far away from us.  Even many yoga traditions have spoken of God as an abstraction, an idea, a story, a myth, and union with God something that happens by transcending and escaping this world through meditation or other methods.

God is not far away.  God is intimately near.  Every atom, every molecule, every living cell on Earth is made of God.  God is the Oneness that gives birth to life, and life lives in everything, even material that we often speak of as ‘dead’.  Even in dead matter, protons and electrons are swirling, life and mind are involuted but dancing, sleeping but waiting to awaken.  And this life is God’s breath, God’s life, God’s being.  This mind is the mind of God.

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Embodiment and Yoga

“Embodiment is the awareness of the cells themselves. It is a direct experience. There are not intermediary steps or translations. There is no guide. There is no witness. There is the fully known consciousness of the experienced moment initiated from the cells themselves…The source of this process is love.”
-Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Embodiment is the fulfillment of yoga – union. The clear line of division between subject and object blurs, and we experience both as made up of the same essential stuff. In the yoga tradition this stuff is called Satchitananda. Sat = being, truth, infinite and eternal existence. Chit = consciousness that is force, what it wills becomes, infinite and eternal all-embracing awareness. Ananda = delight of being, absolute and unobstructed comfort, infinite and eternal fulfillment. These three are One in their wholeness and undivided, indivisible. They are three aspects, faces, qualities of the One that is All. Being, Will, Experience. This is the universe’s fundamental fabric.

Yoga is a state as well as a process. When we “practice” yoga, we actively and intentionally engage in the process of moving toward the state of yoga. By practicing yoga, we align ourselves with the yoga of Nature, the Earth’s yoga. Our embodiment is the Earth’s embodiment, and through us Her innate intelligence is set free to play and learn and transform the stuff of Her body. She touches Herself through our hands and loves Herself through our hearts and knows Herself through our minds. And when we directly experience the underlying unity of all that is, when we touch Satchitananda and are plunged beyond ideas into an integral and unarguable knowing of our inner being with all that is, was, and ever will be, the Earth too awakens and knows and loves and touches the fabric that manifests as Universe.

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Embodyoga®—Overcoming “Otherness”

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In our modern “Western” culture, perhaps more so than in any other culture in history, we’re taught to see and relate to surfaces.  Even when we dissect or disassemble things, we find within them more surfaces.  Atom, nucleus, electron, quark…on and on through layers of surfaces.  Underlying qualities and interconnections evade us, retreating from the spade as we dig deeper and deeper into the soil of matter.

We can cut through the trunk of a tree, observe the rings and grain, name the tangible processes through which it derives nourishment from earth and sky, but what does this tree know?  How does it feel?  What is its inner, subjective, experience of the world, and how does it relate to and communicate with the forest?  We learn from a young age that these questions are inherently silly, childish.  We learn to dismiss an investigation into the mind of a tree or the subjective experience of a forest as unscientific and unreal.  And yet when we create a world in which only humans’ subjective experience is real, we become dead to the complex, living web of intelligence that surrounds and infuses our ecosystems, our bodies, and our minds. The illusion of aloneness is at best painful, and at worst the driving force behind Earth’s next mass extinction.

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Shraddha In Embodyoga®

[Shraddha] is literally “that which is placed in the heart”: all the beliefs we hold so deeply that we never think to question them. It is the set of values, axioms, prejudices, and prepossessions that colors our perceptions, governs our thinking, dictates our responses, and shapes our lives, generally without our even being aware of its presence and power.”                       

–Eknath Easwaran, Introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita

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We all have shraddha. We are made of it. Our system, or structure of beliefs literally creates the multi-dimensional beings that we are.  And like breath, we exhale our shraddha, our foundational beliefs, into the space around us.  They swirl through space, permeating the atmosphere, and are absorbed into the fabric of our lives. Then we inhale, and we take in the collective shraddha, the beliefs that silently pervade our culture, subliminally, under the radar of waking consciousness.

Below the mental hierarchy of beliefs, with the most fixed and solid at the bottom and the most fluid and loosely held at the top, our emotional being has its own shraddha.  Less linear but more intransigent.  It wells up through your constructed mental reality like mud between your toes, or like an unstoppable volcano of molten stories – self-reinforcing and too blazing hot to approach, too fused to disentangle.  Deeper still lies the shraddha of the sense mind.  The rules and laws of material reality filter into us and stamp our consciousness with rigidity, impossibility, death.

Embodied inquiry means facing these layers of shraddha.

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Layers of Self

In order to fully understand ourselves, we need an understanding of the layers that comprise our existence. And true understanding comes not from theorizing or thinking, but from direct experiential inquiry.  Without this kind of inquiry we can have some ideas about who we are, but they will be based on flimsy assumptions and mental models, rather than a solid and tested foundation. Many have trod this path before us, and we can use their gleanings and discoveries as a basis, or even a kind of map to guide our own exploration, as long as we don’t confuse the map with the terrain and lose ourselves in the abstract. The Upanishads offer such a map, and the Taittiriya in particular paints a fascinating picture of the layers of self.

The Taiitiriya Upanishad describes the layers of our being as sheaths, each successive sheath contained within the others. It speaks of life as the inner being or soul of matter, mind as the soul of life, and wisdom (or gnosis) as the soul of mind. And the Upanishad also describes the most fundamental layer of manifestation, the soul of wisdom and therefor the soul of mind, life, and matter as well, as Ananda: bliss, comfort, delight.

So as we seek to understand ourselves, we can inquire into the nature and qualities of these layers, seeking direct, experiential understanding. The Upanishad gives us a clue in its articulation of the sheaths, and then we need to track down the prize through a deep, persistent inquiry. We can stand back from our habitual self-identification with mind, and stare into the frantic pulsing mental web, watching its workings and limitations, noting how it takes in sensory information, filters it through a sieve of past experience and rigid models, and feeds it to our faculty of discernment, which sorts and dissects and deduces. The mind is an incredible tool, allowing us to make sense of our environment, plan for the future, build beautiful and terrible devices for engaging with and controlling the world around us.  But remains only a tool, a faculty, a limiting power of division that be its very nature removes us from our environment and places us outside of it, alone encased within our skin. If we take the mind for who we are completely, then we commit ourselves to a cage with impenetrable bars.  But if we take it as a faculty, a layer of ourself, then we can benefit from its gifts but transcend them.

From our customary perch within the mind itself, we can look above and notice the downward pour of intuition that illuminates the mental cave with flashes, and then watch the mind grasp and grapple and reduce the flashes into a substance it can manipulate. Climbing up we can enter directly into a more expansive way of knowing, a wisdom that exceeds the mind’s escapades, vast and fluid, where a subjective knowing of the world around us becomes possible. What was ‘other’ becomes known as ‘self’, division becomes simply differentiation, our aloneness dissolves into an empathic experience of unity. Or we can peek up further still, squinting in the light of pure, unobstructed Delight of being. Being infused and inseparable with consciousness/force and joy – Satchitananda.

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Is Embodyoga® Intellectual?

In ourom modern ‘Western’ culture, perhaps more so than in any other culture in history, we’re taught to see and relate to surfaces. Even when we dissect or disassemble things, we find within them more surfaces. Atom, nucleus, electron, quark…on and on through layers of surfaces. Underlying qualities and interconnections evade us, retreating from the spade as we dig deeper and deeper into the soil of matter.

We can cut through the trunk of a tree, observe the rings and grain, name the tangible processes through which it derives nourishment from earth and sky, but what does this tree know?  How does it feel?  What is its inner, subjective, experience of the world, and how does it relate to and communicate with the forest?

We learn from a young age that these questions are inherently silly, childish.  We learn to dismiss an investigation into the mind of a tree or the subjective experience of a forest as unscientific and unreal.  And yet when we create a world in which only humans subjective experience is real, we become dead to the complex, living web of intelligence that surrounds and infuses our ecosystems, our bodies, and our minds.   The illusion of aloneness is at best painful, and at worst the driving force behind Earth’s next mass extinction.

Confined to this philosophical rubric we become incapable of knowing except through abstraction – by identifying something as ‘other’ and examining its otherness and relationships to other ‘others’. This ‘othering’ extends even to the space and substance within our own bodies. My bones, my muscles, my organs, my glands, all appear as objects taking up space inside my skin. My heart beats, my lungs breath, my blood flows, but all of these processes seem to have little to do with me as I experience myself – captain of the ship, observing the world from my perch up in and around my skull.

Embodyoga® invites us to step down from this perch and directly into life, starting with a very accessible place – our own bodies. Instead of taking the body apart and examining the surfaces of its contents, objectifying our very selves, we go inside to discover the essential qualities of our physical structure. The objective becomes subjective as we touch the consciousness that pervades all layers of self, from the most solidly material to the most etherial and formless.

We begin by focusing our attention on the more abstract idea of bone, or muscle, or organ, or gland. We then use imagination and sensation to explore and observe this ‘other’ with our awareness until suddenly, effortlessly, often surprisingly, we enter into a kind of communion with it. Breaking through the perceptual bubble of the ego-mind, pouring into a subjective experience of gnosis, or knowledge through identity. I know my liver because I am my liver. The miracle of human subjective awareness, with its capacities for meta-cognition, infuses into the pre-rational self-awareness that pervades the body.

This shift is a spiritual breakthrough with vast implications, and the essential opposite of theoretical, abstract, or disembodied. It opens the door to a gnostic experience of the entire ecology around us. Everything in the world can be communed with similarly. We can know our surroundings, each other, the earth, the cosmos subjectively – by identity. I know the tree because I am the tree, the sea because I am the see, and I know you because I am you. This ancient spiritual concept becomes accessible through simple embodiment practices. And when all is experienced as the self, who is there to oppose, to fight, to fear?

Yes, Embodyoga® is intellectually stimulating interesting, engaging. But if it’s only that and no more, then I’d argue that we’ve missed the heart of it. And so while it may speak to the intellect, it is not an “intellectual” approach. Its primary gift is not to the intellect nor via the intellect. The gift is release from the alienated and abstracted state from which we see all as other. The invitation is into a direct and unmediated experience of the intricate fabric that underlies and interweaves every aspect of reality – from flickering quark to swirling galaxy.Is Embodyoga®