Embodyoga®: Overcoming Otherness

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.

IMG_1695We 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.

Diagram-of-the-abdomenConfined 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 breathe, 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.

The practice of Embodyoga® invites us to step down from this perch and directly into life, starting with a very accessible place: our own bodies. Instead of objectifying our selves by taking the body apart and examining the surfaces of its contents, 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 ethereal 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.

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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 sea, 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?

Originally published on the Embodyoga Blog.

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