The experience of physicality is the full habitation of our sensory and emotional space. There is no thought, or at least no need for thought, no need for interpretation. In its full depth, embodiment is a sense of reality as physical nature itself, distinct from a larger container of mind or heart.
Does the mind shape the body or the reverse? Does the mind exist independently of the body? Sixty years ago, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (The Phenomenology of Perception) decided, in direct contradiction to Cartesian dualism, that we perceive and conceptualize everything somatically: processing, referencing, interpreting and responding to a continuous flow of physical sensation and perception. With this in mind, it’s easy to say consciousness itself arises in the body directly from intrinsic biochemical activity. The term infers the subjective experience arising in the body, the experience of the body…and the body of experience, are unitary, non-dual, in which all experience is subjective. There is no Other.
Embodiment also has meaning because it refers to our intrinsic familiarity with something. Knowing something “without words” implies comprehension of our experience at a feeling and image level. We ‘know’ at a sensory level where movement and memory overlap, before interpretation or any belief can occur. Prior to any specific mental awareness or conscious brain function, ‘knowing’ is differentiated from any intellectual or cognitive awareness. Our subjectivity is incarnate. We ‘know’ that we can ‘know. ’This is also a key principle of non-duality.
In the fully embodied state, the distinctions between mind and emotion become blurred. We enter the domain of the feeling mind, a realization of presence. The immediacy of the present moment opens space for dispassionate observation, also known as mindfulness. If such awareness arises from within, then becoming embodied means we are more conscious of our consciousness, more aware of Awareness. We realize ourselves in a place, in a nearly timeless moment, apart from the past or the future. We are not distracted by habitually reformulating the past to satisfy an old need or to avoid an old memory. Nor are we attempting to manipulate the present to perpetuate a limiting belief about the future. We are simply here in the economy of the moment, where we may fully realize the abundance of meaningful relations.
Embodiment is the experience of being fully connected. We are fundamentally related to each other and to the natural world. In the broadest sense we come home to the sacred dimension of life, to our Greater Self, to a dynamic equilibrium of inner mechanical, cognitive and sensory forces interacting with memory and feeling. We name such experience ‘Wholeness.’
Can this experience be cultivated? Yes, of course. It has been the subject of countless practices for millennia. We experience the fullness of embodiment in peak moments of sustained physical exertion. We experience complete immersion into a felt sense of wholeness in lovemaking, deep contemplation or in moments of deeply loving and spiritual connections with others. We experience embodiment in dance and in structured movement such as yoga, Tai Chi, Chi Gung and many other practices.
Meditation is an embodiment practice because in its most elementary form we deliberately attend to the biology of the moment, the movement of breath, the settling into a comforting physical ease while quieting the mind. More advanced practice intends to bring the discursive mind into higher relief, bringing our inner process into consciousness. Awakening from this semi-conscious dream state, the random dance of continuous and habitual mental activity is to bring us closer to being fully present and more fully embodied.
This is a revolutionary act because we live in a time in which our attention is a commodity to be exploited, colonized and harvested for profit. This is the business model of the global tech giants. The logical conclusion of this continuous assault on our capacity for focused presence is the clinical description of ADD. Attention deficit is pandemic. Losing the capacity to swim in the sublime inner worlds of feeling and imagination generates distorted, disconnected and addictive behaviors.
Taking the time to go into silence is a process of reclaiming the inner space where we reflect on and connect to the sacred domain of the inner commons, where our resources may be buried, but not tarnished. It is only by regenerating a capacity for calm uncluttered presence of mind that we can even begin to access our relationship to the vitality of life.
Fortunately, our attention is not something to be permanently extracted from us like a vein of raw material. It is a renewable resource. We have the capacity to access and explore and regenerate the inner commons and connect to the depth of existence, which is the birthright of being human, where all we know becomes a springboard to all we can imagine. We must renew it on a regular basis or we will lose capacity for imagination and creativity.
Instead of mindlessly operating on automatic pilot, we become mindful, developing and deepening the capacity for observation without reflexive engagement or reactivity. We meet ourselves as we are, with all the wounds and pain and flawed operating systems perpetuating our suffering, our grasping and adorning our identities and all the other accessory behaviors of a life we imagine will bring us happiness.
More importantly, nurturing the capacity to release ourselves from intellect, we immerse ourselves in the feeling space of our physical presence and venture into the heart of a Greater Self, an integral version of somatic experience, economics, politics and spirituality. We deliberately become available for manifesting an exchange of value that has nothing to do with money and everything to do with wealth. In finding our selves in the fullness of subjectivity, we find our personal economy, our true nature and the source of all natural capital. We enter the journey of exploring communion and learning how to manage our place, our home, our community, our planet.
Occupying our fullness and developing relational skills in every interactive dimension of life is to enter a transformative process of becoming a living embodied system consciously connected to the larger whole of Life and therefore directly influencing political and economic relations of the whole from a deeply grounded dimension. Reforming a system that is only becoming increasingly corrupt is not the answer, of course. What we are looking for is becoming a ‘living’ economy, nested in a layered living system. That includes the use of art, satire, humor, all the weirdness, perversity and raw authenticity, whatever it turns out to be.
These principles require structural change of our current economy toward equitable allocation of resources, benefitting the greatest number of people without sacrificing the ecosystem, democracy or personal fulfillment. Whether one is indicting the phantom wealth of the Wall Street casino or aligning with a sacred economy, all agree the current macro structure and operational rules of our political economy guarantee radical wealth inequity, environmental degradation, spiritual malaise and bizarre insulated tribal enclaves of increasingly aberrant behavior, divorced from any semblance of ethics or morality. The plainly antihuman nature of the old and dying economy as well as its bad actors and apologists is a by-product of warped individualism and the hyper-competitive pursuit of narrow self-interest essential to the perpetual growth imperative.
What is required of the individual who ushers in a different paradigm? The nested systems of the biological world mimicking the same operational principles at all levels are useful as a metaphor of a transformational process occurring intra- and inter-personally to vitalize the change we seek. In other words, aside from wishing to see large-scale changes in the way we relate to money and wealth, we might well ask what are the transformative changes bringing us closer to embodying the new economy within ourselves?
Coming fully into our form of life as human, dropping the vestiges of human superiority, reinterpreting our place in the natural world, we enter a realm of knowledge long abandoned by scientific materialism. We redefine the meaning of wealth. It no longer has anything to do with the exploitive, inequitable, artificial and profoundly distorted derivative world of energetic exchange we call money. It has everything to do with an entirely different metric of value: our communion with others and all life.
What is the currency of an embodied living economy? The answer should be obvious. The currency is relationship. It is authenticity itself. The currency at the heart of an emerging medium of transformational human exchange has to be rooted in our true nature and capacities. That can only occur through an unrelenting and uncompromising process of unwrapping and interactive discovery. Such an inquiry into both our unique essence and our interdependence incrementally strips away the false currencies that have grown up around us.
We thought the old economy was about money—having it, getting more and keeping it. We are learning that it was really about our relationship to money, not the money itself. And lately, let’s say particularly in the last 60-70 years, that relationship has become a perverted expression of both the best and the worst of the complicated ways we use it to express ourselves.
The enduring currency, the only reality we have to exchange with each other is ourselves. Money may be a symbol of who we are, but as is so often said: it is the map, not the territory. We can reinvent ourselves according to a different set of criteria: the authenticity of our purpose and the manner in which we serve our selves and others. In redefining the true currency of human exchange, we also redefine wealth, generosity, income and human value.
Is there something about all of this that can be measured? In what sense can we say that one person “has” more, or is embodying a new economy more than another? Not directly. The true currency of this economy is not a material thing. Its transactions cannot be registered in goods or services. Its growth cannot be directly measured against that of last year or last decade. What can be measured are the artifacts of its existence.
Those artifacts may not be obvious. But to those within a circle of authenticity and generosity, within a transformed economy embodying a new definition of wholeness, its parameters are obvious.