Feel the Body Function: Embodiment as The Ultimate AlignmentOct 01, 2019 10:52PM ● By Vincent Fraser
“Man has no body distinct from his soul, for that called body is a portion of the soul, discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of the soul in this age.” ~William Blake
What are we to make of such a declaration as above, especially coming from a spiritual giant who saw angels and spoke of “seeing the world in a grain of sand...and eternity in an hour.” It seems strange that someone with such a deep and mature spirituality would bring our attention back to the physical body as a means of connecting with our soul.
Many of us grew up hearing religious stories, somewhat suited for children, about God in heaven, doing good, being bad, being pure. Then, getting older and looking for something more real, we may have become interested in another religion, chakras, guides and so on. A list of spiritual priorities for a modern non-religious American would likely suggest that we align with our values, our subtle bodies, our higher self, our heart or charitable work. Aligning with our bodies would probably not be on that list, but is this realistic? Is it possible in this moment to choose what we will align with, without first aligning with our bodies and moving in the direction of a more embodied, unified presence, and away from the influence of the disparate conditioned impulses of the head, emotions and instincts?
While most of us start aligning with our bodies by a “top-down” process of placing our attention on our bodies functioning, often in dance, music, sports, yoga or meditation, we may glimpse living in a deeper level of ourselves. This is often an exhilarating opening of the door to consciousness, which might be defined, perhaps inadequately, as attention without content, or awareness of awareness. It may include a surprising sense of how and who we were as children long ago. For some, drugs are a part of this opening, though that can sometimes come with its own complications and confusion.
This is a significant deepening of our relationship with our body. We move from feeling our bodies functioning to being embodied. It is much more profound than good muscle memory. The journey from these first experiences of grace, to longer periods of embodiment, to living a fully embodied life, is usually long. It helps enormously to have a “physical” practice to return to, such as music, martial arts, bodywork, dance, somatic meditation, yoga or active, heartfelt service to others. But these practices don’t necessarily lead to an embodied life. They can lead to highly skillful action, where the effort and a refined attention is on the action being taken. Whereas in an embodied state, there is no effort in the action, only a soft gesture of one’s inner attention towards remaining embodied.
The good news is that the journey to fuller embodiment is becoming much quicker, thanks in large part to the work of Stephen Porges, the author of The Polyvagal Theory, and Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing, a gentle somatic therapy for healing trauma, and author of In an Unspoken Voice and Waking the Tiger. Many therapies are being influenced by their work, becoming more effective by promoting the sense of safety that comes with the ventral vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows the social engagement system to come “on line,” allowing for deeper connection to one’s own experience and to other people. Once you identify and experience what an improved vagal tone feels like and its relationship to healing, it gets harder to not see its influence in yourself and others. It opens up a natural generosity and compassion towards the self that is soon directed towards others.
Vincent Fraser is a craniosacral therapist, certified Alexander Technique teacher and Somatic Experiencing practitioner with a long standing private practice in Greenwich and Norwalk. He can be reached at 203-570-2059 or [email protected]. See Community Resource Guide, page 56.