Embodiment: The Eye of the Storm

May 17, 2024

Hurricane clouds with calm center
Hurricane clouds with calm center
Hurricane clouds with calm center

One of the earliest ways I could relate to embodiment was to reflect on what happens on a walk. I noticed I could have a million thoughts and sit for hours trying to figure something out and then go for a walk and suddenly have the answer clearly come to mind. How the brain chatter would settle and then things would connect in a different way on a walk. This was where I first started to notice that there were different ways of being, different states I could access, that go beyond the one that had been dominant for so long: working hard and overthinking. 

I started to see this didn’t have to be the default. There are other ways of being. And walking was my first access point to an embodied state.

Some people describe the embodied state as “dropping in,” where you drop your attention from your brain down into your body. It might even be shifting from your attention outside of yourself (others, the past, the future) to your own physical form and experience. There is a satisfying weight to embodiment and you can begin to really notice what is happening for you in the moment. Things like your temperature, where you’re tight or tense, any smells around you, the brightness of light around you, and how your breath is moving through you (shallow and sharp? Deep and slow?). 

This state of being embodied is ultimately awareness. According to Byron Brown, “Awareness is what allows you to perceive reality and be in touch with your experience, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual” (Soul Without Shame p.65). 

Our senses are some of our most powerful tools when accessing awareness. We use our senses all the time, but we aren’t always conscious of it. “Without awareness, perception is mechanical and lacks the aliveness and presence of the soul” (Brown p.65). For example, we walk around all day and see things, but we don’t really see what is in front of us—we just mechanically take it in. To move towards awareness, we must be conscious of our perception—really notice what is going on around us.

Awareness turns up the volume of conscious perception. “Awareness includes not only perceptions themselves but the process of attending to them.” Here’s what happens internally: “the physical senses register and transmit sensations to the brain, but awareness is what allows those perceptions to become a part of your consciousness” (Brown p.65). Awareness develops as we consciously notice what we are aware of (Brown p.65–66).

While it might initially sound like a lot of work, awareness is actually a very freeing experience. Your brain isn’t categorizing and analyzing like it usually does. Instead, it’s a more receptive state—taking in what is happening around and within you: 

“Awareness has a sense of no boundaries, an openness from which nothing is excluded and in which things are not separate. It has no opinions, priorities, or values about what it is aware of. When you are aware, you feel awake, attentive and attuned, clear and spacious” (Brown p.68).

From that awake, clear, and attuned place we can access new information. We access new resources that our brain doesn’t even notice when we’re over analyzing. This new information helps us see things differently. It’s where we get to that obvious answer that feels really good that we somehow just couldn’t find before, no matter how hard we tried. It’s where our next small step becomes crystal clear and we can focus on that, releasing any worry or thought about the other 7-10 steps in the future. This embodied space, your state of awareness, is where you hear yourself most clearly

I sometimes relate embodiment to the eye of a storm. The overthinking, judgements, shame, doubts is the storm we are often lost in—what many of us weather each day. However, we can find calm if we go inward to our center, the center of our bodies. “At the heart of all struggle, there is a peaceful enduring center, if we can only reach it” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening p. 155). At the same time, the goal isn’t to only live in this calm center. It can feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do and then that means that we fail when we find ourselves back in the storm. Instead, we access the center when we need to—we develop a relationship to it. Nepo describes this well: “The work, it seems, for us is to draw sustenance from that central, eternal space without denying the experience of the storm” (p.155). The storm is our human experience and we can access what we need to weather the storm by connecting to our center through embodiment. 

So how exactly can we start to find our way to this embodied and aware state? Going for a walk is a great way to do this—this is how I started. Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about getting on the floor every day, even if it’s just for 3-4 minutes:

“There is a particular feeling of time stopping when you get your body down on the floor...Just being low down in a room tends to clear the mind. Maybe it’s because being on the floor is so foreign to us that it breaks up our habitual neurological patterning and invites us to enter into this moment through a sudden opening in what we might call the body door” (Wherever You Go, There You Are p.157). 

On the floor, “you dwell, usually for longer than part of your mind would like, just breathing, just feeling your body” (Kabat-Zinn, p.158). You spend some time going inward, using your senses in order to become fully aware in this moment. Maybe stretching or just focusing on your breath, notice what your body is telling you. “Remind yourself that this is your body today. Check to see if you are in touch with it” (Kabat-Zinn, p.159). 

There is no one right way to start. For some, it’s meditation. For others, it’s yoga. Others prefer breathwork. It might just be a quick body scan or a walk around the block. Whatever feels accessible and interesting to you, try it. Begin to intentionally make your way to the eye of the storm so that you can access awareness. And when you’re there, listen to what naturally comes up—what clear answers arise for you. Take this new information, the sustenance, and step back into your human experience with what you need to move forward. And remember that you can always make your way back to your center, to your body, whenever you feel adrift in the storm.