Embodiment & Practice

Embodiment is a buzz word these days, but it can be difficult to define. In part, this is because all bodies experience the world differently, and it's not often easy to put words to the fullness of our sensual and aware presence.


As I see it, embodiment is an ever-shifting experience of our awareness (aka observer or witness or Self), practice, choicefulness, and congruence. Embodiment is about being aware of "what is" in any given moment - not what you think your body doing, but what your body is actually doing. It's about being tender and present with what exists - right here, right now. Embodiment reveals our moment-by-moment choices and practices.


We embody what we practice, and we are always practicing something. Practice is the repetition of behaviors and actions that become habitual and therefore embodied. When we practice dance, playing an instrument, meditation, these eventually become a part of us and how we move through the world.


A question that can often be surprisingly powerful is "what are you practicing?", because what we practice is what we become skilled at. We practice being judgmental, open, flexible, having leaky boundaries. We practice being a loving or shaming witness to ourselves and others. We practice regulating our nervous systems in conflict, we practice pleasure. We practice shielding and defending ourselves. We practice listening to understand and we practice listening to respond. We practice being in relationship with people that reflect our worthiness, belonging, and dignity. We practice chaos. We practice trust, we practice safety. We practice love.


For so many of us, these concepts have become nouns instead of verbs, identities instead of choices. We say "I just don't trust people" or "I am worthless". We see these parts of ourselves as fixed, and because we witness everything through that perception, this view is consistently confirmed, so we see only that people are untrustworthy, we only absorb what makes us feel worthless. These practices largely remain unconscious because they've been automated by our brain-bodies in order to conserve energy.


But - and bear with me here - what if these are actually all verbs, actions, choices, practices? What if we are practicing fear, defensiveness, shame? To be clear - I am not saying that these are conscious choices we are making, and I am also not saying that we can or should get rid these experiences entirely. But what if it's possible that you are running on automated scripts that are no longer working for you? What if, through embodiment, you can actually practice a different emotional state until it becomes a neural trait?


For me, this is not all hypothetical. I experienced what we call depression for most of my life, into my late twenties. In the height of my misery, I remember learning how to explore with clients what they might be getting out of their depression or anxiety or addictions. And I remember asking myself, "how is my depression serving me?". I was surprised to discover that, among other reasons, I felt depressed because it just felt right to be depressed. Gesturing wildly at the world around me, I'd say "I mean, what kind of idiot wouldn't be depressed in a world like this?" And, truthfully, I really, really liked to be right. Depression felt right, it felt obvious, it felt inevitable.


This single moment didn't change my life, but it was an essential part of a slow shift from seeing myself as a fixed identity into the possibility that I could practice something else, if I wanted to. Yes, I still believe that depression is an appropriate response to these circumstances. And, I discovered that I want to explore other ways of being. So I began to practice.


I practice taking pauses. I practice watching sunsets. I practice assertiveness and boundaries, I practice trust and connection, I practice openness and flexibility, I practice being messy, and silly, and I practice not knowing things. I practice leaving room for mystery, I practice trying on different belief systems to see if they resonate with me. I practice staying with sensation, and turning down analysis. I practice being a loving witness of myself and all of my parts. Some practices are easier than others. Some days are more difficult than others. Sometimes younger versions of me are rolling their eyes at my naïve optimism. Sometimes my inner skeptic rings loud alarm bells. Sometimes I have to let go of all the practices and just be a miserable lump on the couch - and annoyingly, that's a practice, too.


Embodiment is not about feeling good all the time, or even most of the time. Embodiment is being able to feel the breadth of human experience, and also being able to make the choice not to feel when it's not useful or supportive to do so. Embodiment is practice, and what we practice is embodied.


What are you practicing?

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