The Embodied Life:  Cellular Awareness in Our Body and Interconnection

3treeConsciousness is evolving, and physical matter is transforming and evolving as it reflects this awakened consciousness. This new understanding and experience of matter is an expression of the rising of the feminine principle at this time on the Earth. The ancient Taoists believe the mysterious feminine to be the receptive yin wisdom of the earth and the body, which supports and nourishes the creativity of life. Matter is permeated with this creative intelligence. By directing our attention within our own cells, we can directly experience the primal intelligence that moves through everything.

The term embodiment refers to living at this level of awareness, dissolving into the sea of cellular consciousness. When we are embodied, our awareness resides within the body and at the same time moves through all that surrounds us, a tangible cellular interconnection. We perceive instead of think, informed from the creative awareness in our cells. We live in the body and are also embedded in the world around us, able to shift our perspective, our assemblage point, at any moment.

We might begin by imagining the body as a single cell, and our skin as a semi-permeable membrane. Through our pores as well as our lungs, we breathe in and out, from the bottom of our soles, through our fingertips and the top of our head. We are one cell in a sea of cells, breathing with our world, feeling the flow of energy moving across our skin, feeling ourselves on each side of this skin. Or we might imagine the many cells of a specific area such as our lips, beginning to feel the subtle rhythm of the cellular breath, the internal respiration of each cell. This cellular breath is the fluid movement of the blood through the cell membrane, nourishing each and every cell, removing toxins. There is a deep stillness to this subtle activity, a feeling of being at home. We can move through the body like this, bringing our awareness into the cells, or we can extend out through our skin and experience the world beyond, feeling the center of the earth through our soles, or the everyday textures through our fingers.

Embodiment is a recognition of the aliveness, the ensoulment, of each living being, the animals and plants, and the elementals. Our simple intent to feel the sentient nature of all living things is the essential step in engaging with matter. Yet at first living inside our own skin may seem daunting. If we’ve had previous experiences of being ignored by people, or held roughly, or even sunburned, the cells of our skin may hold memories that portray the outside world as harsh and we may have learned to retreat far within ourselves. Or we may stand hyper-vigilant at the border, expecting insult, ready to retaliate. If we can be present with the feelings our bodies reveal, breathing gently, the stillness at the center of each cell awaits us.

Embodiment is also a remembering, discovering the unique history and geography of how we have formed ourselves. In embracing the emotions and sensations that have shaped our individual perspectives, we also free ourselves to know other perspectives.

I see that I am both the child trapped in fear, and I am the embracing mother who can soothe and reassure myself. Sometimes my loneliness is soothed by the gentle wind enveloping me on a soft summer evening, and sometimes I am that wind leaping through the sky.

I am convinced that embodiment is a necessary and crucial next step for our own health and well-being, and that of our world. As we begin to live from the insides of ourselves, we not only experience the aliveness and ever-changing wonder of our own body as a complex system of inter-relationships in continual dynamic change, an improvisational dance in which each part of the whole is a vital contributing member. We also experience our interdependence with our surrounding elemental world–the sunlight, air, water and food through which we thrive. From this inner vantage point we feel the entire world as alive, complex and dynamic, a web of interdependence and mutual exchange. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing” to describe this living world of mutuality.

Once I experienced this interdependence through the felt experiences of my body, both my worldview and how I moved in the world changed. The swaying of the trees and the flight of the hummingbird began to touch me at a deeper level. I no longer was looking at nature as something outside myself, but feeling her movements within me. The aliveness of the earth and my ability to communicate with her, to interrelate, became real. On a walk through the woods, as I inhale I am aware of breathing oxygen from the plants and trees, and on my exhale I offer my gift of carbon dioxide. As David Suzuki writes, “How you see the world is how you live in it.” With increasing levels of embodiment, I move through the world in a kinder and more gentle way. I am in dialogue, in improvisational exchange, with my elemental surroundings and the animals, plants, and humans who live here.

My first experience of intimate contact with the earth was on a vision quest in 1984. My prayer was to feel the earth, to know her more fully. On a full moon night, I had climbed up onto a rocky plateau above the valley where my tent was staked, taking my sleeping bag with me. I snuggled into my sleeping bag in the crevice of the rocks, looking up at the moon illuminating the entire valley and my plateau. As I lay there, to my amazement I began to feel cradled and rocked by the earth, a moving sensation that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I felt held and protected, soothed and nurtured, at a cellular level. At that moment my worldview changed, and I could no longer experience myself as isolated or alone. I knew that I was in the presence of another living being who was gently holding me in her field.

This experience, beginning with the prayerful intent to connect, was an initiation into the journey of embodiment, a journey that has continued over the past 29 years. It has been an ongoing unfolding of feeling and connection with myself and my world. I have become more relaxed and present, as I have learned to become a part of the living dance. Through the richness of my inner body I began to embody the dance, learned to feel my cells, and through them the pull of gravity and the joy of levity, falling, leaping, swirling in motion. Dancing improvisationally became a path to go deeper into this connection, and my everyday movement opened my awareness as well. As I continued to open to life, I became a more heartful person, sensitive to the nuances and feelings not only in myself and the natural world, but also with my fellow humans.

In her book Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit, , Donna Farhi writes, “Every violent impulse begins in a body filled with tension; every failure to reach out to someone in need begins in a body that has forgotten to feel.” When I am connected to my inner world of feeling and sensation, I feel the feelings of those around me, and I am moved to respond or to act, or to witness in compassion. When I am embodied, I live from, and in, a moving web of connection, and my impulses arise from the deep sea of interbeing. What is needed in the moment arises. I am moved and I am the mover, in a co-creative dance of far greater subtlety and magic than I ever could create in my previously unembodied state. This is my wish for planet Earth and those of us here now – the embodied solution – that we embrace our inner depths and discover our interconnection. It begins with the body, but the ripples affect every level of our lives.

I imagine that as we become increasingly aware of our interconnection and interdependence on the Earth, creative solutions will occur to us, solutions that will help us create a peaceful world and healthier environment. In the improv world, whether in improvisational theater or dance, participants learn to support one another, to go with what is happening. The more embodied one is, the more easily this comes. Innovation and surprising creativity emerge from moving in mutual connection and support. As an improvisational dancer, I have learned to trust the impulses that emerge from within, and I watch myself in wonder as my movement unfolds in new and delightful ways. This same principle occurs in my writing, as ideas emerge from the inner sea of creativity, mysteriously shaping the writing in ways I had not imagined. Sometimes when I feel the creative impulse blocked I will retreat into my own skin, wait and feel. Often something must shift within my own cells, perhaps a memory reflected upon, an emotion felt. My body informs me, the cells releasing their memories, and I can move forward again.

This process is always co-creative, at any moment I can reject an impulse or save the idea for another time. When I am connected to the inner depths of my being, creativity is surprising and boundless, taking me in new directions, revealing insights, each moment a creative arising and falling, an improvisational adventure, true play. I encounter the true nature of reality, an ongoing dance of becoming, with myriad possibilities in each moment. In this embodied way, I participate in the shaping of a new world, a world in which creativity and interconnection interweave to move us forward.

Originally featured in Soul Light #35
THE CENTER FOR VISIONARY LEADERSHIP