What is it? An exact definition remains elusive, but perhaps this is as it should be, since “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting”. However, the most inclusive description might be making the invisible visible.
For myself the main associations are to body awareness, or “grounding”, and, more loftily, to our incarnation.
First, what it is not. It is not exercising, at least not huffing, puffing and sweating in the service of our self esteem, our performance, or our social standing. A few days ago I saw a cyclist travelling at goodly speed while accessing his cell phone. It is not that. (I wish him well).
At our every day level, embodiment is a subtle activity that occurs naturally and spontaneously – up to a point. But it can, approached rightly, lead to a connecting of the fragmented parts of ourselves, of re-connecting mind and body, or of spirit and body. In Jungian psychological terms it would be a necessary aspect of what Jung called Individuation, including the integration of our “conscious” and “unconscious” selves, much of the latter residing, or hiding, within in our bodies. How do my images, thoughts ,and complexes emerge into physical form, unconsciously “embodied”? What does ”Know Thyself” really mean?
In paying attention to my personal embodiment I may also, as a side effect, become aware of some of the glitches, fixations, resistances, obstinacies, etc. etc. etc. that block my best potential.
For fuller embodiment, more consciously registered experience is crucial; it almost is embodiment. The words are merely pointers.
Approaches: Embodiment in the sense of body awareness (connecting mind and body) is the aspect I feel most familiar with, though this is not the whole story.
Practically, body awareness can be refined with or without movement, and with or without a teacher, though the teacher is highly desirable as an observer, a mirror, to help us see or face what we are blind to in ourselves. The difficulty of facing oneself may be one reason why this field has not received wide acceptance.
Sensing of the body can, and usually does, remain at an automatic, utilitarian level, but remains unconscious. The emotional outburst (unprintable) when I stub my toe painfully is a clear example. But the connections can become clearer, more conscious, with certain work.
In the 20th Century there was a bloom of interest in body work, one excellent route to embodiment. It was perhaps a response to our collectively increasing over-valuation of rationality and de-valuation of Nature. It has not received wide popularity - although some aspects of it have been retained in rehabilitation and sports training. Its ultimate value however, can be judged by the undeniable quality of its exponents and the depths of their experiential derived insights. I am referring to such individuals as Moshe Feldenkrais, F.M. Alexander, Marion Woodman, Elsa Gindler, Arnold Mindell, Charlotte Selver, Elizabeth Behnke, Deanne Juhan, and many others, including a number of the innovative dancers like Mary Whitehouse and Gerda Alexander. These individuals delved assiduously and pragmatically into the various aspects of embodiment, in many or most cases spurred by their own need for healing. This is primarily a Western legacy, and therefore close to us (though often informed by Eastern thought). It is potentially useful not only in itself but as an adjunct to any inner psychological or esoteric work. Our body is always with us and can be an ongoing reminder of our state, and in effect a teacher - if we choose to listen. Further, bodywork can be considered one aspect of that great category referred to as mindfulness.
Carl Jung took special interest in the border between mind and body, referring to it as a “psychoid” zone, which he obviously explored at some depth. In his great nerve wracking psychic descent in 1913, he used Hatha Yoga to ground himself. He also painted, carved, built a stone tower, and played in the earth. (Unfortunately many of his followers seem to have neglected this side of his work, too stuck perhaps in the mental domain). Others, of more devotional temperament, have encompassed this in the term “soul”, a potentially integrative zone between body and spirit.
The more traditional approaches such as physical Yoga or Tai Chi can still, I believe, be most useful for us, especially with the aid of a sensitive teacher. The key requirement, whatever the form, is in how attention is brought into the body, or movement, and into the moment. In the words of Elizabeth Behnke, body sensing can bring us to the leading or trailing edges of the elusive Now.
Whatever the technique, the key requirement is an active, deliberate attention, with a chosen intention, but a certain degree of persistence, albeit gentle, is desirable. It is a work but rewards may emerge. For instance I have found, despite working inconsistently, that, at times, following a short focussed Tai Chi session, a different sense of self and ambience may emerge, one of spaciousness, almost equanimity, and a sense of presence otherwise lacking. Perhaps that represents at least a momentary embodiment.
The effects are not fully predictable, even perhaps (in the language of science) “emergent”, but the trying, and inquiry, brings something new. Sometimes too comes an increasing self knowledge. On a prosaic level of self recognition, for example, I have discovered no less than 4 different contributions to my head forward posture, and I begin to see how I fling myself into my day, forgetting what is more important, (enslaving my beleaguered body in the process!)
Our speech too, and our writing, all normally almost totally automatic, can be a worthy ways to explore embodiment.
So, can my body go from being a house to being a home, from tool to instrument, from grudging servant to faithful friend? (Currently it is more subject to oversight than overseeing). Can I keep an appreciation of the zillions of processes, in health and illness, which support this body for its allotted time with so little help, and despite considerable interference?
Sometimes I try to watch my hands, while chopping, or gardening, or dishwashing.
Try this: Feel your 2 hands. Close the fists tightly downwards and inwards for a few seconds. Then open them and turn them upwards, loosely, to the sky. IF you do this with interest and intent, is there not a subtle difference at the emotional as well as at a sensory level?
Embodiment as Incarnation: Well it’s a mystery. It seems we spring out of nowhere, land in a pond, splash around a bit, make a few bubbles, and sink to an invisible bottom.
Perhaps the question is: Do I float willy-nilly, or do some paddling?
It is tempting to further relate embodiment to that intermediate stage referred to in religious or esoteric circles as “Presence”, or “Self-consciousness”, or Carl Jung’s “Self“ , or development of “The Witness”, or encountering “Atman”. Such formulations could be considered intermediate in the sense of being a staging point on the way to mankind’s utmost aspirations - God, or Cosmic Consciousness, or Illumination, but here I step way out of my depth. I can only suggest that we look to desirable change where we are at, now.
Perhaps the reader can bring in other perspectives?
References: McNeely, Deldon. A – Touching: Body Therapy and Depth Psychology, 1987.
Johnson, Don E. – Bone, Breath & Gesture: Practices of Embodiment, 1995.
Filed as: Jottings-Embodiment, 24Jun’21. Rev. 10 Jul’21. Posted: end Aug’21 D.A.