On a micro and macro level, your world is being created by the different aspects of your being – what I have defined as body, heart, mind and soul.
Within this there are different aspects of yourself and parts of you that you are awake of or aware to and different parts of you that are shut down or in shadow. Equally, there will be parts of external reality that you are open to and can connect with and parts of reality that you are closed to and disconnected from.
Awakening, as I describe it, is opening up to more of the full range of the different parts both inside and outside of you. Ideally you want to be doing this in a balanced way across the different parts; balance is what will create meaningful, lasting and positive change to experience.
When talking about balance, it is worth noting that we live in a very top-heavy, patriarchal society – i.e. the logical, controlling parts of people’s minds are very awake and the rest of them is typically pretty shut down, which gives everyone a very skewed perspective on what experience and reality even is.
A balanced experience, can appear to be unbalanced from inside the confines of a western scientific materialist perspective.
Depending on what stage of practice someone is in, I have found that the best and most productive way to start is to go through these stages of body, heart, mind and soul, in that order.
This will help people to get into their embodied experience and start from a place of presence.
If someone is quite far along on their path, it can be more meaningful to start with an understanding of the underlying nature of experience because this opens people to something bigger than their immediate experience, which is incredibly powerful. But if they have skipped the first phase, they will be connecting to this through the doors of being dissociated, closed-hearted, closed-minded and controlling, which isn’t very productive.
So starting with cultivating the qualities of presence, openness, emptiness and flow in people’s immediate body, heart, mind and soul is usually a good place to start.
The best way I have found to represent the development through these phases when it comes to practice is a series of concentric circles, working from the outside in.
An example of how I use the concentric circles model is when I am doing shamanic journeying with people.
Going through the different aspects of experience gives a full picture of what is present for that person. When everything is present, it allows us to access deep and profound meditative states together without having to freeze out or ignore lots of experience.
I do that with simple questions:
- How does your body feel?
- How would you describe your heart? What emotions are present?
- How does your mind feel? Can we create more space for what is here?
- What wants to be expressed?
A big awakening or shift will go through all these different stages, too:
Body: You need to go through a physical change to create space in your being, this could include a physical process like crying, moving the body, relaxing or allowing energy to move through you
Heart: You need to trust your emotions and felt senses without getting fixed ideas about what it means, so that you can connect with what is present in the moment
Mind: You need to build an understanding of what is happening in experience, integrate insights into your world view and apply language or a working model to it.
NB: Lots of people stop here and get stuck. This mental understanding is a process, not an end-point. You want to focus on creating clarity and spaciousness, rather than concreting insights into a fixed and permanent concept of reality. If you tend to get stuck here, journalling is a really good way to keep mental understanding flowing in a productive way.
Soul: You want to integrate this into your deepest beliefs and meaning-making systems about yourself and the world in a way where it is now expressed through your entire being.
Awakening & Integration
It is only once an awakening has filtered through all the layers of your being that it becomes fully integrated. Often it has to go through several iterations of each layer before it is somewhat complete or stable.
Here is an example of how an awakening might happen in the different layers.
Body: Feeling a big energy explosion in your root chakra
Heart: Feeling that this energy is connecting you to something bigger than you
Mind: Meditating on the subtle details of the sensations and making space for it to be present without attaching to it
Soul: Connecting with a sense of aliveness that it has opened for you, investigating any shadows or difficult emotions this brings up and finding ways to include this energy in your being
The awakening process happens on different levels, in different parts, in different intensities and over different time-scales.
The different intensities and time-scales overlap and intersect and you could be in several different places at once, depending on where you are focusing.
For example, you could be going through something very heart-opening and emotionally intense in wider life, navigating a big awakening that you are very much in the body phase of and needing to work mainly on the mind section while in a specific practice session.
The model of the concentric circles is purposefully simple and flexible, as it isn’t intended as a reflection of reality.
With this in mind, the model that I have created could easily go the other way around, with body being in the centre and soul being on the outside. Or be presented as a flow diagram that progresses from one to the next.
Rather than getting fixated on what the metaphysical truth is, you can use this model to allow you to feel into different areas of your experience with more clarity and sensitivity. It is an expression of the mind – it is not something concrete or final but a tool for deepening your understanding of the world and yourself.
All my practices are built on a sense of compassionate presence, with the purpose of building a healthy, empowered expression of your being in the world that is connected to the mystery of life while also being grounded in shared reality. This is reflected in my approach of putting the body first and keeping things simple.
If you put the mind first, for example, you are more likely to create a much more detailed, complex and reified model that will affect how you understand practice and experience.
It is worth experimenting with the different ways of understanding these aspects of experience and noticing what works best for you.
The outcome of a positive awakening might look something like this.
Body: more jhanic energy present
Heart: more connected to contentment
Mind: understanding the conditions that help create a newly cultivated state and the limitations of it
Soul: embracing your personal experience of this state to support a deepening of practice and life
It may be that the process unfolds in a different order for you. But my experience is that it needs to go through all the stages or it won’t stick around.
For example, you can realise insights in your mind but if you’re not willing to open to feeling the emotional impact of them in the body you will just cycle through them again and again.
Or by bypassing the heart you will create world-views that oppress huge parts of experience.
Or if you feel things in your emotions but aren’t willing or able to be open-minded about the truth of a situation you will get trapped in the naive emotional story of it.
It requires for all the parts to be aligned and included for the insight and change to be realised. This can take a bit of time to process.
When you consciously allow and incorporate all aspects of your being in this way, awakening can happen incredibly quickly.
This process of opening to new parts can be incredibly challenging and destabilising.
But when people practice together in a safe and connected way, with people who have already opened these parts of themselves, this process is inherently much easier.
When teaching or shared practice is set up in the right way, people are lending each other the capacity to be with these different parts of themselves.
Ultimately the way that practice is set up is one of the biggest things that will impact people’s capacity to awaken parts of themselves and deepen their experience. As much as anything else in practice we need to be cultivating healthy, meaningful and supportive practice spaces.