How Awakening Progresses
Through the Body, Heart, Mind and Soul
The four parts of experience – body, heart, mind and soul – create our world. Every single aspect of experience and reality has a component of each of these parts; nothing exists without an element of all these things.
There are different aspects of ourselves and parts of us that are awake or aware inside of us and different parts of us that are shut down or in shadow. Equally, there will be parts of external reality that we are open and connected to and parts of reality that we are closed to and disconnected from.
Awakening, as I describe it, is opening up to the full range of different parts both inside and outside of us. Going through the process of learning to connect to them with our bodies, hearts, minds and souls.
Ideally we 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.
It is worth noting that we live in a very top-heavy, patriarchal society – i.e. the logical, controlling parts of our minds are very awake and the rest of us is pretty shut down, which gives everyone a very skewed perspective on what experience and reality even is.
I have found in my experience that the best and most productive practice tends to progress through these stages of body, heart, mind and soul, in that order.
The best way I have found to represent this, when it comes to practice, is a series of concentric circles, working from the outside in.
An example of how I use this, 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 and allows us to access deep and profound meditative states together.
One of the things that is worth saying explicitly is that the process of opening or awakening will often be the opposite of the end goal – i.e. it may be a stressful and intense process, or we may have to go through something difficult in order to become a more peaceful, connected or awake being.
The fear or the pain is the barrier that is standing between us and the more open, connected way of being. If the barrier wasn’t there, we would already be open and connected to the thing on the other side.
A big awakening or shift will go through all these different stages, too:
Body: We need to go through a physical change to create space in our beings, this could include a physical process like crying, moving the body, relaxing or allowing energy to move through us
Heart: We need to trust our felt senses without getting fixed ideas about what it means, so that we can connect with what is present in the moment
Mind: We need to build an understanding of what is happening in experience, integrate insights into our 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. We want to focus on creating clarity and spaciousness, rather than concreting insights in in a fixed and permanent way. If you tend to get stuck here, journalling is a really good way to keep mental understanding flowing in a productive way.
Soul: We want to integrate this into how we flow with life. What does this experience mean to you personally? How would you describe what this means in your own words? What do you believe it says about you, the world and others? How can you use it as an expression of your being?
It is only once an awakening has filtered through all the layers of our 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 us attaching to it
Soul: Connecting with a sense of aliveness or sexuality that it has opened for you, investigating any shadows or difficult emotions it brings up and allowing them to express themselves
If you want more detail about the sorts of experiences that can open up with each area then I’d recommend looking at my True Nature Framework.
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 we could be in several different places at once, depending on where we 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.
These are all interrelated – you can’t separate them out and all the parts impact and contain each other in every moment.
The model of the concentric circles isn’t intended as a reflection of reality. In my experience reality is more like a continually moving, 5D psychedelic image. There isn’t a way that we can ultimately make sense of it or land on anything fixed or concrete. This insolvability of the process of life is ultimately what allows anything to exist.
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 a 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 our understanding of the world and ourselves.
It is worth recognising that the way you present the model will affect how you practice and experience life.
All my practices are built on a sense of compassionate presence, with the purpose of building a healthy, empowered expression of our beings 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.
There are almost endless models with endless levels of detail you could create about how the different aspects interact. The model that you use will impact the way you see the world and they way you teach and practice, which will impact the result.
If you put the mind first, you’ll end up with a very different working model that will create a different experience and way of looking at the world.
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 this state and the limitations of it
Soul: embracing our personal expression of this state to support a deepening of practice and life
It may be that the process unfolds in a different order for us. But my experience is that it needs to go through all the stages or it won’t stick around.
For example, we can realise insights in our mind but if we’re not willing to open to feeling the emotional impact of them in the body we will just cycle through them again and again.
Or by bypassing the heart we will create world-views that oppress huge parts of experience.
Or if we feel things in our emotions but aren’t willing or able to be open-minded about the truth of a situation we will get trapped in the naive emotional story of it, or feel depressed and ashamed of ourselves.
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 we consciously allow and incorporate all aspects of our being in this way, awakening can happen incredibly quickly.
This process can be incredibly challenging and painful – opening up to parts of ourselves that we shut down because they weren’t safe or acceptable to have or express in the world.
This is essentially what awakening is – opening to the parts of us that we (as a species, as collectives and as individuals) have had to keep closed to or separate from in order to survive and fit in in the world.
It can be really hideous going through the fear, judgement and pain that keeps these parts closed in the first place.
But when we 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 we set up shared practice in the right way we are lending each other the capacity to open to these new parts of ourselves:
When I am journeying with people, people regularly report various expressions of connections that go far beyond what our current scientific understanding of the world could make sense of.
I hope at some point this will be proven to reveal a more interconnected side of reality that I believe will be more nourishing and meaningful for people to feel part of.
For now, if this feels a bit woo for you then I’m sure we can all agree that sharing difficult experiences with people who we trust and feel safe with is infinitely easier and more rewarding than sharing them with people we don’t trust and who might use it against us.
Ultimately the way we set practice up and the ways we practice together is one of the biggest things that will impact our capacity to awaken parts of us and deepen our experience. As much as anything else in practice we need to be cultivating healthy, meaningful and supportive practice spaces.
We get stuck in our minds
When we are trying to convince ourselves
That our bodily experience
Is something different to what it is
Perhaps it is too painful to feel it as it is
Or it doesn’t feel safe enough to express it
Or we just want it to be different
So we reframe things
And shape them to be something more acceptable
Or more bearable
This traps the feeling inside of us
And we can’t put down
The thoughts or behaviours that keep us safe
So we cycle through them, endlessly
Healing is messy and cruel:
Opening up to the parts of ourselves that shut down
Because we were put through an experience
That we didn’t have the capacity
To be present with the first time round.
But it can also be beautiful
Humans have the amazing ability
To lend each other their capacity to hold
Emotions and thoughts and feelings
If we choose to show up for the people around us
And give them the blessing that what they need to express
Is what they need to express
Then we can find a place of wholeness
Between us, that feels like coming home