Developing Embodied Presence with Meditation Practice
To develop compassionate presence through our practice we want to focus on moving away from our minds and into experiencing our bodies.
Open your mind to experiencing things that might not feel like what you imagine a physical body to feel like and you might be pleasantly surprised. Connecting with the sensate experience of our bodies can evoke colours, sensations, energy, shapes, dream-like imagery and symbolism in us. This is all part of how we experience being in our bodies. Approach this with curiosity and playfulness and it will give you more space to explore. You can’t get it wrong.
Bear in mind that our bodies are always doing stuff – for example, our heart is always beating and our lungs are always breathing – so the purpose of this is not to find stillness being in the body, but to be present with our bodies natural process of being alive.
Things will shift and move and transform as we connect with them and we can notice this change, allow it and hopefully enjoy some of it.
It can be supportive to find places in our body that feel reasonably reliably pleasant. The hands are often a good place. Remember to forget about any preconceptions of what hands should feel like, you may experience them as being different in shape, colour, size and solidity to how they are in daily reality. Notice how this changes and allow it to flow freely.
Getting a sense of an energy body can open up a whole load of presence for us. The way I experience it we are about 50% physical body and 50% energy body.
This manifests as a sense of flowing, pulsing energy that is responding to its environment in a much freer and more expressive way than the physical body.
If you are just starting to feel into your energy body, here are some things you could look for:
- A sense of warmth, pulsing or electricity around the energy centres (root, belly, heart and forehead)
- Eros rising up from the genital area
- Tingles in the brain or spine
- Channels of energy running through the body, particularly out from the heart, down the arms and into the hands
- A channel of light running up and down the centre line
- A swirling energy that moves up or down through the centre of the body like a vortex
- Waves of colours or shapes that move through your experience
- Losing the sense of boundary between you and the outside world
- An imaginal or felt-sense of a part of your being that isn’t confined by your physical body
- A part of you that feels significantly bigger or smaller than your physical body
This is really just about feeling into what is there for you and developing a sensitivity to this.
Being present in your energy body is a lovely experience to have but it is worth being aware that when we first start opening to it, strange things can happen. We can have all kinds of energetic explosions that can have really bizarre effects on our moods and experience.
Just like physical bodies, energy bodies can present with a wide range of pains and difficulties when we become sensitive to them. If you are having trouble, there are people who do energy work specifically or a good craniosacral therapist or chiropractor may be able to support with this.
Practising with Erotic Energy
Compassionate presence is very sensual. It can be a really lovely experience and it’s helpful to work directly with this in your practice to cultivate presence.
There’s a lot of shame and resistance to erotic energy in our culture and also lots of people have trauma around this aspect of experience. Be gentle with yourself if you have any trauma. Take time to ensure that you feel safe when accessing these parts of yourself and really make space for whatever emotions and sensations are coming up.
It’s really nice to cultivate a healthy, positive relationship to our bodies and their sexuality and this can open up a huge amount of presence for us in daily life too – our eros is the part of us that allows us to feel alive and radiant.
Here are some simple practices for connecting with this part of us:
- Be aware of what sensations you enjoy, both sexually and platonically.
- Become aware of how you might be resisting that enjoyment or how challenging emotions may be overwhelming positive sensations. Can you pay attention to those challenging ones first in order to make some space?
- Take some time to do some mindful self pleasure, paying attention to how it actually feels in your body and what feels good. It could just be something as simple as running your fingers down your arm or it could be sexual, but focus on what it feels like in the moment rather than trying to get to orgasm. If it feels uncomfortable or unenjoyable in some way, make space for feeling those feelings, too.
- Allow yourself to access a sense of feeling turned on or erotically alive while you are meditating. Part of this may include allowing yourself to fantasise, but try and also stay present with the physical sensations that are here in this moment for you and enjoy them for how they feel now.
- Bring awareness to the sensations of where you connect with things. Feel into where you end and the other thing starts and see whether you can soften into the sensation of connection – i.e. your hand on a surface, your bum on the seat. It is our connection with things that creates erotic energy.
Here is a simple structured practice for connecting with the body.
For developing a sense of presence it works best with absorption practice as this opens up the ability to be in the sensations of the body rather than looking at them, but you could also adapt it to work with mindfulness of the body to get a better understanding of the body.
If you get lost at any point during the process you can go back to the first step.
Step 1: Body.
- Do some relaxing breaths to arrive in your experience
- Open up to feeling a sense of your body and energy body
- Choose a place to focus your experience.
- Where is it in your body or experience?
Step 2: Heart.
- What colour/shape/energy is it?
- How would you describe it? Be creative, for example, silky, buzzing, electric, smooth, tingly.
- What emotions feel associated with it?
- Is it bringing up any imagery for you?
- Remember that you can’t get it wrong
Step 3: Mind.
- If there are strong emotions or sensations – what are they? Are you comfortable with them being there?
- Remember that compassionate presence is transformational so you can make space for things to be present that seem difficult and see where they go
- Remember that when we are safe in practice there is no such thing as ‘bad’ expressions
Step 4: Soul
- Allow things to shift and move – this is part of the natural process of being with our bodies
- Make some space for the sensation, energy, emotion or imaginal to be fully alive and present in your experience
- Allow the felt sensation of the body to be expressed through these different aspects – sensations, energy, emotions and the imaginal
- What is the story that wants to be told or the energy that wants to be expressed?
- Allow it to come to a natural close when the energy feels like it has expressed itself – you may sink into a calm absorbed space when this happens, your focus may be taken somewhere else or you may feel that you want to end the meditation.
This basic process of working through the body, heart, mind and soul can be adapted to suit your practice and how you connect best with experience. The important thing is that it is facilitating you to be more present in your body and to develop a sensitivity to your felt experience.