Read about the framework
This map and exercise were created in collaboration with Kaloyan Stefanov.
The Body, Heart, Mind and Soul framework is intended to break the idea that awakening or experience can be pinned down to a single source; it’s co-created through all these different parts of us and the Universe. Experience and awakening is an endless explosion of life that we are feeling into afresh with each moment; it’s to be embodied, felt, sensed, expressed and understood all at once. For this reason, it can be hard to grasp conceptually.
So I worked with Kal to map how this looks from a heart perspective. You can find other ways my framework has been mapped and modelled here.
Maps can be counter-productive in the awakening process, if held with any rigidity. They can create reified ideas, where you start to only see the map instead of the experience that is right in front of you.
Maps can also be incredibly useful for helping you to understand and feel into experience with more clarity and sensitivity; to become more aware of what is going on; to learn from other people and traditions; and to make more space for the full range of your experience.
With this in mind, I have created this map with my friend and colleague Kaloyan.
It takes the layers of experience, using the rainbow colours as the structure, and pulls them out as separate threads. Clarifying and distilling different aspects of experience and awakening.
It can be used on an individual or systemic level, to understand experience better.
Who Is It For?
A lot of my content is designed for teachers, rather than students, and this is no exception.
When a student is learning something you need to be able to hand them the thing they need at that moment. From a teacher perspective, you want to be able to understand things from a more meta level. Seeing the patterns that are unfolding and being able to feel into this; however, we can also be pretty flexible with the terms ‘student’ and ‘teacher’. People can flow in and out of these modes at different times and treating people as if they are capable of being a teacher, if only to themselves, earlier on in their path, tends to get people further faster.
If you keep putting people through the same primary school math classes, they’re never going to progress beyond that point. If you ask people to do their own research and share their ideas you will discover that people’s unique expression emerges.
Learning on the level of teaching can create a level of reflection and engagement that is necessary for cultivating a level of meta-awareness that opens you more deeply to the true nature of reality. Without this, you can get stuck in student mode, which restricts your mind and your being too much.
We used a rainbow to map experience. There are a few reasons for this:
Rainbows are created from the visible spectrum of light. The purpose of this map is to show the mind what is happening in the more subconscious, nebulous experience of the heart.
A rainbow is a direct expression of the underlying mechanism of everything we can see – its components are the entirety of the visible spectrum of light – and in this way the colours of the rainbow are an excellent metaphor for showing people aspects of experience in a way their mind can see it.
Rainbows are ephemeral. They appear and disappear, you can never reach or find the end. They are created from reflections and refractions. In the same way this map isn’t designed to be a final representation of reality – it’s a transitory expression of something that feels alive and helpful.
Replicable & Unique
Rainbows are something that happen all around the world. The potential for them to arise occurs anywhere there is light and something that can refract the light. They are both entirely replicable and at the same time each rainbow will be unique depending on the conditions it arises in. This reflects how awakening is possible and replicable in everyone and at the same time will be different for each person.
Separation & Unity
Separation is a vital part of clarification; we have to be able to distinguish things from the other things around them in order to know them and feel them. Separating the layers of experience into the colours of the rainbow creates a lot of clarity of different aspects of experience but it manages to do this without creating fundamental separation or exclusion. Rather than saying it’s this but not that, it’s teasing out the spectrum of different aspects of experience that ultimately all blend into one.
Opening to the Spectrum
The purpose of this map is not to divide experience into right and wrong, good and bad. It is explicitly the opposite of this. Like the spectrum of light, you can either be open to receiving it or closed. The objective with this approach to awakening is to open to receiving as much of experience as is feasible. Being open to receive means being able to be present with the experience. In this way we are creating more freedom for the full spectrum of the Universal experience to express itself through us cleanly and you get less distortion and projection as a result.
Intuitive Understanding & Inspiration
The spectrum of light is baked-in to the Universe and therefore how we make sense of the world. Rainbows arise as a framework in traditions and communities all around the world and throughout history. While understanding my own experience and creating this map, I was influenced by a wide range of existing maps and theories. This includes the chakras, Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organisations and spiral dynamics.
There is something almost child-like and playful about a rainbow. The invitation with this map is not to take it as wrote, but to use it to compare and contrast it with your understanding of the world; to engage with it in an open, curious way; to play with adopting it or reframing it in ways that feel alive and helpful to you.
How To Use It
There is almost endless information that could have been included in this map. Each layer could be a two-week retreat; most, if not all, of the layers have entire traditions dedicated to them.
We have distilled it down to something very simple and have focused on the parts of experience that will be most common and helpful for people. The invitation is to feel into what these things mean for you and how you express them in the world. It is like a launch pad or a landing pad for you own explorations.
We have included a tantric exercise below the map, which we have found is the most direct way of working with it. You are engaging directly with the ways that you are likely to be out of alignment, processing the emotions around this and orienting towards a clearer expression.
The map is not intended as a representation of linear development – the idea is that you will cultivate different depths in different parts at different times.
One aspect of my approach to awakening is that it is through facing our challenges that we awaken more deeply. It is by lifting weights that we get stronger or studying hard things that we become more intelligent. In the same way, it is by facing the difficult parts of experience that we become more able to be present and aware.
This can include things like developing concentration, increasing awareness, growth out of your comfort zone, shadow work, killing off parts of you that need to die, putting work into cultivating more positivity, connecting more deeply with your own experience, expressing yourself more fully, learning to take better care of yourself, losing your sense of self or opening more to the experiences of others.
My main framework for engaging with this is the life-death-rebirth cycle. We are continually going through this on an individual and collective level. Some parts are pleasant, some parts are unpleasant; the idea is to face as much of it as you can with an open, courageous and spacious heart, for the benefit of yourself and others. You want to orient towards truth and love, rather than ignorance and indifference.
This is deeply situational and requires patience, skill and capacity to feel into what this means and what is needed in each moment. How to do this is different for each person and in each part of experience and the point of this map is not to give you the answers but to open the questions.
One of the biggest strengths of this map is that it helps people avoid getting stuck in one way of looking at the world. It helps people notice that there isn’t a final answer; all awakening guidance, either on an individual or Universal level, depends on which aspect of experience you are relating to at that moment.
Ultimately, you can use this map however feels good for you as a teacher or practitioner, but the more curiosity, creativity, intelligence, openness and depth you bring to it, the more you will get out of it.
The serious aspect of this map is that shutting parts of yourself or others down can cause immense amounts of suffering.
Most spiritual traditions have large shadow aspects that subtly exclude large parts of experience. These parts of experience don’t go away, they just become squeezed out into the shadows and will express in unhealthy ways. Depending what sort of person you are, it will either come out in unhealthy behaviour or be turned in on yourself in self-criticism and judgement.
A tradition or practice doesn’t need to include all the aspects of experience, but it needs to be open about its limitations and the contexts within which it is relevant. Otherwise it creates a cultural shadow around important aspects of experience.
The tantric exercise below the map will help you explore and discover the aspects of experience that are shut down for you.
Perhaps a better word for separation or suffering in spirituality is exclusion. There are healthy ways of being separate from each other, but subtly excluding large parts is not very good for integrity, truth or love.
There are huge parts of everyone, like difficult emotions, that are shut down and large swathes of people, like women and people of colour, who’s experiences are currently excluded or minimised.
The antidote to this is a radical openness and honesty about what is being included, in both a collective and individual setting, and including the darkness and difficulty from a whole-hearted and healthy interdependent approach.
The map includes the collective aspect of experience and what this is like when it is awakened.
An awakened collective requires its leaders to have depth, courage and capacity. It also needs a level of maturity from everyone involved and a minimum amount of resources – people need to feel confident that their emotional, intellectual and physical needs can be met. This allows people to open up and connect authentically, rather than be in self-preservation mode.
What I am describing as awakened collectives are different to typical spiritual communities. Rather than forgoing a sense of individual identity to merge with a greater whole, an awakened collective is about being able to connect with others in a full spectrum way.
It’s important to recognise that being in connection can’t always be about being positive or connected in some lovey-dovey way; a truly open collective has to be able to have the capacity to hold people’s difficult emotions, to accept feedback and negative thoughts, to navigate difficult conversations, to do meaningful things in the world, to support self-responsibility and for people to be willing to face challenge as individuals and together.
It is rare to find a community or collective with this level of maturity, but it’s important that we include and aspire to this as part of what awakening is and can be.
The part of the individual that’s being awakened
The part of the collective that’s being awakened
What you are awakening to and how the world appears to an awakened person
How an awakened collective functions
Common sticking point:
The place where people are most likely to get stuck
Something to look for as a healthy sign of awakening
Working With The Layers
If you want to use this map to work more deeply with my content. The layers map as below:
Individual experience: Physicality
Collective experience: Co-dependence
Individual awakening: Karma, ‘I experience everything as causes and conditions’
Collective awakening: Everyone feels present
Common sticking points: Disassociation from the bodily experience; addiction (too driven by the bodily experience)
Healthy signs: Direct felt-sensation of the body, able to sense energy
Individual experience: Essence
Collective experience: Independence
Individual awakening: Source, ‘I experience everything as a creative expression of life-force’
Collective awakening: Harnessing the inherent creativity in everyone
Common sticking points: Fear of death, fear of life
Healthy signs: Free expression of eros, feeling your own unique hum in collaboration with the Universe
Individual experience: Interrelation
Collective experience: Interdependence
Individual awakening: Interdependent origination, ‘I am able to hold that there is no single source of truth and see that everything relies on everything else’
Collective awakening: The dignity of all beings is respected
Common sticking points: Controlling or manipulating others; inability to stand up for self
Healthy signs: Honesty, accountability, dignity
Individual experience: Love
Collective experience: Equality
Individual awakening: Love, ‘I experience everything as an expression of Universal love’
Collective awakening: Whole-heartedness, everyone can show up with and for the whole of themselves and each other
Common sticking points: Turning away from grief, repressing anger, unaware of emotions; incapacity to give selflessly
Healthy signs: Universal love, resilience
Individual experience: Expression
Collective experience: Self-managing
Individual awakening: Meaning, ‘I see how story and metaphor is a fundamental structure of experience and understand that meaning is nebulous’
Collective awakening: Acceptance of everyone’s beliefs, including dissent
Common sticking points: Judgemental, not saying what you mean, hiding things; insensitivity
Healthy signs: Authenticity, clarity
Individual experience: Awareness
Collective experience: Non-duality
Individual awakening: Emptiness, ‘I can see that all perceptions are empty’
Collective awakening: Shared clarity and mutual understanding
Common sticking points: Pinning down, attachment to ideas; lack of intellectual rigour
Healthy signs: Open-mindedness, discernment
Individual experience: Spirituality
Collective experience: Shared purpose
Individual awakening: Cosmic, ‘I understand that we are all one evolving being’
Collective awakening: Finding faith and meaning as individuals and together
Common sticking points: Nihilism, scientific materialism; over-spirituality and rejection of the material realm
Healthy signs: Genius, devotion
Individual experience: Shadow work
Collective experience: Challenge
Individual awakening: Separation, ‘I take accountability for myself and accept my challenges in life’
Collective awakening: Capacity to look at challenging situations together without attributing blame or guilt
Common sticking points: Blame and hopelessness; toxic positivity
Healthy signs: Humanity, humility, strength
Individual experience: Experience
Collective experience: Shared experience
Individual awakening: Buddha Nature, ‘I can see all beings and the entire Universe in its awakened nature’
Collective awakening: Accepting all beings in their imperfection, including yourself
Common sticking points: Excluding people or large parts of experience; perfectionism
Healthy signs: Peace, desire to benefit beings
It takes time to embody your true nature. You have to develop the skills that are needed to be your full self, as well as process any collective or individual trauma that is getting in the way.
Unprocessed pain distorts your behaviour, feelings and perceptions of the world and stops you being able to see and embody your true nature.
With this exercise you are looking for ways in which you carry pain, difficult karma or trauma within you and either processing it or creating a bit more spaciousness around it.
When you are carrying this trauma or karma within you, it will shape how you see and experience the world. If you don’t recognise it in experience, it doesn’t go away, it becomes a shadow and you take it out on yourself or others. Clarifying, purifying or simply acknowledging and accepting these energies is an aspect of how you reach the awakened states of each layer.
The triggers in this exercise are there to represent a distillation of some of the painful messages that you might carry within you, that are barriers to you being in touch with the truth of awakened experienced.
These painful messages aren’t always communicated through words, received explicitly from anywhere or even conscious in you. Everyone carries feelings, ideas, energies and stories on a more subtle layer and the purpose of the exercise is that you’re connecting to this more energetic subconscious realm to see what resonates with what is inside you.
Some of the painful messages will feel more acute for you than others. This indicates that there is something there that you need to process. Painful messages can get stuck inside of you from a wide range of sources; you may have received them as a child, some are baked-in to the way our societies are structured, some are assumed to be true on a metaphysical level and some may be things you have encountered as an adult.
One of the reasons that everyone carries pain is because of a lack of resources – there isn’t enough love and physical resource for everyone to be safe and free; on a familial, societal or Universal level; so unhealthy and painful codependent patterns are created.
The idea with this alignment exercise is not to strive towards perfectionism, but an important part of collective awakening is for everyone to take responsibility for owning their stuff and to move towards more independence, interdependence and healthy codependence over time. Ultimately creating a world with a more clear and loving expression for everyone.
The triggers are all written in the format of being directed at ‘you’. The ‘you’ in this depends on the frame and context, this could be:
- directed in towards yourself from yourself – inner critic
- directed towards you from others – receiving painful messages
- directed out towards others from you – giving painful messages
- felt within you and projected onto others – victim
Everyone will have a natural tendency towards one of these modes, but will experience all of them at different times in different layers. It’s also possible for all four to be present simultaneously in one of the layers. It’s worth remembering this and reading the phrases as if from each of the modes, to see which resonate.
The point is not that it is necessarily bad or wrong to feel these things; it may be that this is exactly the situation you are in and the painful message is a true and clear representation of reality. If you can remove the charge or blind spot around them and create more spaciousness you are much less likely to get stuck there and you can communicate more clearly and effectively from this place if you find yourself there.
You will also increase your capacity to meet others in their truth and wholeness, when they are in that place.
The alignment phrases are meant as a compass. A way of orienting towards truth, love and clear expression. The idea isn’t that you need to be being this perfectly all the time, but using it as a way to check in with what feels aligned and what feels out of alignment.
Sometimes it may be more helpful to use the exercise to orient towards the alignment phrases and think about how you could cultivate more of this in your life.
They are also helpful to adopt as a baseline or starting place. Moving from the place of being already whole allows for a more honest and radical compassion when we are facing our trauma; it gives you more space to welcome and work with the challenges that you do face.
If you can adopt a perspective of wholeness, Buddha Nature or everything being a natural part of the expression of the Universe unfolding, then the trauma you carry doesn’t need to say anything about you – there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you – everything is just an aspect of the Universal expression. This way of looking can create more space for honesty and openness.
In order to adopt this perspective, you need to start at the end; to start from adopting a place of total alignment and awakening. To get in touch with the already fully awake nature of the Universe.
To do this you can use the alignment phrases from the White layer, which incorporates the full spectrum of Awakened being:
‘I feel valued and accepted in the world. I feel whole and like every part of me is welcome, even the difficult parts. I feel confident and motivated to work towards cultivating more truth, love and dignity in myself and in the world. Despite the challenges we all face, I sense the underlying goodness that is present in the Universe and I move from this place.’
It’s important that you are in some (even small) way able to grok this sentiment before working with this content, otherwise it can just become an exercise in beating yourself up.
If this feels inaccessible and you want to build up to this, then I’d recommend practicing Jhana meditation, Loving Kindness meditation, emptiness or Vipassana meditation and finding spaces where deep compassionate presence is offered, such as Shadow Work Therapy.
A certain degree of awakening these core skills will allow a lot more space and clarity for awakening these energies within you, disentangling trauma and clarifying the truth of experience.
When working with the trigger phrases you want to drop them into your practice when you are feeling safe and resourced, from a place of radical compassion. Noticing their impact on your being and what needs to be recognised or felt.
With the alignment phrases, you may want to choose one or two key phrases that feel important to work with in practice or life and find ways to orient towards them. This may be a simple remembrance to orient this way or it may include making changes to your life and behaviour.
This video describes how to work with them and gives a short guided meditation with one of the phrases as an example.
Triggers: “You don’t matter. You aren’t safe or welcome here. Your body and its functions, including sexuality, are fundamentally wrong or disgusting. You aren’t respected as a whole human being. You aren’t allowed to exist separately from me.”
Alignment: “I feel connected to Earth and the people around me. I feel like I am in the right place and I am safe. I respect the laws of nature and the basic value of all human beings, including myself.”
Triggers: “It’s too dangerous or threatening for you to be yourself. Your desires, including sexuality, are unreasonable. You have to fight for your space to be yourself. I’m better than you. You’re better than me. You’re worthless.”
Alignment: “I welcome that I will die one day and that I only have a short time to experience this life. I am in touch with my true desires. Eros and creativity are inherent components of my experience. I’m in touch with the inherent value of all human beings. I’m open to letting the world and others impact me and enjoy putting my creative expression into the world in collaboration with others.”
Triggers: “You should do this or else. I know what is best and will show you who is boss. You will get seriously hurt, killed, exiled or permanently tarnished if you don’t comply. I’m not interested in you, I’m only interested in what you can do for me.
I must submit to you or else. This can’t possibly happen – it shouldn’t happen.”
Alignment: “I respect the boundaries and will of everyone and I set healthy boundaries for myself. I recognise and value each person’s contribution to the whole. My will is aligned with the will of the Universe.”
Triggers: “You are unloveable. You don’t feel or love correctly. There is something wrong with you. You don’t belong here.”
Alignment: “I care for all of creation including myself. I feel the love of the Universe. My heart is open to feel all emotions. I enjoy sharing my true self and gifts with others and giving to something that is bigger than me.”
Triggers: “You shouldn’t say this or be like that. You need to hide your true thoughts and feelings.
You are never right, their truth is the only truth.
I am always right, my truth is the only truth.”
Alignment: “I freely feel the emotions that arise in me. I express myself and stand in my truth. I welcome the emotions, thoughts and expressions of others and respect their truth.”
Triggers: “You are able to have the ultimate perspective.
You are able to act as the judge of what is good and bad.
Your perspective is wrong.”
Alignment: “I can access a wider perspective than my own self-view. I forgive myself and others for things that I perceive as bad, and open to feel the emotions this brings up in me.”
Triggers: “Your life isn’t important. Your story doesn’t mean anything. You’re not wanted. Your deepest values are unreasonable.”
Alignment: “I feel connected to the Universe and know that I am an expression of it – I trust its story and its mystery. I am here to contribute my story to the Universe and I appreciate other people’s contributions. I am in touch with my deepest values.”
Triggers: “This is your fault. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You need to be perfect.”
Alignment: “I recognise the depth and seriousness of the inherent challenges and difficulties that are present in life. I work together with myself and others to overcome them in the most honest and straightforward way available to us at the time. My eyes glint with the sparkle of finding joy in the imperfections in the Universe and beauty in the inherent sadness of life.”
Triggers: “Your experience isn’t valid. You aren’t good enough.
You don’t need to try. You have to do it alone.
The Universe is a cold, uncaring place.”
Alignment: “I feel valued and accepted in the world. I feel whole and like every part of me is welcome. I feel confident and motivated to work towards cultivating more truth, love and dignity in myself and in the world. Despite the challenges we all face, I sense the underlying goodness that is present in the Universe and I move from this place.”
You can explore how you can work with the layers of experience more deeply, with my Body, Heart, Mind and Soul framework:
Explore Your Whole Being
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