Maps and models can be invaluable in helping you get your head around awakening experiences and creating deeper levels of understanding.
It’s also important that maps and models are held and used flexibly; that there is an understanding that no single map or model holds the ultimate truth of reality. They are helping you get in touch with your own experience and notice things that you may be missing.
The body, heart, mind and soul framework emerged from the essence of the different strands of experience being pulled out of me and clarified; it is the simplest and most effective way that I could describe the underlying nature of experience that I have encountered. It has been refined through many thousands of hours of exploration, teaching and working with other people’s most intimate inner worlds.
Everything I create comes from direct experience and insight and has been parsed and embodied to a minutely detailed level. This means that I can express things in very simple and resonant ways that land as common sense, even when they are incredibly complex ideas.
Mostly I present my work in simple ways that people can resonate with from wherever they are along the path.
The benefit of things being simple, is that people understand it easily. The risk of things being simple is that people understand it easily and don’t recognise the amount of nuance, complexity, depth and integration all this stuff has behind it or takes to manifest in the real world. They miss the depth of what is right in front of them.
So this is me lifting the hood to show you what is going on underneath some of the content that emerges.
This page is like a directory of the models and how they relate to each other. Every model can be related to every other model and they intersect and build on each other to create a rich eco-system. Each one has a link to the page on the website where you can find out more about it.
If you have a very analytical and nerdy side, like me, you may love all this technical detail underneath and get excited about understanding the intricacies of a table that is designed to model experience. If not, you can skip this page; you don’t need to be able to understand this to relate to my content.
If you would like to hear me talk in more detail about my models, here is a presentation that I did on the Stoa – A Model of Awakening: Wholeness, Integrity & Your Innate Mystical Nature.
1. Building Blocks
What this model depicts: The basic building blocks of experience
Problems it addresses: Over-unifying or over-complexifying of experience
I have created a framework for awakening that describes how each of us is a living body, heart, mind and soul eco-system. And on a Universal level this corresponds to how life is a combination of form, relationship, consciousness and cosmos.
We can get much deeper clarity on these different parts of experience – body, heart, mind and soul – than most people think is possible, while also recognising that there is no single or final source of truth.
This structure is here to represent the building blocks of experience. It is a model that allows you to get to the core of the different parts of yourself and work as deeply and directly as possible, while retaining a sense of perspective and orientation.
From a technical viewpoint of experience; the body, heart, mind and soul arise interdependently together with the environment around you. In simple terms, this means that if you took one of these parts out, your experience as a human would no longer exist.
It’s not possible to experience a mind without a body. It’s not possible to experience a heart without a mind etc. Every part relies on every other part to arise in experience. These all combine together into the somatic-imaginal-psycho-emotional experience that we call life.
An important aspect of this is that anything that boils reality and experience down to simple phrases, such as ‘everything is mind’ or ‘everything is empty’ is incorrect, oppressive and has the effect of gaslighting out aspects of our experience.
A good place to start with connecting to these building blocks is by sensing into the different parts of you. This will give you an intuitive and conceptual base from which to work with the content that it is here and this will allow you to go much deeper, much quicker.
The body is about your physicality.
The heart is about how you feel and connect to things.
The mind is to do with clarity and how you perceive and understand things
The soul-realm is the story and meaning that holds your experience together
2. Ingredients of Experience
What this model depicts: Some of the ingredients of experience
Problems it addresses: The idea you can pin experience down to a single source
This image shows some of the ingredients of experience that you can connect with. You can focus on separating them out and feeling them in as much distinct clarity as possible or blending them together and see how they are all co-creating experience.
Generally, if you want to talk about the nature of reality or experience, it is better to talk about the ingredients of it rather than ultimate truths.
3. Holistic Practice Model
What this model depicts: The possibilities with present moment experience
Problems it addresses: Focusing too heavily on mind as the primary source of experience
This holistic heart-centred approach considers people and their practice to be an embodied, alive eco-system.
The models below show how a present moment experience can vary depending on how the eco-system of someone’s being is set up.
These diagrams show how this way of practicing differs from a lot of more traditional meditation approaches, which often assume that mind is the primary source of experience. This is very easy for people to do when their present moment experience is stuck in the mind, but it is not reflective of reality.
With this model it is assumed that experience is like a natural flow of water moving through the different parts of our being. It is the resistances and habit pathways that we carry that restrict this flow causing things like imbalance, shadows, splintering and restriction of our life-force.
It is through unpacking your subconscious beliefs and emotions and connecting with all the different aspects of your experience that you are able to come into a healthier, more balanced, more alive and more aware version of our being.
Each pi chart corresponds to different ways of experiencing the present moment.
If you want to explore this in more depth, you can explore the Whole Being Awakening framework, which goes through the aspects of awakening the body, heart, mind and soul.
The first two diagrams above are pointing towards a common error with mindfulness and some forms of Buddhism – that the mind believes that it is the sole source of experience. Another way I have modelled this is describing the Insides and Outsides of reality, or the subjective and the objective.
The mind would like to trick us into believing that the top right of the diagram below is the only aspect of experience we can verify and is real. It has a tendency to dominate and make every other part a subset of how it sees the world.
A lot of people are so stuck in their head and disassociated from the other parts that this is all they are able to experience. In this case opening at least a little to the others is the first thing that needs to happen and it’s worth saying that this won’t happen until there’s a humility and willingness to feel what is there.
In reality, each part is equally valid and co-creating our experience. A realisation of interdependent origination helps us experience how there is no single source of truth.
4. Rainbow Map
What this model depicts: Full awakening, through the lens of the heart
Problems it addresses: Exclusion and elitism in traditions claiming authority on experience
This model emerged from the idea to map heart-centred awakening, without falling into the traps of mental reification of experience. The outcome is fluid, inclusive and nebulous. It is built on the rainbow colours and relates to the chakra system, but is not tied to it. There is a simplified version of the model below.
Hearts are free from hierarchy and liner-time, which means that this 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. Hearts can also hold multiple truths at once. The map is here to help you orient towards truth and love rather than ignorance and indifference.
The fully awakened version isn’t necessarily about where you need to get to, unless you are really drawn to one and seriously committed to awakening for the benefit of all beings whatever it takes. Each of these layers takes a truly unfathomable amount of work to integrate fully. If they seem shallow to you, it is because you have not grasped the real depths of the implications of what each layer is saying.
In order to get to a level of simplicity and clarity that is both true and wise, you have to have integrated all the complexity and darkness of an insight or paradigm – to have done the shadow work that means it’s not spiritual bypassing.
The core belief of this model is that everything is Buddha nature; this video gives a five minute description of what I mean by this – What is Buddha Nature
You can read more detail about the map and some ways to work with it here. For relating to the rest of my content: body is red and orange; heart is yellow and green; mind is turquoise and indigo; and soul is purple and black.
5. Nervous System Map
What this model depicts: How your nervous system shapes your experience; ways of vibing
Problems it addresses: The idea that you can change your experience solely through how you perceive things
Awakening is an expression of the Universe that occurs through a human body. A few of the different ways it can be approached are:
- Bottom-up, connecting firstly with our bodies, e.g. somatic experiencing
- Middle-out, connecting to experience through our hearts, e.g. relational practices
- Top-down, connecting with our perceptions and mind, e.g. ways of looking
But whichever way you are approaching it, it’s important to include the body in the way you are practicing. One way of understanding the process of awakening is doing practices that are bringing more and more elements of yourself and the world into connection, which is the green in the diagram below.
You are essentially trying to increase the amount of contexts that you are in the green ‘mode’ in, expanding the size of the green box over time, which changes the nature of how you relate to things in the orange and blue boxes.
There are different practices you can do that achieve this, for example emptiness practice or purifying practices, each of which have different mechanisms in the body and nervous system.
All of them require a conversation between the nervous system, the surrounding environment and the mind. Self energy from Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) is a really nice example of being in the green.
I write more about this model in this blog – Seeing That Freeze – but essentially you need to be careful that you are orienting towards the green and making sure that you are not shutting down lots of experience and putting it into the blue. When aspects of you are stuck in the orange or the blue, your perspective on experience can become very narrowed.
It’s also important to mention that the states in the diagram below are meta-states – for example, it’s possible to be in the green while you are angry. The green meta-state points towards presence and connection with self and/or other rather than disconnection, dominance or disassociation.
It is particularly important to recognise the collective element of this – people who are systemically oppressed are often stuck in fight, flight or freeze; having their reality completely shut down or being in the constant stress of having to change themselves to fit the dominant narrative.
Nervous systems are hyper-attuned to the subtleties of status, so actually a huge amount of awakening work is being willing to look at this aspect very carefully, let go of egos and entitlement and work with the dynamic. Competing narratives is one of the most stressful things for people’s nervous systems (it is registered akin to threat of death) and so usually the less powerful person has to submit to the more powerful person, but this is what creates the dynamic in the first place; it is one of the sources of fear and dominance structures.
Being able to hold and respect different narratives, e.g through Shared Imaginal Practices, is one of the most important skills for maturity and modern collective awakening; allowing people to stay in green or Self energy and be connected to their own experience even when it’s different or confronting for those around them.
It’s worth saying that all this is an incredibly complex and intricate multi-dimensional process, that has been boiled down to a very simple 2D diagram; some of the complexity has been lost for the sake of clarity and brevity.
The cool thing about this is that the physical effects will show up pretty clearly in people’s brains and nervous systems, so this should be able to be studied.
The diagram has been inspired and informed by polyvagal theory, which you can read more about here. The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) is really good for working with the nervous system and you can read an introductory overview here.
6. Triangle Model
What this model depicts: The goal of my teaching
Problems it addresses: Spiritual narcissism and having fixed ideas of what each person’s spiritual path should look like
The purpose of my teaching is to help you open to a broader spectrum of experience. You aren’t aiming at a final state – you are getting more intimately in touch with your own experience, whatever it is. It is built on a fundamental trust of both you and experience; that it is worth it for you to show up in truth and love.
With each of the layers, there is a meta-state that you are cultivating, which allows this intimacy to happen.
Body – Connecting with the body is about learning to be present regardless of the content of experience
Heart – Connecting with the heart is about learning to be open to a wider range of emotions
Mind – Connecting with the mind is about learning to see the emptiness of all perceptions
Soul – Connecting with the soul is about learning to flow with whatever life brings
These parts relate to the rainbow map – body is red and orange; heart is yellow and green; mind is turquoise and indigo; soul is purple and black. And the qualities that you are cultivating relate to being in the green in the nervous system diagram above.
It makes sense to work from the bottom up of the triangle and the shape of the triangle is important – we are grounding our practice on a wide base of embodiment and heartfulness.
A more narcissistic shape of experience would be wider at the top and thinner at the bottom; controlling, reified, closed and dissociated. Often when people talk about self in Buddhism, a lot of what they are referring to are selfish, narcissistic traits, which tend to be the ones that feel unpleasant, rather than other types of self (e.g. Self energy in IFS).
It is worth saying that orienting towards the positive meta states only works when there is a critical mass of non-narcissistic energy in the collective system. For example, if the environment you live in has enough toxicity in it, people who are present and open will be oppressed and taken advantage of, making these ways of being essentially impossible. Most of the oppression happens subtly and under the radar, i.e. on a nervous system or subtle blaming level rather than a conscious level.
This approach to awakening is partially about creating a critical mass of people who are present in their life in a more honest, embodied and alive way, because it creates a collective experience with more joy, truth and love in it.
Collective and Mystical
This inherently gets a bit abstract but when we are talking about the collective and mystical aspect of experience, rather than the individual experience, the order reverses, like a double rainbow.
The widest base is the Soul i.e. soulful divine collective intelligence is where experience emerges from.
This puts the individual experience at the narrower end of the triangle, which again is the opposite of a more narcissistic way of relating to life.
Every model has its limitations. It is important to use them with common sense and it’s really down to you feeling into the best you can do in this moment and being honest with yourself about what is true in your experience.
As an example, the counter-force to the triangle model is that the opposites can also be cultivated in a positive way; the control of a formula one driver, the reification of a social sciences expert, the closedness of impeccable discernment and the disassociation from unhealthy dynamics, for example.
7. Awakening Map
What this model depicts: A map to depict progress with this approach to awakening
Problems it addresses: Awakening processes having too much of a narrow remit
I am currently developing this map into an awakening course.
This map gives an overview of an entire path, when relating to experience through my framework. Each box holds a rich eco-system of embodied insights and lived-in realisations; part of the mysterious and fractal nature of this model is that every box is able to contain every other box, like indra’s net.
The objective for this path is to connect with every aspect of your being and integrate this into how you relate to the collective experience.
The map also reflects the layout of my website. For example, the body column is my practice guides, the heart is my poetry, the mind is my writing and the soul is my awakening framework; each of them has a page for the body, heart, mind and soul rows. This is all laid out on the Table of Contents.
You can do the path in any order but the insights build in order of subtlety and complexity. If you miss out some stages at the start you may have built things on an unstable base and you could be cultivating shadows or blind-spots when reaching the later stages.
Each of the boxes is like a building block that adds to the triangle model above.
Here are some examples of how you can use the model to triangulate different aspects of experience.
The meeting of heart and relationship
Cultivating openness by practicing connection
The meeting of mind and consciousness
Cultivating emptiness by practicing investigation
Metaphor & Myth:
The meeting of soul and consciousness
Cultivating emptiness by practicing expression
How This Model Compares to Buddhism
It is worth saying that there are as many Buddhisms as there are Buddhists in the world. Every culture, tradition and person is putting together a unique combination of practices and teachings into their version of the thing.
Below, I have used my style of modelling to map Buddhist practice. For the sake of this demonstration, I have stuck to key aspects of surviving early Buddhism and teachings that are generally attributed to Gautama Buddha.
To reflect the teachings, I have stripped out all the soul layers of the model. Anatta, one of the core assumptions about reality in this model, can literally be translated as no-soul.
In this way of modelling, each of the boxes includes connecting to every part of us, so it also strips each body, heart and mind box of its soul dimension.
Some of the impacts of adopting this model are:
- None of the boxes include embracing or owning your own darkness or vulnerability (this resides in the soul realm) and the explicit goal is to escape this
- It’s less inclusive of life and the collective experience
- It hits a non-sensical and solipsistic dead end
- It’s dry
- It doesn’t include your passion
The counter-points to this, which are the benefits of this way of practicing, are:
- You don’t have to integrate your darkness or vulnerability
- It’s a simpler life
- You have an end goal
- You can make safe choices
- You don’t have to think or feel for yourself
As you can see, there are some serious limitations to the model that can become benefits in the right context. It can be incredibly useful to adopt this frame during practice time, retreat time or even for a portion of life. The simplicity allows for a deepening of practice that is incredibly hard to do while still including the fullness of life and the soul realm.
To have the option to choose this path within a context where you are aware of its benefits, as well as of its impact and limitations, is a valid way of practicing.
Non-self, suffering and impermanence are all rich and deep aspects of experience that are worth engaging with. It can also be super nice and resourcing to be able to have a break from the intensity of the world, which these realisations allow, if you have enough privilege to be able to live and practice in this way while still being safe and connected.
To claim that this Buddhist model is representative of what is most meaningful, most loving and most true in the world, however, feels like violence against the soul and takes quite a hefty dose of ignorance and arrogance to pull off.
There is a deeper layer of realness and truth that opens up when we include the soul realm. The benefits of including soulfulness in your practice model (beyond it just being more true and representative) are:
- Wholeness and engaging with the full richness of your being
- Including both your impact on the world and the realities of others
- An endless mystery to explore
- Full of aliveness
- Fuelled by love and care
The biggest challenge is that it takes a lot of courage and humility to engage with the path in this way.
I will end this section with a story. Some years ago I visited an exhibition about Buddhism at the British Library, I was deep into practice at the time and searching for a spiritual home that felt aligned with my experiences.
They have a collection of some of the oldest written Buddhist texts in the world and one was on display. The translation was of a description of a teaching from Gautama Buddha affirming the importance of there being no such thing as a soul.
I stood in front of it for a long time and cried. The depth of loss to experience and the oppression of the more feminine, intuitive aspects felt immense beyond words.
It feels important to stand up for this in the world.
8. Circular Progression Model
What this model depicts: A timeless expression of movement on the path
Problems that it addresses: The tendency to get hung up on linear progress
This is a very simple model, that I write more about here – How Awakening Progresses.
It is designed as a counter-model to the one above, a way of representing the basic pattern of awakening with this approach without getting stuck on time, linear progress or fixed markers.
I tend to look at progression in this model as working from the outside inwards; starting in the most coarse or dense aspect of experience – body – and working inwards towards the most refined aspect of experience – soul.
But you could also look at it in different ways; as dropping pebbles in water and watching the ripples spread out, as a maturing tree adding growth rings to its trunk or as a solar system of different orbiting experiences to explore.
I could quite easily flip the model and put body in the centre and soul on the outside.
This model is also very fractal as all of these can happen on every level of experience, for example, unfolding across the space of a single mediation session right up to across an entire lifetime and beyond.
9. Balancing Scales Model
What this model depicts: How the different parts of experience impact each other
Problems it addresses: The importance of balance and how to cultivate it
This model is something I took from my experiences with Shadow Work Therapy.
Shadow Work Therapy works with four parts of us on opposing scales – our feeling parts and thinking parts balance each other and our doing parts and our self-esteem parts balance each other. When one part of us in shadow, it impacts all the other parts and puts them out of whack.
Shadow work holds the value that there are no bad parts of us, only unhealthy coping mechanisms and that if we have an overactive part (e.g. over-thinking), it is better to uncover and connect with the part that has been oppressed (e.g. feeling) than to treat the overactive part. It has to be experienced to be fully understood, but you can see this laid out in their four quarter map.
My model is essentially showing this in a very simple way. I write in more depth about this model here – Overview of All Practice.
One of the most interesting things about including this is an awakening context is being able to see that different traditions address different imbalances. Depending what societal and personal shadows are present, that will shape what needs to be emphasised and opened to through spiritual practice in order to cultivate more truth and love.
It can also show us when practices are created to enforce shadows and power imbalances.
10. Natural Cycles Map
What this model depicts: How the different parts of experience create different seasons, moods or vibes
Problems it addresses: Bringing balance to an over capitalist focus on growth, development and expansion
When we can connect to experience on an embodied, compassionate base, we create more freedom for the full range of experience to express itself through us.
I write more about this model here – Living From the Heart. One of the key takeaways is that the same meditation instructions, concepts or ideas can be understood and experienced completely differently depending on which lens we are experiencing them through.
Another important part is that this more balanced view creates space for a different way of being that is less about capitalism and what we can get from life and more about joyful and compassionate presence.
I talk about this at the start of this conversation with Daniel Ingram.
“Humans are stuck in this continuous addictive cycle and that is part of human nature, but there was a huge shift of consciousness that was founded on compassionate presence. If you are like a windmill where you are moving through the different seasons or ways of being, it becomes about being open to experiencing things rather than about reaching towards things”
11. Eight Factors of Spiritual Awakening
What this model depicts: An updated version of the eight-fold path
Problems it addresses: More embodied, more modern
This list comes from my direct experiences of what is most helpful for people in spiritual practice.
It is partially inspired by the eight-fold path, but it is also built on the knowledge that I gained from working with schools to help young people flourish. There is a body of thorough and cohesive research that has been done on what helps young people go on to better futures. This seems like a vital insight into human learning and thriving.
The layers relate to cultivating presence, openness, emptiness and flow in the body, heart, mind and soul respectively.
I have written more about the eight factors and linked to relevant supporting content on my website here – Eight Factors of Good Spiritual Practice.
12. Relationship to Other Models
What this model depicts: How the body, heart, mind and soul relates to some other models
Problems it addresses: Different frameworks or aspects of experience being in silos
This is a very brief overview of how this can be mapped to some other parts of experience. You may have your own models that you work with that you are able to see how they fit together.
13. Form & Emptiness
What this model depicts: Form and emptiness
Problems it addresses: Although there is plenty of inextricable crossover between form and emptiness they are not only entirely the same thing, they also exist separately from each other
“Emptiness and form are both inextricable aspects of experience”
To me one of the most important things is that we incorporate a true understanding of both form and emptiness in how we relate to experience.
Emptiness is a quality of experience – an abstract noun, akin to soulfulness or richness – it infuses and describes experience, rather than defining it. Form on the other hand is concrete, it’s the physical aspect of experience and how things manifest in a physical way.
If form really was emptiness, the whole of real life would follow abstract dream logic… e.g. “I was walking through a busy city trying to return to my childhood home when all my friends appeared but they suddenly turned into chickens and I had to carry them across a raging river.”
If emptiness really was form, there would be nothing to say. The whole thing would go cold because it would only be a solved mechanical process.
They are inextricably in relationship with each other, but that does not mean that they do not have separate existences.
It can be liberating to really embrace each of form and emptiness as the whole truth; to explore taking them to their full conclusion. This gives them space to breathe and individuate in you and they can come back and integrate in a more complex and nuanced way, without one dominating the other or one collapsing into the other.
I go into this concept in more depth and from a slightly different angle here – Why Emptiness is Not Form.
One of the most important aspects of this is that each of the body, heart, mind and soul has an aspect of emptiness and an aspect of object permanence to it and ultimately we need to be working with both to avoid spiritually bypassing large parts of experience.
This video gives a one hour overview of this and includes some of the dangers of not including both the physical and the immaterial in practice – Emptiness & Object Permanence, an Integrated Model of Reality
“If the world is indeed created by our act of observation, there should be billions of such worlds, one for each of us. How come your world and my world are the same? If something happens in my world, does it happen in your world, too?”
Erwin Schrödinger, from What is Life?
14. Reference Table
What this model depicts: The original source of a lot of my material
Problems it addresses: Showing some of my workings
This is the table that I first created, in some form, to capture my insights when going through this process. It has been through many hundreds of iterations and refinements and is often my point of reference when I’m creating new stuff.
I have written a bit about where the experiences that led to these insights came from here – Table of Experience
15. The Divine
What this model depicts: God
Problems it address: Where does experience originate from?
An important part of my framework is connection to a level of faith that the system is unfolding in a patterned and intelligent way, on both a micro and macro level. That there is an underlying fundamental goodness and intelligence that is in all of us and bigger than us.
This video gives an eight minute intro to how I relate to God – Relating to God
On a technical level it’s very intimately linked to time and I write more about this here – The Different Aspects of Time
There is a huge amount of information in these maps and models. How you relate to it will depend on where you are on your path.
It may be that understanding the meta-structure is useful or it may be that specific details that jumped out at you are what you needed to discover.
If you want to get into how to practice with this approach or some of the practical details of the models, you can start at the Table of Contents.
Don’t get so hung up on the maps and models that you miss out on the joy and connection that’s right in front of you – you never know what’s going to bring you the deepest opportunity to awaken, from having your heart broken to receiving unexpected Easter Eggs from the Universe.
The point of awakening is to see and embody the truth of experience so that you can act with more wisdom, love and courage, even in the face of difficulty.
My hope is that this information is inspiring or helpful for you in some way in your journey towards embodying your true nature, for the benefit of all beings.
All my content is open-source and available for free. If you have found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a book through Paypal (£10 – 20). I really appreciate your support.