We've laid out the core components for what becomes an autopoetic, dynamic awakening system. The external engagement of Cultural Architecture and becoming an Infinite Player; the internal components of Hedonic Engineering, facilitated by Ritualized Rebirth practices for rapid transformation. These come together as a cycle in the Yoga of Becoming — and the thread, the through line that unites and weaves each of these components together into a holistic system is Embodied Awakening.
Embodied Awakening is exactly what it sounds like — deeply embodying and enacting the insights, growth, and experiences you have throughout your personal evolution process.
This is what I mean when I discuss 'identity-level transformations'. Your identity is automatic, your behaviours arise effortlessly without thought. The process of embodied awakening is done to facilitate identity-level transformation — where the embodiment and enactment of deeper and deeper insight and Truth arises naturally, without effort for you.
"Knowledge is just a rumour until it lives in the muscle." – Papua New Guinea Proverb
This proverb demonstrates the case perfectly. Another way to say this is: the 'profound insights' and 'wisdom quotes' you have don't mean anything at all until they come forward naturally in your actions. Until they are embodied in your DNA.
The TL;DR of this entire piece is: talk is cheap. Aim for embodiment.
🧘 Taking Awakening Seriously
Here's a place to start: if you are on any sort of personal evolution path or awakening process — are you even confident in saying that to other people?
If someone asks you what you do or who you are, can you respond with calm, bold confidence that you're seriously playing the game of awakening? Very few people I have met do this, myself included.
If you can't, why not? Why is your own awakening process so far down your personal priority list that it doesn't even come up in your description of yourself? If you view individual awakening work as necessary or even foundational to a healthy society — why so much trepidation when talking about it?
This is one of the stakes that modern culture drives into the coffin of spirituality: that those who are on the awakening path can't explain what they're trying to do, and if they can, they're not confident or proud of it!
As always, and I'm going to spell this out in an entire future post, this is in the spirit of serious play. It's not something you need to drag yourself through. I would argue that awakening work done correctly is intrinsically motivating, just like games, it becomes to enticing, so enriching that you are compelled to continue exploring it as seriously and as playfully as you can.
🧬 The 4 Lost Ways of Knowing
John Vervaeke has put forward the brilliant framework of the 4 Lost Ways of Knowing, and they move along the spectrum of conceptual to embodied. From abstract to tangible. From thought to lived. From statement to experience.
This is generally the process that individuals move through in Embodied Awakening.
- Propositional: I know it because I can state it. A factual statement, like the sky is blue.
- Procedural: I know it because I understand the steps. An outline, like how to tie your shoes.
- Perspectival: I know it because I've seen the examples. A viewpoint, like Western culture tends to be more individualistic.
- Participatory: I know it because it's my lived experience. An embodied state, like I am part of humanity.
Western Culture exists almost exclusively in Propositional knowing. This is the domain of Science, so it makes sense that the natural resting state for societal Knowing is at this level as well.
And you'll notice — nearly everyone in the awakening process is somewhere between the first to third levels. Some people can only state what they think awakening is, or that all things are connected. Others can list you the steps towards enlightenment, or how to induce a satori experience. Others have had glimpses of it themselves, or have met highly awakened individuals and know that it is possible. However, the few who experience these Truths, who abide at the Participatory level, are very few in number.
Until these Truths live in you as a direct, participatory experience, you will feel forever unsatisfied. Like a process is incomplete.
⬆️ Moving Up the Stack
A very important point here is that there is no set-in-stone directionality for the 4 Ways of Knowing.
It's just that due to the dominance of the Western Scientific Materialist paradigm that most of us grew up in, you will likely start at the conceptual (propositional) and your task is to move down the stack towards the embodied (participatory). This does not mean it's the only way to go. You can move up the stack.
This is why getting hung up on conceptual understanding can be severely limiting. You do not need to understand your awakening process/progress in order to reach deeper levels of insight and embodiment.
You can have valid, embodied awakening experiences but be unable to articulate them (propositional), unable to explain how you go there (procedural), or point to other groups also embodying it (perspectival). That is okay, that does not invalidate the experience you have had.
It's the same with trauma, I recorded a full video you can watch about this. You do not need to have a conceptual understanding of your trauma in order to heal it. You simply need to complete the unresolved energetic cycle (participatory) in the body.
Trauma healing is embodied, so is Awakening.
It is a beautiful game to play, to move back up the stack and attempt to put your realizations, your Way of Being into words (this is largely the scope of this publication for me!), but don't trick yourself into thinking it's required.
For example: early Chan, Taoist, & Zen cultures were highly participatory, in fact the entire pursuit of these Ways were to bring an individual into a deep participatory relationship with the universe. To unite cosmos and consciousness at an immediate, embodied level. Very little was written down, very few formal teachings occured. It was largely entirely perspectival and participatory, and Zen in particular is arguably one of the most effective schools at producing awakened individuals.
Conceptual knowing can be helpful, it can be an asset. It can also be a hindrance, and it is not a requirement for continued progress. Be discerning.
👁 From Third to First Person
Another way to frame this embodied awakening process is through the transition from third (informal) to second (formal) to first (experienced) person perspectives.
This is the state of Organized Religion, where most individuals experience of the transcendent is Third Person: talking about God. They have never experienced the presence of God, and most certainly have not had the experience of being God.
This is the same theme with individual awakening. You can have third person discussion (talking about awakening), second person (talking to higher self), or first person (awakening experiences). The aim should be to take all of your spiritual Truths, all of your Awakening glimpses, and drop them down the stack from talking about them, to talking to them, to living within them.
- Stop talking about Compassion. Start being compassionate.
- Stop talking about Awakening. Start being awake.
- Stop talking about Unity. Start being connected to everything.
And as always, and this is the fundamental point: none of this is in the domain of Knowing/cognitive understanding. None of this is in the domain of the Doing-Mode. This work lives precisely within the direct, lived experience of the Being-Mode. It is an abiding, embodied experience. Unless you have felt it, you're not there yet. Once you have felt it, live within it. Make it last.
🧠 The Trap of Cognitive Understanding
There is one fatal flaw to an over-reliance on conceptual/cognitive understand: it lulls you into a false sense of accomplishment.
Too often I see examples of individuals who get to a conceptual understanding where they can articluate a deep truth or spiritual insight, but there's been no embodiment, no identity/behavioural change, around it whatsoever. And they act like the process is complete, when it's only just beginning.
Being able to recite quotes from spiritual masters has no correlation to your own level of awakening. Memorizing the Buddhist Eightfold path does not move you further along it.
Overreliance on cognitive understanding can be a major setback in the awakening process. Convincing yourself that because you can speak it, you are it. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we saw with the Lost Ways of Knowing, you've only made it to the very first step!
This also engenders something I've started calling the Inner World Problem. Organized religion is plagued by the Inner World Problem. The Inner World problem is the fact that you will never have access to someone else's inner world. You can never verify their experience yourself. As a result, practices tend to shift towards highly superficial acting and demonstrations, only consisting of things you can confirm and verify — the look, the words, the rituals, the dances.
In organized religion, this looks like placebo sacraments, flourishes and decorations, and fancy words that lack the depth of wisdom and direct experience of the transcendent. It's a show with no substance.
In individual awakening, the Inner World Problem brings about things like insight porn, surface-level explorations, costumes and 'looking the part', and a lack of rigour in explanations.
Talk is cheap. How you behave matters more.
Conceptual understanding also invites the possibility for the entire awakening endeavour to be co-opted by the ego. The 'spiritual ego' is an abomination, but so unbelievably tempting that almost everyone falls into its black hole at some point.
- If you think that other people are 'sheep' and therefore inferior, you are victim to spiritual ego.
- If you think your value as an individual has increased in any way since your awakening process, you are victim to spiritual ego.
- If you've found the 'objectively right way' to do things, you are victim to a spiritual ego.
Cognitive understanding is a tool, it can help you orient, to have a sense of what you're moving towards. However, you must be discerning, as it can quickly become an end in itself, instead of a tool to use along the way.
✌🏻 Examples of Embodied Awakening
It's always helpful to ground these in examples, but I often have trepidation doing so because you must remember: your path is fundamentally unique, and though you may find your way to similar markers as others, comparing your path and process will lead you astray.
What does embodiment of awakening work really look like? There are innumerable ways, but here are a few examples I can point to:
- Concept: You cannot die. Embodied: Some monks have drastically reduced their startle response (an involuntary flinch driven by fear, ultimately fear of death). They have re-programmed their bodies to be less afraid of death, and overcome a previously autonomic aspect of the human animal in the process. If there is fear of death present in you, you have not fully embodied this truth. The desire to live is not equivalent to the fear of death.
- Concept: All are equal. Embodied: Do you treat your enemies just as you treat your loved ones? Do you still categorize groups of people into good/bad, right/wrong, worthy/unworthy? As always, it's not what you say, it's what you actually do. If you treat or think of others in terms of a values hierarchy, you have not fully embodied this truth.
- Concept: You are exactly where you need to be. Embodied: Does jealousy of others still arise in you? Do you constantly compare yourself to others? Do you wish the past had been different? Do you think that you should be 'further along' than you currently are? If any of these happen, this truth has not been fully embodied.
- Concept: We are all One. Embodied: Do you treat the world like your own body, like your own Self? Does separation still arise in you? Is there a distinction between subject/object? Do you identify as a separate Self? If so, this truth has not been fully embodied.
These are but a few examples of what I mean. And you'll notice, there are very few individuals you've likely met that have actually embodied these Truths. For many, the ability to spout spiritual platitudes is enough to placate their ego, to feel superior, and they don't go any further.
But if you're really playing the awakening game, you'll know that conceptual knowing and cognitive statements are but the first step in the embodiment process. Go further. Cultivate them until they live in your bones and come out effortlessly in your actions. Persist until they make up the foundation of your Way of Being. This is identity-level transformation. This is embodied awakening.
🤸🏻♂️ Embodied Awakening Practices
Just like you do not need to have a cognitive understanding of your process for it to continue, you do not have to use cognitive techniques to continue making progress along your path.
These are identity-level, nervous system changes. These are deeply patterned behavioural evolutions. Your Mind and Ego are such small parts of the sum total of your Self that they do not need to be involved in the process at all.
Some embodied awakening practices include: Yoga / Meditation / Tai Chi / Cha Dao / Artistry / Creativity / Conscious Relating / Trauma Healing / Plant Medicine / Being-Mode.
Stop gratifying the ego with fancy-sounding elaborations and explorations. Sit on the cushion, get on the mat, and show up for a complete evolution. Move your insights down the stack, to every level of your Being.
♾ The Potential & the Paradox of Embodied Awakening
We quickly run into a viscious, self-reflective circle in this work — "how do I know when I've fully embodied the insights, experiences, and awakening glimpses I've had?"
A simple first place to start is to simply ask yourself that question for anything you've been working on. If the answer that surfaces inside of you is no, you have your answer.
The frame I will offer here is the competency progression. When you first begin something, you tend to go through a multi-stage process of competency:
- Unconscious Incompetence: Having never tried this, you have no real idea of just how bad you are at it.
- Conscious Incompetence: Having started working on it, you are able to discern just how much more progress you can make.
- Conscious Competence: You have skill and ability in the field, but are working on developing it further. It is an active and aware process.
- Unconscious Competence: Effortlessness arrives. You no longer need to think of the action to perform it completely.
The paradox of embodied awakening is that once it lives in you, you don't need to talk about it. You don't need to plan it. You don't need to force it. You don't need to understand it. You just need to experience it. You just need to be it.
“Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know." — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Now after writing 2800+ words about embodied awakening, it can be hypocritical of me to say that those who talk don't know. But I never said I was fully embodied. This very project is part of my process.
Perhaps there will come a time when I view all information sharing as unnecessary, but that time has not yet come. Right now, the strong feeling of putting out nuanced, detailed explorations arises in me, and I am simply trying to honour that as something that Life is doing through me.
We are all moving along the path. You are doing great. Keep going.
A Note on the Ending of Awakening
‘Ordinary mind is Tao.’ — Nansen
This quote is part of a larger koan, a Zen riddle. It is one of the most profound statements I've been focusing on lately.
Your life, your existence, the exact unfolding of your thoughts and actions — it is the Great River of Being flowing. Your life, your ordinary existence, is the perfection of All-That-Is blossoming into Presence in each moment.
That statement is your conceptual, propositional statement. I would argue that Embodied Awakening is really just the process of letting that sink down into your bones. Let it settle into your Soul. Let it wash over you and cleanse you of your anxieties, worries, self-doubts, judgments, moralizing, all of it. Let it all go.
Embodied Awakening is simply coming to terms with the fact that the life you have is perfection itself. It is Perfection in a state of Perfecting itself. Moving through unique manifestations of Perfection for Eternity.
This is also what I believe is meant by the classic "Gateless Gate" koan. So many of us embark on this epic quest, a soul-searching journey, only to arrive back deeply within our direct experience.
You return to yourself, as you are in this moment, realizing that the Enlightenment you were looking for was the very thing that was looking for Enlightenment.
Embodied Awakening is letting the Truth of exactly what you are settle in to your bones. It is not conceptual. It cannot be contained within the limitations of language. It is a direct, lived experience of the Sat-Cit-Ananda (Truth, Consciousness, Bliss in Sanskrit) that is the reality of your experience.