embodiment

I’m pretty sure that embodiment is a much better way of processing trauma than anything I’ve written about on mentalengineering.info before.

What do I mean by embodiment? It’s something like, “doing what your body wants”. Not just what your touch wants or what you need to do to be comfy, but it includes those things. But like, if you want to smell a certain smell, or if your muscles are tense and you need to relax them, or if you want to cuddle under blankets, or if you want to take a walk in nature and listen to the wind as you go and then come back and have a nice cup of tea.

One way of pointing at what I want to point at, is that being embodied brings not just a closer connection to your body and all of your senses, but a greatly enhanced ability to process trauma at all. It’s sort of like, I’ll go and take a nice nap, and I’ll legitimately feel less traumatized, as if things changed permanently just from the nap. I bet that the reason breath sensation monitoring meditation, as described in the old version of Part I of this site, worked for processing trauma, is because it developed some amount of embodiment for me.

Though, I had at least some embodiment to start out with. A partner of mine went to one of the goenka retreats and did a lot of anapana and vipassana, and didn’t get anything out of it at all, and was basically maximally disembodied coming out of the retreat, e.g. it couldn’t get embodiment to turn on at all. That could be because it did anapana and vipassana like Goenka says to instead of doing breath sensation monitoring like I told her to. (The difference is that you’re supposed to force yourself to be “equanimous” and ignore all sensations including pain in anapana and vipassana, and in breath sensation monitoring you’re just supposed to direct your attention to the breath but taking measures to be physically comfy is encouraged). I suspect that forcing yourself to be uncomfortable reduces embodiment and also has weird side effects that I can’t put my finger on in addition to that.

Anyways, my best technique for being embodied is to ask yourself what your body wants, and then do it. If you’re new to this, ask yourself this very frequently, like every 30 seconds or so. You might want like three things, like “fuck I need to stretch” “fuck I’m hungry” “I want to be hiking in the mountains right now”. The standard advice is to do the loudest want first, then check in with yourself to see what other wants you have, then do one of them, then check in again.

Try to do this by actually checking in with your body, and not by like, a priori guessing what you want. That won’t build the skill. One way to try it is to sort of feel what each part of your body wants, by taking a moment to feel if your ears want anything, if your tongue, back, etc etc want any specific thing.

It seems like once people can get embodiment to “turn on” for the first time it’s easy enough to build it, by just doing what your body wants (assuming you take at least thirty minutes a day to try and talk with your body, or spend that much time doing something your body wants, etc. Exercise “because bodies in theory work better if you work out” doesn’t count; exercise if you talk with your body first does). But sometimes it’s really difficult to get it to click even a little bit, especially for people with tons of trauma. I don’t have a well developed way of getting embodiment to click for such people, though a number of acquaintances have told me that taking a low dose of shrooms, or in fewer cases, LSD, while trying to do what your body wants can be effective for trying to get this to click for the first time. It should be noted that taking shrooms or LSD without trying to do what your body wants in the moment, or at higher doses, does not seem to work for this purpose.

Speculation:

A trend I’ve noticed is that embodiment can get associated with religious stuff for some people. Also, many people seem well embodied as children and lose their embodiment at some point. It also seems possible to be stripped of embodiment by philosophical arguments, e.g. “I associate the joy of feeling a rush of wind with God, and the world is light and I am Alive” can get cancelled out by “well, I guess God isn’t real” or by “crap I guess free will isn’t real… so the deep peace and willpower and spark I found in practicing Nonviolence was fake”. I think most people lose their embodiment pretty early; I was incredibly embodied at 17-18 and remember all of my classmates being visibly dead on the inside at that age. I don’t think deconversion is what causes it for most people, it’s just what did it for me. Could puberty stuff have to do with how most people lose embodiment? I would need to spend some time around some 11-12 year olds and then around some 14 year olds and see how many in each group seem dead inside. This seems batshit insane, but I am ace and used to have a weird religious thing against sex or even masturbation (lol), could this have to do with why I didn’t die on the inside for so long? One of the ~2 people I can think of who was visibly alive on the inside to an even older age than I made it to is ace as well, though my impression is that she eventually got traumatized and her aliveness faded.


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