Learning To Listen: Embodied Wisdom

When most people think of the body, “divine” isn’t the first term to come to mind. Most major philosophies and religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and classical yoga, view embodiment as a distraction, requiring control and transcendence through spiritual practice. Yet, some forms of tantra posit the manifest world to be an expression of God. These lineages contend that each facet of the self, or kosha—body, breath, mind, intuition, soul—is qualitatively distinct, yet simultaneously reflective of the same vast diamond of God-consciousness.

As we discussed in Part 2, suffering or addictive behavior is not generated solely from body or mind, but samskara—habitual patterns that interweave the koshas. According to tantra, samskara are accompanied and superseded by the divine presence that pervades every aspect of our being; even samskara, as aspects of the self, are divine. As described in the Chandogya Upanishad, “You Are That.”

While this knowledge may evade us in our default consciousness, yoga and meditative practices afford glimpses into the great within and beyond. These practices strengthen and cultivate witness consciousness (similar to mindfulness), a non-judgmental, compassionate, and impartial awareness lacking distortion and attachment. As witness consciousness is strengthened, samskara gradually burn away, koshas align, and wisdom, mediated by divine consciousness, emerges.

Witness consciousness, or the seer, is commonly conceptualized as a product of mind, or a divine meta-awareness that transcends the organism. Yet tantra envisions the seer as arising spontaneously from within and beyond all facets of the self. Yoga legend Erich Schiffman uses the apt metaphor of the self as a wave; through yoga, we awaken and relax into our ocean nature. Schiffman explains: “The wave will recognize the power of the ocean as being the source of what it is, and you will intuitively understand that the Will of God, or the intent of the universe, and the desires and longings of your heart are one and the same.” As yoga is increasingly practiced, he continues, “Listening inwardly allows you to access information you previously had no access to … that will help you live in a more harmonious and fulfilling way.”

There it is: Listening not to body or to mind, but honoring their respective wisdoms while simultaneously acknowledging each as part of the greater whole. In witnessing the wisdom constantly imparted by the koshas, we’re more amenable to receiving and acting upon it. Teasing apart this wisdom from the knee-jerk cravings and reactions of samskara is not an easy task, but becomes more effortless with practice.

Case in point. Sometimes I feel literally stuck to the couch, unable to tear myself away from work though I can feel every muscle fiber screaming for movement. At times, not unlike a rebellious child (mind) stubbornly thwarting the objections of a parent (body), I purposefully succumb to the inertia of inactivity. Other times, however, I choose to listen to my witness, allowing body to move and overcoming the samskaric compulsion toward tamas, or inactivity. Years ago I wouldn’t have felt my body’s protestations, much less discerned between these states.

In sum, tantra posits that divine wisdom is always within and around you, presenting through all aspects of the self. Poignantly, this accompanies (while encompassing) our most deep-seated fears and patterns. As we strengthen our capacity to listen to the ocean, samskara may assert themselves ever more aggressively in an effort to maintain the status quo. The choice is yours. Who will you listen to today?

What is your perspective on how the body relates to the other koshas? Have you experienced wisdom in these aspects of yourself?

This is Part 3 of our three-part series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.

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