Embodied nondual meditation helps us when we have unresolved injuries and trauma. With some practice our embodied nondual experience progresses from being a temporary state to an ongoing long-term state. (If unfamiliar with “embodied nondual” see my article “The Many Kinds of Nondual Consciousness.) It is valuable to understand the neuroscience behind what allows our experience of our nondual “unchanging-self” to become a stable part of our life. What is also important to understand are the details of how we develop autonomy between the dual and nondual dimensions of self. Identifying the main stages we go through in meditation, and the neuroscience of our senses, offers some interesting answers.
In meditation embodied nondual experience can feel like several states, both dual and nondual, that show up in an interwoven way. Together, these states enable us to focus on the present experience and grow autonomy from the disturbing aspects of life by “disentangling” from our mental and emotional conditioning. But what exactly is disentangling? Our senses help us understand this process of growing autonomy because they are what bring us information about what we experience and enable us to respond.
We potentially have eight kinds of senses and in meditation it is our sixth, seventh, and eighth sense that become activated when we focus upon our inner experience. Our first five senses receive information from our environment, the sixth sense involves perception of our inner visceral and physical experience, which can in part also be a source of intuition and wisdom, and the seventh sense allows us to have meta-awareness of being aware that we are aware of experience in general. The eighth sense, as proposed by Daniel Siegal (2007), provides us a feeling of our inner relationship between our “evolving-self” and “unchanging-self.” This can be felt as a resonant state of connectedness. In our evolving-self’s process of establishing a bond with the nondual attributes of our unchanging-self (unchanging, stillness, balance, unity, etc.), we seem to activate our eighth sense’s perception to become open and receptive to this “sacred” communion.
When we first focus on our inner experience in embodied nondual meditation we initially focus our attention on creating a conducive environment for nondual consciousness to arise. This involves engaging in “self-regulation” practices that increase a balanced state, such conscious breathing so to breathe without effort, softening physical constrictions and settling the content of our experience (because when we get overwhelmed, we automatically constrict and lift upward). Last but not least, we then practice attuning to the sense of openness and inner space that results from relaxing. As we refine our senses we perceive this sense of inner space is unified. A more detailed look at how this unfolds can be helpful.
The process of creating a conducive environment (self-regulation) for nondual consciousness to arise, involves attuning to increasingly subtle feelings-tones of sensation (primarily concerning our sixth sense of inner visceral and physical experience). It is a process that requires intentional attunement, which entails a slight degree of effort. Yet as we refine our practice of creating a conducive environment for nondual consciousness to arise, we learn to let go of the effort that so often accompanies our evolving-self’s acts of volitionally intending to do or experience anything. As embodied nondual experience becomes an ongoing-state, these intentional practices of self-regulation become an effortless experience. As a result, nondual consciousness becomes a stable, ongoing, always available experience.
Letting go of effort is central to “disentangling” from the conditioned mind and body. Our practice of both self-regulating and direct attunement to unified consciousness seems to induce the neurological changes that support unified consciousness to become an ongoing aspect or our existence. When we practice relaxing and letting go of all effort in meditation, we subtly self-regulate our imbalanced state. As mentioned, we begin to feel more internal openness, space, and room to breathe. As we refine this, we come to feel that even our bones feel porous and open to the space that pervades the rest of the body. Within every constriction and everything that feels solid we come to recognize a deeper experience of open spaciousness. The old patterns of defense in relationship that fragment us are released. What emerges, like a photograph coming into focus, is a feeling of unobstructed unified inner space and the stillness of utter balance.
We uncover a sense of inner space that lies deeper that the separate or solid, stuck or moving parts of the body. As we attune to our experience of pervasive inner space, we uncover the feeling that the space is conscious. Our experience of being physically transparent and spacious becomes a portal for a shift to opening to a sense of unified consciousness. This is a part of awareness becoming aware of itself (via the meta-awareness of our seventh sense).
These changes allow our nervous system and brain to coordinate the mind and body so we can adapt to life’s challenge more easily. This process of adapting also gives us ongoing access to the nondual qualities of our unchanging-self (balance, stillness, space, wholeness, unity, etc.). As we refine our senses, we can perceive that we inhabit the body as a feeling that we exist as these nondual sensory experiences. We recognize that the experiences are an always available ongoing state of our own being.
With practice our attunement to these nondual qualities of self becomes an effortless process that we bring into every aspect of our life. We no longer need to intentionally attune in order to experience it. We simply allow our self to feel what already is there within us without us intentionally, and too often effortfully, volitionally intending and then attuning to it. As a result, we gain access to an open a receptive state of being that is spontaneously initiated. It becomes self-generating because it is uncreated and effortless.
This self-generating experience of our open and receptive state of being is different from the common way we passively receive our sensory experiences. It is not about passively receiving outdated conditioning and then responding by automatically acting out reactively. Instead, it’s a present centered fully engaged feeling of being aware that we are aware. Being open and receptive and yet full engaged awareness provides us with a paradigm shift. We change from our evolving-self’s habitual way of functioning and responding to a more spontaneous way of living life. This allows us to respond authentically in a way that is relevant to what our senses are actually perceiving from our present experience rather than our memory of the past and fear of the future.
In meditation we can experience this when we attune to the feeling of our self as an unchanging presence and emptiness at the same time. Our sense of existing as emptiness is felt as a sheer transparency, as if we are an empty vessel. At this depth and subtlety of perception, our presence as an unchanging dimension of our being is not simply an empty void, but is rich with essential qualities of being shining from within, as if from within each cell of the body. Our sense of presence is not an energetic movement, but a way of experiencing the stillness pervading the whole internal depth of our body. Specific and constantly changing awareness, emotions, and physical sensations arise and end within this unchanging ground of our being.
Moving through life as emptiness and presence helps us cultivate and maintain the embodiment of our unchanging self as we feel our constantly changing experiences flow through us. In this way, we are no longer challenged by the intensity of the drama we experience in life (another person, situation, or our own trauma). We can feel the movement of intense experiences, at the same time as we experience the stillness of our own inner presence of being. This means we are able to truly get to know and to interact with what we experience in a way that allows it to unfold to produce its own true form.
As we attune to specific expressions of our presence and emptiness, such as a particular nondual attribute of our self (transparency, balance, stillness, unity, and even unconditional love), we progressively learn to sustain our attunement. We do this by monitoring the process of our attention (meta-awareness of our seventh sense). This monitoring gives us the capacity to keep track of our process of attunement and enables us to refocus our attention when our attention has drifted away from our attunement. In meditation we direct our attention to an experience and stay receptive to whatever arises in our awareness (via the seventh sense).
Attunement and our ability to be aware that we are attuning is what strengthens our capacity to turn an intermittent experience of our unchanging-self into a stable, ongoing expression of our existence. As we become more familiar with this practice, we become increasingly able to let go of the effort involved in our intentional attunement so that it becomes an effortless experience of the ground of our being. This effortlessness naturally releases the bound energy that accompany the constrictions of consciousness inherent to our habits of mind and body. The released energy has been described in yoga as vitality or the inner heat or “tapas” that arises as we open to and integrate the new solutions that our psychological conditioning previously did not allow.
In embodied nondual meditation the role our senses play becomes evident as our perception of our senses become more refined. We become more sensitized to subtle sensations and simultaneously more receptive to how we perceive our environment (first five senses), and our perception of our body experience, (i.e. “interoception,” - sixth sense). As we perceive these body experiences, we gain access to a deep sense of the shape of our emotional state. This experience opens to perception of our consciousness of our self and others (seventh sense’s “mental” aspect). At this level we perceive our thoughts, feelings, intentions, and attitudes of our self and other people. We gain the ability to be both aware of our awareness and discern the nature of our consciousness itself. This can lead to attunement to our embodied nondual experience of our self, the unchanging-self (via the eighth sense). In our attunement to our unchanging-self we sense things just as they are within our awareness. This brings with it deep insight and a stabilizing sense of coherence.
The eighth sense allows us to perceive the unchanging dimension of self while in relationship with other people and our environment. This relationship is like what happens in the vipassana practice of “neutral witnessing,” when we perceive experience without attending to the distorted meaning we associate with the experience. Yet the eighth sense also becomes activated when we experience the relational nature of our evolving self and unchanging-self. This is when we become aware of the resonant state that is created within the relating that is felt in the sacred embrace between our dual and nondual self. We have the sense of being felt by another aspect of our self (not only through contact with other people).
The relational orientation of the eighth sense enables our evolving-self to feel a part of a larger whole. The more our evolving-self resonates in direct attunement with our unchanging-self, the more we feel felt by our “inner deity” (ishta devata) our own ground of being (saguna Brahman). We are also able to perceive the relational nature of the unified field of nondual consciousness. It is relational in its ability to make available the feeling that we are connected as one with all of existence. This relational experience of unity occurs with our eighth sense.
As we awaken the nondual attributes of our unchanging-self, we can perceive that it co-exists with our evolving-self. We get a sense of mutuality between our dual and nondual self that allows us to live with moment-to-moment awareness that does not grasp onto our automatic responses and sabotaging habits of mind and body. As we embody the experience of our unchanging-self, we illuminate our awareness and stabilize a deep sense of the interconnection of everything. This can inspire a profound sense of belonging and self-worth. It can also give us access to a sense of unlimited inner space, which provides us with an ultimate sense of breathing room and autonomy in relationship. Feeling connected and autonomous lays the foundation for healing the heart of our deepest injuries and relationship traumas in life.
Dr. Zeb Lancaster
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