Awakening in Life: Meta-Practice Map
Each of these areas of practice and life has a myriad of practices we can undertake to cultivate capacities and qualities, to experience insights and realization, and to embody expressions of each.
These areas are not intended to be linear in experience, but instead simultaneously co-arising. In practice they are taken as needed, both separately and also in an integrated manner where we are including aspects of all three in a single practice.
Presence is the foundation for all three practice areas. Presence is a foundation in that it is an experience, or quality of experience, that permeates all practices and experience. Presence is not necessarily the focal point of all practices, but it is always necessarily included.
While ‘release’ is the preferred term in Awakening in Life, other terms are used loosely as synonyms such as: let go, let be, rest, and transcend.
What is the practice of release? This dictionary definition is quite appropriate:
Allow to move, act, or flow freely.
Release in practice means to let anything in our experience be as it is, outwardly and inwardly.
With release we cultivate awareness of how we unconsciously grip or collapse attention in experience, and in contrast we consciously cultivate allowing whatever is already present to be as it is (as I/you/we/it is).
The above definition points to a deeper quality in what the practice of release gives rise to: more fluidity and possibility in understanding (wisdom), a deeper understanding that supports a deeper care (compassion), and all of this allows for a more agile and effective response in life.
In other words, release is not falling into passivity, but freeing up movement and energy.
A confusion with the practice of release is to make the assumption that release is the ultimate point of the path of awakening.
Specifically, we can erroneously assume that in all situations the best response in life is to let go and let be into a pure open presence versus taking specific action in the world. This is spiritual bypassing.
The second misunderstanding is to think that we must choose between open presence (releasing our unconscious grip on a situation in life), or responding with specific action. It is possible and necessary to integrate both release and response in life, and to separate them fragments our humanity.
Release includes qualities, actions, flavors such as:
- Dis-embedding from the content of our experience and the world
- We can also say 'transcend'.
- Accessing more space (room) for experience to arise in
- Accommodation of experience
- Revealing perspective on experience
- Increased freedom from the content of experience
Release has an ultimate movement toward the source of all experience, regardless of metaphysical assertions of what this source is.
Response covers any and all engaged response to life and the specific needs of ourselves, others, and the world.
Response is specific, unique, and freshly arising in all situations. Response is not given or assumed. We must consciously engage with our changing, living experience and the world, individually and collectively.
Given the nature of life, it is impossible to have set defined practices for response. However, as a unique response to the time we live in, we can utilize and cultivate practices that are consistently useful enough to rely on, and which we can agilely adapt to changing circumstances and needs.
In Awakening in Life, response practices develop core capacities that will most support embodied engagement with life, and to more effectively navigate and respond to the world.
In other words, response practices are very much a beginning, never a final answer, but necessary all the same, and not arbitrary.
An example of a supportive response practice is embodied inquiry. In embodied inquiry we can take a specific situation we are experiencing, we inhabit our body, releasing into presence, and then ask an open-ended question that brings us further into the living experience of our situation.
We listen to see what arises as a response. We let what arises inform how we choose to respond to the situation. As only a few broad examples, the situation could be experienced as individual (personal financial fear), relational (conflict in partnership or family), cultural (social inequalities), or planetary (ecological crisis).
Response includes qualities, actions, flavors such as:
- Embracing the content of experience and the world
- Here we can also say 'include'.
- Increased intimacy with the content of experience and the world
- Influencing life with the intention of impacting, transforming, and healing
- Discernment with what is experienced
- Compassion for ourselves, others, and the world
Response has a movement toward what is unknown through an embrace of what is known in this moment.
The practice of inhabiting is living in and as the totality of our humanity with presence, awareness, feeling, and sensing. Inhabiting is the ongoing practice of living as our full human experience, which is always changing.
As an example, embodiment is an inhabiting practice where we cultivate immediacy and presence in as our physiological-biological soma, said simply, our body. We are not simply aware of our body, we feel that we are our body. We inhabit not just our physical body, but also our mind, emotions, physical sensations, and qualities of love, power, and understanding, as these all have roots in our physical body.
As one of my teachers once said: ‘wherever there is experience, there is a body’.
Physical body, social body, world body, planetary body, even the body of reality (sometimes referred to as dharmakaya).
Inhabiting is the experience being here, of occupying the bodies or spaces that we are and share, being attentive to what is arising, to palpable sense and feel that we are this. Where we feel we are fragmented or dissociated, we seek to integrate with healing, attention, and presence.
Through the practice of inhabiting there is a living experience of embodied ownership, connection, presence, embrace, a releasing unconscious separation while maintaining organic distinction and diversity of experience and phenomena.
We inhabit who we are in multiple ways and dimensions, including:
- Who we are right now in this moment
- Who we were in the past, acknowledging, honoring, and reclaiming ourselves through healing, reintegrating those parts of us that have been suppressed or forgotten
- The unconscious patterns that have emerged in our life, operating unconsciously that are now (or always have been) painful, or limiting our ability to inhabit more fully this life we are now living and sharing
- Who we are becoming (who we are is continually changing)
- Who we are becoming in discernible, patterned, significant ways, meaning because we are not only changing in purely random or neutral ways, we seek to inhabit the directionality of our evolution and unfolding
- Who we are individually and collectively: I, We, It.
Inhabiting is a life long practice and in the moments we feel as present as we can be, as who we are in this moment, including all that is painful and imperfect, in that moment, we are as complete as we could be, neither practicing nor not practicing.
And in the next moment - everything changes again. We respond, we practice, we come back home to who we are, again and again.
As you can see in the diagram, release and response blend into one another, which has a few significant indications:
- It is ultimately not possible to draw a strict line between the practices of release and response.
- However, it is useful to make distinctions between release and response in practice.
- It is obvious that it is possible to go deep separately in either release or response, but we would experience the cultivation of release and response in some opposition of each other. This sense of opposition leads to a dissociation or ignorance of one or the other.
- Awakening in Life seeks first and foremost to integrate and inhabit the full, unfolding spectrum of human experience.
- This integration is not meant to be prescriptive or linear, but it is possible and necessary to actively seek to integrate both release and response in our lives.
- The arrow between release and response indicates that the practice and experiences within release and response mutually influence each other, in what we practice, why we practice, and how we practice, and the results of practice.
- Finally, it is possible to integrate practices of both release and response into a single practice (meta-practice).