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Disembodiment: What is it?

I have been working my way through an online writing and self-discovery course called “On Being in Your Body,” created by two creative and informed individuals named Caitlin and Victoria. They wrote the entire course around the theme of “Embodiment.” The first section of the online course, beyond the introduction, was all about “Disembodiment.” This section of my 7-part online course woke me up a bit and got me thinking about myself in ways I hadn’t before; or had acknowledged but shied away from because of feeling shame, guilt, or general discomfort. Exploring disembodiment through the lens of this class helped me realize how very important and careful it is to explore these feelings, so I thought I’d share some of my discoveries here, with you. This blog is an excellent follow up to the previously published piece reviewing “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor.

“Your body listens to everything your mind speaks, but where did you inherit this language from?” 

This is the first sentence I read in this section of the course. A string of other thoughtful questions follows, but this one sticks in my head like glue. Where did all of the language bouncing around in my head come from – good and bad? Media, I suppose. Friends, family, and work-acquaintances. Good books. Dramatic movie lines. Teachers, definitely. My list of influences went on and on in my brain until I got to wondering: is any of it mine? Do I own any of the thoughts in my brain? If those borrowed thoughts speak to my body, do I own any of my body, either? 

This thought process led me straight to the definition of disembodiment: not feeling like I owned my own body; in the dictionary’s words: divesting from my body.

How did this happen? I ate well enough, went to activities and exercise classes that kept my body healthy, had satisfying personal relationships and an okay support system; my needs were met and I was the one meeting them, independently. So how could I possibly be divested from my body? I was giving it everything it needed. 

My course taught me that giving your body what it needs isn’t really what makes you embodied, and your inability to do so does not make you necessarily disembodied, either. It is so much more than that: it is recognizing your body as yourself, not separate from yourself.

You do not feed your body: you feed yourself.

You do not rest your body: you rest yourself. 

You do not forgive or punish or hide your body: you forgive and punish and hide.

“You cannot separate the individual from the body.”

As I wrapped my brain around this, I tried to think of ways to become more married to my body; ways to stop existing and thinking separately from my body. I was always one to say things like, “I’m physically exhausted but my brain is wide awake,” or, “I couldn’t sleep because my body was restless, even though I had an emotionally hard day.” I constantly have disconnected the mental and physical systems in my body, instead of seeking an understanding of how they are the same.

I found meditation to be a great tool, whether it was 5 minutes or 50 minutes of my day. I spent time acknowledging my body and really feeling it. I asked myself questions while I meditated (mind you, meditating for me is mostly journaling):

  • Where do I feel emotions in my body (joy, anger, pleasure, sadness)?
  • Where do I physically hold memories in my body?
  • What parts of my body feel like mine, and what parts don’t?
  • What parts of my body feel fluid? What parts feel frozen?
  • Where do I experience negativity the most? 
  • Where does stress originate in my body?
  • What parts of my body react to the thoughts I have?
  • Are parts of me malleable?

I wrote all of the answers down as they came to me and started to see patterns; I recognized what thoughts were physically impacting my body and brainstormed ways to redirect or harness those sensations if they were good or bad. I had ignored this part of living in a body for so long – I had learned to love my body, sure, but I hadn’t yet figured out how to exist in it and marry it to the rest of my self. I hadn’t learned the relationship my physical and mental self had, in that they are the same person. The process of doing so is happening, and it is deep and pleasurable and painful. 

Continuing on through my online course, I will cover more topics regarding embodiment, all of them working toward the ultimate goal of owning this body – the entirety of this body. I know I am far from alone in making these discoveries and learning more about myself, so I encourage you to spend some time asking yourself questions and respecting the answers that come naturally. Feel free to use some of the questions I listed above, or generate your own based on your interpretation of your own experiences. Try to leave your questions open-ended and write them agnostic of specific life events. The goal is for your questions to invite a myriad of answers to explore.

If you decide to embark on this journey of exploring disembodiment, please give yourself lots of grace. It is an intensely personal experience and requires patience and space free judgment. Creating that space for yourself could look like a lot of things. I began my practice by creating a list of self-soothing activities, sensations, and places that I could turn to if I became uncomfortable during my own exploration. I filled an entire page of my journal with soothing things I can access by myself to rest from this work. 

Additionally, if you decide to embark on this practice: keep a gorgeous set of pens nearby to record your revelations – there will be many.

The very best,
Hannah