AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE. The Art of Embodied Awareness. By Martin Aylward. A Book Review.

I found AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE a refreshing book to read. Readable, practical, insightful with a wise priority – to develop and realise an embodied freedom.

The book captures the style of teaching of Martin through consistent reference to the immediacy of experience while pointing to a freedom beyond the limits of the immediate experience. AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE communicates a depth of wisdom.

With this emphasis as the starting point, the book addresses unavoidable aspects of human life and the significance of a grounded, embodied approach to the happiness and suffering of daily life. He addresses pain, sexuality, states of mind, self-image, skin colour, identity, age, community, love and much more.

With an eight-page index at the back of the book, the reader can learn much from the themes with down-to-earth teachings and thoughtful reflections that Martin offers throughout the text.

I have known Martin for 30 years. We taught together annually for several years in the Royal Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya. This book, his first, includes a range of his personal experiences.  He writes in a frank and open-minded way.  Readers will appreciate these accounts as they can shed light on our own similar experience.

People connected with his Sangha, various teachers, including myself, will have learnt about aspects of Martin’s adventurous life. He includes conditioning in his upbringing, childhood asthma, challenges as a teenager, his overland journey to India, meeting teachers in India/Thailand, pilgrimages in France and more.

This wealth of embodied experience provides a support to the book.  As a meditator, Martin attended around nine annual retreats with me back-to-back 10 days retreats in the Royal Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya, India. Following these years, I invited him to teach with me there for as many years as well.

For example, in a personal story he shares in the book, Martin recalls a meeting with myself in the 1990s while sitting a retreat with me.

I met with small groups of eight meditators at a time in these retreats. In one group, Martin recalled in the book that he tried to “explain something about his practice and understanding.” He wrote that I responded witheringly: “Never mind your insight, what about your lack of it?”

Martin said he felt “devastated, hurt and misunderstood, ridiculed and rejected.” Hours later, he realised his reaction and turned it around into “respect and gratitude.”

I cannot recall this exchange, but it is certainly something that I would say. Practice includes learning, sometimes painfully, how to handle authority figures, like myself, who time to time make cutting remarks. My retreats do not offer a holiday from the world. Please note I try to reserve such a comment for a meditator who has the potential to handle it. Despite the initial anguish, Martin handled the comment remarkably well.

Martin’s book offers numerous reflections to provide readers with the tools to turn around a demanding situation and view it in a fresh light. Readers will find the application of key themes in the Buddha’s teachings – awareness, meditation, reflection, conditioning, love, community and wisdom.

The nine chapters reveal a comprehensive exploration of the human experience.  I would humbly suggest adding in a future edition a 10th chapter – AN EMBODIED DIET. What we eat, drink and inhale can contribute to our health, immune system and peace of mind or not.

Readers might get the impression in the book or from some endorsements that Martin makes the priority being grounded in the body. His afterword makes clear the priority of the book – “an authentic freeness of being.”  The chapters in the book give consistent reminders of an embodied freedom.

AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE offers a reading experience for us to embody.

AWAKE WHERE YOU ARE
The Art of Embodied Awareness
Martin Aylward
Published by Wisdom Publications, USA. 2021
French edition published 2019
ISBN 978-1-61429-722-2
$18.95. 219 Pages

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