No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it — thinking with the body
As we approach the close of 2020, there’s lots to reflect on (and more to come, with US elections looming) — given the twists and turns of global events, some of us may have been feeling tossed about on the seas of change, barely able to catch our breath before the next wave hits, or feeling oddly isolated in our separate backwaters, left to face ourselves and our own stuff, trying to stay connected to each other through our screens.
Yet in the midst of disorientation, there has also been for many a deeper calling into purpose, values, and meaning, as we consider that we may well be the first generation to experience climate impacts on a global scale, and the last generation to be able to do something about it. If we weren’t already awake to the need to radically alter our course, we are most certainly being shaken into new and profound understandings of how inter-dependent we really are, and the savage toll that our illusion of separation takes on our planet and on each other.
This awakening takes place, not only in the mind, but through the body. As a highly complex system, the body relies on hyper-collaboration both between the body’s own cells its biome of bacterial cells which outnumber it by a ratio of 10:1. Not only that, the body is in constant interaction with its physical, emotional, spiritual and social environments, carrying memories from the past, and even from previous generations. Whilst scientists have studied the workings of the brain, they still have no real understanding of how and where consciousness arises, although what is becoming clearer is that the body is integral to the mind, something that wisdom traditions have known all along.
The tragedy is that so much of society has been lured into a belief that only the rational hegemony of left-brained thinking has any value, shaped by power structures, education and cultural norms, to the point where something which should be as natural as sensing inwardly can be seen as weird, dangerous, uncomfortable. Yet the real ‘non-sense’ is the unfeeling, disconnected and abstract ‘no-ing’ that parades as real knowledge.
Returning to the body is therefore not only a way of integrating all our different ways of knowing in a way which is eco-systemic, both individual and collective, intuitive, and grounded ultimately in Nature’s own wisdom, it is exactly the form of intelligence needed right now. This inner journey takes us deep into the body’s knowing — and not just a head knowledge of what needs to be different in the world, but how individually and collectively we come to our senses, experience ourselves and each other as part of the fabric of Nature.
So how do we rebuild this connection? There is almost certainly not one single pathway, and just a brief venture into embodiment practices reveals a plethora of different practices, which though varying superficially in subtle ways can be based on entirely different relationships with the body. I’ll leave a more detailed analysis to another post, but broadly speaking there are approaches which essentially seek to act on the body via a set of beliefs, i.e. to train it to show up in a certain way, for a certain purpose (the ‘good’ self), and others which elevate the body’s own ways of knowing and holding or resolving tensions in its own way (the ‘whole’ self). And many in between.
The practice which I introduce (it is never really ‘taught’ as such, because it a form of remembering) is Focusing, and is in the latter camp of welcoming the whole and complex self (in whichever way it shows up, whether in conflicting parts, paradox, vagueness, awkwardness, high and low energy, grounded and ungroundedness) to reveal itself in presence. Just as when we are sat for too long in an uncomfortable position, when we bring awareness to that the body can readjust to a shape that feels better (animals are great at this, but humans seem to lose this ability with age), so when we bring presence to inwardly stuck parts, there is an accompanying shift, but unlike what the rational brain could have conjured, it is often surprising and elegant. A huge body of research supports Focusing’s efficacy, yet it was ‘discovered’ not through through a prescriptive view of how the body should be, but via experience and observation of how the body can bring healing to itself via new insights, new meanings, new possibilities. Since then, Focusing, developed by Eugene Gendlin, has informed numerous types of process work, including Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing, which has itself inspired practitioners such as Resmaa Menakem’s work on healing racialised trauma ( My Grandmother’s Hands), Social Presencing Theatre, and offshoots such as Focusing Oriented-Therapy, Bio-Spiritual Focusing, Whole Body Focusing.
Embedded in these practices is an allowing of the diversity within the body (whether the individual or the social body) to process trauma and stuckness when given the right conditions. Not by over-riding them, but allowing them to find their own ‘life forward movement’.
So returning to the tremendous challenges we are facing today, there is a real danger that we could approach them with the same level of thinking which created them. After all, it is a colonialising mindset which created both slavery and mono-cultures, and we can’t afford to simply replicate such madness in trying to solve the very problems this mindset has created. We see this in patterns such as investing in creating new plantation forests whilst cutting down ancient woodland in the name of capturing carbon, or in lionizing and giving cult status to white environmentalists rather than listening to the many indigenous groups and activists from the global South who have been engaged for decades.
There is a place for the body’s knowing in all of this, a place where we no longer privilege singular ways of knowing, but allow new meanings that might show a way forward for ourselves, our smaller systems, and even the world at large. A way that doesn’t automatically codify experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘left’, ‘woke’ or unwoke’, but that can sense freshly into each moment. A way of welcoming healing presence and creating space for fragile and traumatised parts, as well as breathing life into creative new life that may be just emerging. Too often we live out our meanings so far away from what the body actually knows. In the words of Hannah Arendt, the political philosopher of German-Jewish descent who spend her lifetime challenging the mindsets of totalising systems, ‘One must think with the body and the soul, or not at all.’
Want to know more? I am facilitating one more round of ‘Introduction to Focusing for Change Practitioners’ this year, which introduces the core principles and practices of Focusing, and with applications in:
· Inner process work — to develop use of self /self as instrument
· Self-supervision — sensing into our own and client fields
· Sensing the system — constellations, eco-systems
· Helping the system see itself — accessing embodied knowing in the system
· Parts integration work — learning with the shadow
There are 2 groups with a maximum size of just 6 participants:
Group 1: 17th and 24th November, 1st and 8th December 9.30–11.30am UK time
Group 2: 18th and 25th November, 2nd and 9th December 2.00–4.00pm UK time
For further details, see https://www.focusing.org.uk/event/introduction-to-focusing-for-change-practitioners-2
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.