Bodyfulness

“I don’t think we can really feel for the collective if we can’t feel ourselves.” – Adrienne Maree Brown

In leadership and in life, the body is a source of knowing and action. Failing to include the body in our experience of leadership and of being a leader, makes for a disembodied leadership. It’s hard to be fully present when you’re disassociated, and it’s hard to connect to others and your life when you’re ‘here’ only from the neck up. As Jerry notes in this podcast conversation with dancer Sydnie L. Mosley, humane leadership is rooted in the fullness of being human. Yet, being ‘at home,’ fully alive, in our meatsuit can be a journey for many of us. No one gives us operating instructions for being human when we land here, and we’re left to figure it out from the environments that raised us. We can shift much of that patterning of responses and way of being in our body in the world by practicing something more inclusive than mindfulness–bodyfulness. 

Coming home to our body is no small task. To have a meatsuit means to feel ourselves feel things in ourselves and from the world around us, and act from that place of sensibility. 

How do we access the knowledge of being in this meatsuit, this body? How do we learn to tune into the various levels of awareness we have within ourselves about us and our surroundings? How do we learn about and harvest the information in our emotions? How do we regulate our nervous system so that we can take care of our side of the aisle before we show up for and with others? What traumas are held in our body that show up in our relationships, and what steps do we take towards healing them? How do we remain in connection with our body through big decisions, hard conversations, and moments when our amygdala is hijacked? How do we honor what’s true for us, what is a full-bodied ‘yes,’ in making commitments and defining boundaries of what is ok and what is not ok? How do we stay embodied with our colleagues, family, partner, co-founders, and investors? 

For those of us who learned early on to disassociate and leave our body, numb our feelings, or otherwise shut down our experience to be available for someone else’s emotions or distresses, we’ve likely been in a pattern of leaving ourselves behind, or keeping ourselves very small, for the sake of the others in the room. We may call ourselves empaths, and we may disassociate as soon as there’s stress or tension in the room or the conversation. Yet, a big part of our work is to stay with ourselves, embodied, while being with others. 

Children can disassociate early on in their development unwittingly to be safe and to belong. When stress shows up, needs aren’t met, or a child has an emotional caregiver with their own set of needs, the child will leave their body and make room for the larger emotions in the room. If we were one of those kids, we may find ourselves feeling other’s feelings, and then feeling lost ourselves. We are out of our bodies in the sense that we’ve left the fullness of our experience behind. We may have used a variety of strategies to maintain a sense of connection to others that show up in our adult lives as codependency, people-pleasing, fixing others, or being overrational. 

Being a fully integrated human involves a commitment to embodiment in order to heal the fragmented parts of our subconscious and arrive at a place of wholeness. Not only do we need to integrate what’s been fragmented in our psyches, but we need to feel at home in our bodies, which can be a scary place for many of us due to traumas of all shapes and sizes and cultural conditioning, such as body-shaming messages. 

So, how can we learn to come home to ourselves? How can we learn to listen without leaving our bodies and filling up our space with other’s emotions? How can we come home to our meatsuit and all of its aliveness?  How can we feel our weight in our chair, and feel our feet on the earth even when life feels groundless? How can we learn to trust our body not only as our ally but as the fullness of our incarnation? Living from the neck up is hardly living. 

Dr. Sharon Blackie writes of bodyfulness in her book, The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of Everyday. “We have developed a tendency to think of the body primarily as a housing for the mind – for our ‘consciousness,’ or our ‘self’ – and an inconvenient one, because it can’t always be relied upon to know what is ‘true,’ and it has an irritatingly tendency to break,” she writes. “We wall our body off from our conscious experience, ignoring it and often neglecting it – until the time comes when we are uncomfortable, or begin to actively hurt. It’s true that physical existence is a precarious thing, fleeting, and often filled with pain.” 

(Or, as Soul #22 notes in Disney’s animation SOUL: “You can’t crush a soul here. That’s what life on earth is for.”)

The way we’re wired to survive as young humans (and even adult-sized ones), we protect ourselves from the vulnerabilities of life. It’s how we’ve made it this far, and it’s part of our resilient ways. But those old ways that helped us feel safety and belonging, and maintain a connection to a love we thought was love, might really be shields keeping us from living in deeper connection with our deepest selves and the world around us. 

Dr. Blackie continues: 

“…belonging begins in the body, and if we cannot be enchanted with the miracle of our own physical existence, how can we ever hope to become enchanted with the wider world, and our place in it? If we shut ourselves off from the vicissitudes of bodied existence, and hold the world at a safe distance, we seal ourselves away from it’s joy and wonder. From the pleasure of contact with human and animal, the softness of mist on early morning skin. From the cold shock of a briny sea, and the scent of bluebell slipping in through our nose and on down into our lungs.”

She asks: “How then can we learn to fully inhabit our bodies, and to listen to the wisdom which our bodies carry? How do we cultivate the practice of what I would much rather call ‘bodyfulness’ than ‘mindfulness’?” 

Being at home in bodies opens us to a wisdom and way of knowing that reaches into the other 93% of how we know the world, outside of language. Being at home in our bodies is belonging to ourselves, fully, which means owning all of it (all the feels, all the pains, all the sensations). One of the ways Sydnie Mosley, founder of SLM Dances Company, connects us back together to ourselves and our work in the world is through embodiment. She’s keenly aware of the body politic and the power of being an embodied human working and leading in our lives and communities. I, too, have found the potency of dance to bring me back together in times when I’ve been particularly mind-bottled.

A handful of years ago, I found myself at a collaborative dance performance experience called ‘you+me’ created by the interdisciplinary genius and dancer Tara Rynders. One of the experiences on my itinerary for the evening was what I would call ‘dancing of a life situation that was weighing heavily on me.’ I sat in a canoe up on the grassy shore of Denver’s Sloan Lake across from a complete stranger–dancer Jadd Tank–discussing what was up for me. Before I knew it, we were standing in the grass breaking that story down and finding the movement to the feelings. Three quick feeling-movements flowed themselves together into a larger movement sequence, or, well, a dance

I walked away feeling much better, and I had a dance to move to when I needed to un-mind-bottle myself and find my core again.. What I experienced was surprisingly wise, fun (once I got past my shyness), and profound. If I remember correctly, it went a little like this: 

  1. Think of a big happening in your life that brings up feels, or has you caught in all the feels, triggering or otherwise. 
  2. Reflect on these three points: a.) What does the situation feel like? b.) What would you like to happen? c.) How would that feel? 
  3. Then, for each one of those questions a-b-c, put a movement to it that represents (according to you and you alone) what each letter feels like, or would feel like, or what the motion of events would feel like. You will have three movements, one for each letter, when you’re done. Move from the feeling and let your body speak.
  4. Now, string those three movements together into a sequence and move through them as if it’s one movement sentence. Move through this a few times until it’s fluid motion.
  5. How do you feel now, in yourself? How does your body feel in relation to the situation? What else did you discover?

The exercise above is a move you can bring with you and bust out when you need to come back home to your body’s wisdom or access a wider range of knowing within you. And, there are many other ways and practices to connect yourself into wholeness from sweeping movements like dance or yoga, to the closer movements such as paying attention to your breath or finding stillness in nature. Once you find yourself, you come home to wonder (and joy). It’s there, while the world is there waiting for you, you are open to being in communion with the world. We can’t get there with our minds alone.

Potter M.C. Richards tells us in her book Centering, “…wisdom is not the product of mental effort. Wisdom is a state of total being, in which capacities for knowledge and for love, for survival and for death, for imagination, inspiration, intuition, for all the fabulous functioning of this human being that we are, come into a center with their forces, come into an experience of meaning that can voice itself as wise action.” 

Wise action sounds like a fine leadership quality to me.