Embodiment is a crucial way to live our lives in better understanding of the world and in relationship with others. Here are 5 ways embodiment helps us to listen more deeply.
“…If we meet, and if we listen, we reweave the world into wholeness. And holiness.”
Dialogue rooted in deeper wisdom offers greater potential for transformation and healing, and connection to the body is crucial in building relationship with this deeper knowing. The body connects us to the moment where a deeper, generative and vital Source resides. Without the richness of the present moment, we can communicate in ways that are reactive, defensive, or simply boring as we retell old stories or fear imagined futures.
When we connect to the body, we’re further resourced because we’re draw
ing on more than just what’s in our heads. The body anchors us in the moment and gives us a place to root our abstract ideas and feelings. When I breathe and pay attention to the moment, there’s a generative, living wisdom available that my speaking can rise from. Our words have the potential to birth beauty and renew old patterns of living. Language is a form of expression that comes from within and has the potential to connect us to each other. Our bodies can help us listen from a new foundation where our listening, and expressing, can rise from a deeper place. If we listen from our unattended anger, envy, or any other emotion, we are not as present as we could be. The wisdom within us is like a great purifier; when we turn to it with our emotions, it helps us move with them rather than stay stuck in them. It is paradoxical that when we turn to our bodies (form), we get closer to the wisdom of the intangible (formless).
This inner wisdom is an emptiness beyond our personal stories where new possibilities can rise. Recently, as I was working with an individual, we bowed and sat in stillness for some time. As we rose and made eye contact, tears streamed down her face. When I asked her what was happening inside of her she responded, “emptiness,” with a look of confusion on her face. The language of this woman was rooted in Catholicism, and she was very inspired by the gospel teachings. I retold the story of Jesus and the wineskin; that we must pour out the old wine, to let the new in. This ancient story helped her to honor her emptiness as a place of power and generativity.
As a culture, we devalue emptiness, filling up schedules and the space between us with noise, out of a fear of intimacy and stillness. St. John of the Cross calls this emptiness, or nothingness, where newness rises. (Girouard, 2001) It is the place where all things begin and end, and if we ignore it, we stand on shaky ground, especially in our conversations with each other.
Recently I led a ritual for a business woman who was beginning a two-month sabbatical from her work. She was intentionally creating space to know herself more deeply, listen to her heart, and follow the guidance that comes from within. As five women sat together, we honored the emptiness that open space gives rise to. Through the practice of sitting and walking meditation and poetry recitation, we turned up the volume on our bodies through breath and movement, and as we did, we came closer to the moment.
When we reside in our bodies and in the moment, the imagination can actually help rather than hinder us. In the same pre-sabbatical ritual, I laid out sticks of colored clay and invited each woman to create something from nothing. And as we did, the woman whom the ritual was honoring (though it honors all of us and our need to create space for the inner life) shared that she was going to keep the clay separate in her creation and not mix them together, so that someone after her could use it with ease. But when she looked over at another person’s creation, multi-color clay all jumbled together, she realized that she also has the freedom to be messy and creative; that she deserves that kind of joy too. It awakened her to another intention on this sabbatical journey, which was to get messy and play– to relax into the empty space and see what comes. She learned that insight and wisdom can come from a few sticks of clay on a plate, and from empty space many possibilities can arise.
When we respect the whole of anything, a person, a system, a conversation, something new can emerge. Dialogue can be a vessel for something new to be born. To be an effective facilitator of transformative learning, it’s essential to respect where all ideas– all actions, are born from. When we do, we align with an indescribable flow where newness emerges. We align with wholeness. When we think about all that we need to do in this broken world, the last thing that usually comes to mind is standing still and learning how to be in the moment. When we practice being present, we become better listeners. We can gather up the fragments of ourselves and allow that love, inner wisdom, or nada to fill in the spaces between. We then become a more whole vessel and the words we speak can come from a place of truth, rather than brokenness.
Learning how to be present is not a new teaching. We can call it learning how to receive, embody the feminine, the Eastern principle of yin, relaxing, being; all of those words cover this concept. When we relax into this web of interconnectedness, what do we experience? Intimacy. And how do we do with intimacy as a culture? Not so good, simply because many of us haven’t learned how to stay present with ourselves first before we come in contact with another. We have been so preoccupied with the other, rather than building the safe haven within that is required to lead an empowered life. Might we be afraid of getting lost in one another if we truly connect in our dialogue with each other?
In the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran’s poem on marriage, he speaks of this metaphorically, writing: “Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart. And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” (Gibran, 2002, p. 15) This poem speaks to respecting diversity, empowerment, and the Life that interconnects us all. We can be intimate with one another, we can have meaningful conversations, we just need to plant our roots down first. Just like the form of the tree, the form of our bodies allows us to be present in the moment and gives us the container to connect with our inner wisdom and recover our wholeness.
When we connect with this Love, we can stand next to each other, even talk to one another, without the fear of losing ourselves to each other. We can begin to learn and recognize that we are all different expressions of the same Source, with nothing to fear, only wholeness to gain. To me, this is the greatest gift a teacher, scholar, or thinker can offer: recalling that through individuation we become one, and there is no “other.”