"At school we were taught mathematics, reading, and the geography of the world, but few of us were taught much about the geographical mapping of the home we live in—our bodies."
- Donna Farhi
Our culture often leads us to believe that the more head-centric knowledge we accumulate, the more progress we make and the more successful we become. But consider this: Although humans have used their heads to accumulate massive amounts of knowledge over tens of thousands of years, we have not, necessarily, become wiser or kinder or more honest or more peaceful. What has happened, especially in modern times, is that we have become more disembodied, relating to our bodies as objects that we wake up with, feed, and put to bed; or, in the words of dancer and educator Andrea Olsen: "We relate to our body as 'a machine' to be repaired when it breaks down… a resource to get us from here to there… and a commodity to help us get what we want...”
Some years back a colleague shared a true story with me about a Yanomami Indian who became sick and made his way to a health clinic in the rainforest of southern Venezuela. While this man was convalescing, a nurse gave him some art supplies and suggested that he make a picture. When she returned a short time later, she was astonished to see that the man had made an outline of his body and was slowly filling in the bones comprising his skeleton.
Throughout the remainder of the day, the nurse watched as the man colored in his organs and then his muscles. Only at the very end did he add skin and clothes to his self-portrait. If this nurse had not been there to witness, she would have only seen the final image of a brown-skinned man wearing shorts.
What I find most interesting about this story is that the native man seemed to experience his entire body, from the inside out. This contrasts with so-called civilized societies, where body awareness is focused mostly on outer, surface appearances.
How is it for you? What’s your relationship with your body? You could find out by surveying your body—from head to toe—with curiosity and tenderness… beholding your body’s exterior aspects while also attuning to your body’s depths… and, perhaps concluding by writing a love letter to your, one and only, precious body in your journal.
Serenity - Oil on Canvas - Jean Forsberg
On pages 125-126 of Awaken 101, there is a write-up of a powerful exercise, developed by Philip Shepherd, that provides access to the unique sensitivity housed within our body core. As a means of experiencing the full impact of this practice, you can allow Shepherd to guide you by clicking on the play button below.
Long before the first European ships reached the Americas, Polynesian sailors were traveling long distances across the Pacific without any navigational equipment except for their inborn body sensitivities. Yes, it was their body intelligence that attuned them to the rhythms and currents of the ocean’s waters!
Each of us also has the potential to cultivate body intelligence. For example, imagine yourself sitting in a canoe far out in the ocean, giving your complete attention to the subtle ocean swells moving beneath the hull of your canoe; and, then, in an AHA Moment, realizing that the water swells that you are sensing with your body are refraction patterns produced by islands beyond the horizon—and, as such, they could provide you with clues for how to navigate in the, seemingly, pathless ocean. As Philip Shepherd points out in his book, New Self New World:
Just as Polynesian sailors are attuned to the energy of the ocean, we [can] attune ourselves to the energy of the world. The world is not separate from us. We are so intimately bound to it that when I raise my hand, the world feels it. When I allow my breath to drop into my body, the world feels it. The world feels my beating heart… But for this feeling to occur we have to stop our habitual DOING… When this happens… the world around us is brought into sudden focus; but what is really coming into focus is our felt self of belonging to the world…
It is our relentless head chatter, emanating from the stronghold of the human skull, that holds us hostage from the living world. This stronghold is forever issuing advice on what to do and how to do it, and, in the process, silencing the call of the world... But the truth is that there is no true authority in the world; there is only companionship…We each have a choice: We can remain separate from the living world or we can harmonize with the world in gladness and companionship... deepening our connection to what is here, now…”
Hokulea II - Herb Kāneii
The point here is that our bodies are compasses and have a lot to teach us provided we pay attention. For example, your body has the capacity to teach you what brings you joy and fullness, as well as what causes you to feel empty and flat.
Shepherd reminds us that ‘your body has always been your teacher, in wait of a time when you might be its student. This happens when we realize that we can’t rely on our body to tell us what to do. Its job is to tell us only one thing: How you feel! And our job is to take time to listen.”
"The downside of living in your head… is that taking up residence between our ears can make us crazy... We become solitary souls, even if we do not live alone. Our skulls can become echo chambers, our notions of our lives and the world self-reinforcing. That can get scary."
- Richard Cohen
Stepping Stone 16 Guide
"I am a field instructor for Outward Bound—an International Program that organizes outdoor adventures. In this role, I seek to transform lives by cultivating perseverance, cooperation, and creative problem solving."
As your Guide, my hope is that our Community Space will become a friendly setting where we can learn from each other by sharing stories, questions and reflections relating to the Body Intelligence theme of this steppingstone. As a way to begin, consider sharing your perspectives and experiences relating to any of the following prompts that call to you:
i-Have you ever heard the formulation: “Human beings are just brains on a stick”? How might you interpret this and in what sense might you experience yourself as a brain on a stick?
ii-How would you describe your relationship with your body? Are you on friendly terms? If you are not sure, one way to find out would be to write a letter to your body. Begin with the salutation, Dear Body… and then, in the spirit of Truthspeaking, express what you appreciate about your body, as well as what might disapoint or frustrate you, regarding your body. Be sure to create space for regets and apologies as well for the expression of gratitude and wonder. Conclude by asking your body what it would like to say to you. When your letter feels complete, take a deep breath and slowly read it back to yourself, noting the thoughts and feelings that arise.
iii-As a way to explore the unique sensitivities housed within your body core, engage with Phillip Shepherd’s core intelligence practice (embedded in this steppingstone); and, then, consider sharing your experience with this practice.
iv-What comes up for you when you take in these words from Richard Cohen that appear at the end of this steppingstone: "The downside of living in your head… is that taking up residence between our ears can make us crazy... We become solitary souls, even if we do not live alone. Our skulls can become echo chambers, our notions of our lives and the world self-reinforcing. That can get scary."