Once upon a time one of my dear friends quipped, “My body? It’s just a garage for my brain.” I chortled, recognizing my own perspective. Her name was Mary too.
This was several decades ago. Now, I know better. The body is not an empty structure in which to park anything. Nor is it anything to unconsciously push around as if it were an object, subject to my demands or anyone else’s. The Body is a living process that includes the brain and that is also intricately and utterly interconnected within itself and with the space around it.
Like my friend Mary C., many believe the brain and body are separate, with the latter submitting to the former. That is, until “it” gets ill or breaks in some way, while others believe that we are also separate from the environments in which we live. Although other cultures do not experience these false dichotomies, it appears common in European-based cultures. Even the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz had an inkling about the interconnections between the brain and body and the environment when he sang, “If I only had a brain, I could while away the hours, conferrin’ with the flowers, consultin’ with the rain.”
Our brains are an inexorable part of the body and as such are one element of a relational, interactive, and evolving process that includes whole body health and the environment in which it lives.
The Integrated Knowing of the Wisdom Body
You might be familiar with the idea that painful events or traumatic events can become unconsciously converted into physical symptoms, like depression being expressed as stomach pains. We can investigate such physical symptoms by paying attention to sensations inside the body, tracking the source of physical pain back to an emotional pain and begin the process of healing both. This process of tuning into what’s happening inside, also known as interoception, is one step to accessing the Wisdom Body.
However, the Wisdom Body includes more than interoception or tuning into body sensations. The Wisdom Body also includes being aware of vibrations, images, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions along with the meaning attached to any of these. In other words, the Wisdom Body includes all the phenomena arising in a moment-by-moment experience. When we are aware of multiple phenomena a clarity or knowing can emerge. This is what Russell Delman, founder of the Embodied Life School, calls integrated knowing that he named the Wisdom Body.
A close cousin to this experience of integrated knowing often occurs when we are relaxed and present. In my experience, however, a wiser and perhaps deeper wisdom arises when I become aware of what’s going on in my mind, body and the environment. This sometimes takes more time than the insights just coming from my mind. It entails me being aware of what’s going on inside the mind and inside the body, sensing what might be going on with others, and perceiving what’s going on in the space around us, i.e., in the environment or space in which we are interacting.
Grounded in Body, Loving Relationship with Self
To do this without interference of bias or projection, we need to be grounded in our bodies and connected to earth. Just like we ground electrical currents to protect our homes and everyone and everything in it from surges of electricity like lightning, we ground ourselves for a similar reason. We ground ourselves in our bodies to maintain clear channels of perception and protect ourselves from surges of emotion, particularly fear and anger, that can divert our awareness and obstruct other forms of perceiving and knowing.
In addition to grounding ourselves, we also need to be in a loving relationship with ourselves. This enables us to let go of the need for acceptance and approval that make it difficult to clearly perceive the mental, physical, and emotional information coming to us. This is key because our relationship with ourselves influences how we relate with others that in turn influences access to their Wisdom Body.
The kinder and more spacious my relationship with myself, the more able I am to linger in states of not knowing, to hang out with the fear that can accompany it. Fear that I won’t understand; that I won’t know what to say or do in a particular situation; or fear that an insight might mean I need to change. My experience is that the Wisdom Body operates at a slower pace than the brain or the mind does on its own. It takes more time for vibrations, images, thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions along with their meanings to integrate into a whole message or series of insights. With practice the process accelerates, becoming more available in less time.
Why the Wisdom Body?
The challenges we face are becoming more interwoven, interconnected, and colossal while our communities, organizations, nation states, and worlds are becoming even more divided and polarized. We need to bring greater wisdom to our interactions wherever we are, tackling whatever we are tackling, with whomever we are working. We can enlist the Wisdom Body as an ally in every circumstance to help us find new ways of connecting and collaborating, increasing the likelihood of finding courses of action to meet the challenges of our time.
Treating the body as an appendage or like Mary C., as a garage, doesn’t work very well. Disconnecting our minds from our bodies to avoid the experience of the unknown makes it more likely that we will be pulled or pushed into the swirl of fears, polarities, and conspiracy theories. Now is the time for us to learn how to fully experience ourselves as living processes including brains and bodies that are intricately and utterly interconnected within and with the space around us. If we can learn to stay with our experience before we shrink from it, vanquish it, or get lost in it, we can, with time and practice, develop a quality of knowing that positions us to make conscious choices about what to do or say in the circumstances at hand with grounded and integrated knowing.