By Nick Jankel

Professional Global Keynote Speaker, Transformation & Innovation Catalyst, Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, 6 x Dyslexic Author, 3 x TV Coach, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

Why Embodied Wisdom?

At its simplest, embodied wisdom is the ability to maintain a state of relating to ourselves, to others, and to the world that feels connected, curious, compassionate, and creative even amidst the intense challenges, changes, crises, complexities, and struggles of life.

As such, we see it as an elemental part of wise leadership, conscious leadership, and/or transformational leadership. For without it, we are constantly in our head, full of anxieties and worries; unmoored from purpose and the long view; and destabilized from grounded and reflective thought and metacognition.

Without embodied wisdom, we are almost certain to fall back—onto outdated protective patterns like anger, anxiety, fear, aloofness, control obsessions, and addiction—not forward under pressure. And what leaders do not feel under pressure constantly?

Without embodied wisdom, our efforts at leading innovation and high-performance team building are likely to fail.

What Is Embodied Wisdom?

Embodied wisdom is a feeling, sensation, and state of being more than yet another thought or idea. It is a lived experience of being able to live, love, and lead in relational and interdependent ways that seek to heal suffering wherever it arises (with our presence as leaders and colleagues), relieve pain (with breakthrough innovations,) and build connection, creativity, and collaboration between us our collaborators, team members, and nature itself.

That said, although embodied wisdom is an experience in how we sense, feel, see, and relate—and so it not easy to define in mere words—we can use words to build an argument as to why embodied wisdom is so important, and to define it. Yet we must always remember that it lives in body and heart, not in words.

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of.” Blaise Pascal, Theologian and Mathematician

Embodied Wisdom Generates Relational Wholeness From Self to System

Embodied wisdom shows up in our capacity to appropriately care for, tend to, and nurture relationships across what we see in Bio-Transformation Theory as six key “relational fields.”

Each relational field is constituted by the complex dynamics of how to relate to something/somebody in terms of physiology (nervous system), psychology (emotions, assumptions, beliefs), and sociology (myths, codes, cultures, systems) with ourselves, intimates, communities, systems, the planet/cosmos.

This is why developing embodied wisdom is the key to inner peace, a sense of life purpose, and a feeling of belonging. These key life qualities are all premised not on how much status or money we have but on how rich, nourishing, and rewarding our relationships are. Research has shown that it is our relationships that provide us with the greatest levels of happiness.

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.” Robert Waldinger, The Grant Study, Harvard University

However, embodied wisdom is also the great unlock to transforming our world into one that works for all because it has us focus not on productivity and profit but on recalibrating and repairing the broken, degenerating, hurting relationships within our teams, organizations, communities, and global economic system.

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It is only this tending to our relational health that can transform a global system that is currently focused on extractive, exploitative, and accumulative transactions into one that is genuinely regenerative, relational, sustainable, and just.

The Role Of Embodied Wisdom Within Everyday Leadership

When presented with changes, crises, and challenges in life, relationships, and leadership in the outside world, with high levels of embodied wisdom, we have the resources to first sense into (interoceptively), feel into (affectively/emotionally), and then make sense of (cognitively) around what is occurring in and around, us—before we form-make (behaviors).

Therefore, before we choose what to say or do next, we explore any ‘mismatches’ between the state of our external reality and the state of our inner reality, being aware that almost most pain, anxiety, and sense of failure is the result of mismatches between what occurs ‘out there’ and what is occurring ‘in here.’

We seek to feel into and make sense of the tears and ruptures in relational fields across the key connections between ourselves and others before we set about understanding how and when to best intervene as a leader (or lover, parent, etc.)

With deepened embodied wisdom, we have the insight, energy, and mindset to explore changing dynamics in our environment and how they relate to us and those we care about. This means sensing and making sense of changes in such things like: cultural codes, states of relationships, social structures, and the complex web of relationships, community, organizations, and economic systems we are embedded in.

Then we have the resources, inclination, and discernment to explore changing dynamics in our ‘invironment’, and how they relate to the situation around us. This means changes in such things like: heart rate and heart rate variability, shock and stress levels and hormones, cognitive biases and assumptions, psychological attention and fixations, memories and imaginations, interoceptive activation and valance, emotional granularity, triggered wounds, and even possibly epigenetic changes too.

We then intuit and imagine what to do next that is a win-win-win for us, others, and the world—always maintaining a holistic, integral, and nuanced view that seeks wholeness even as we analyze the parts. We stay grounded in our whole, expansive, and lovingly aware body and mind, focusing on the health of the system whilst never forgetting the pain and suffering within it.

Once we have brought a problem or challenge within our body-mind by ‘owning it’—without blame, shame, or narcissistic grandeur—we then turn back towards, and into, the outer world. We begin to ‘metabolize’ the problems and challenges we are presented with externally, from the inside out, into value-creating insights and ideas that can serve the whole.

8 Ways of Knowing/Being That Contribute To Embodied Wisdom

With embodied wisdom, we can stay centered, stable, and fluid around our psychological and physiological ‘midlines’—being able to return home to a calm mind and heart—whenever we feel we are being pulled away by the urgent cravings and aversions of pain and fear, reward and drama.

Put another way, embodied wisdom allows us to discern, parse, and synthesize what we call in Bio-Transformation Theory the 8 Is within us—and so make fitting choices about what to do next after engaging with each and finding coherence with the world and resonance with others.

The 8 Is are:

  • Instinct (survival and safety)
  • Information (analysis, data, and predictions)
  • Intelligence (conceptual genius and cognitive complexity)
  • Intervention (behaviors to improve and adapt)
  • Intuition (felt senses and connectivity)
  • Insight (empathic observation, compassion, and learning)
  • Imagination (creative possibilities and possible futures)
  • Invention (behaviors to innovate and regenerate)

The last three forms of knowing are very challenging to hear/receive if our bodies and minds are in states of fear, frustration, tension, and toxic stress; and if they are locked into psychological fixations like: rumination, cognitive biases, constant planning, and control fantasies and freakeries.

This is why we cannot be truly wise, in any embodied way, without constantly transforming, releasing, and healing trauma (see our trauma-informed leadership work), emotional pain, wounding, looping patterns, addictions, and outdated stories and beliefs that hold us back.

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Within all size dialled in, we can cultivate trusted and trusting relationships and enter states of coherent meaning-making, participatory decision-making, and co-creative flowing form-making that solves concrete problems in a way that fits the moment—and in inspired as much by the future as it is what worked in the past.

To develop embodied wisdom, we must choose to actively cultivate the resources within us that ensure our felt senses, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors are able to move fluidly across the 6 ways of knowing.

This means always finding our way back to being grounded in a stable, loving, loved, and whole center and constantly doing the inner work needed to find more freedom from the distortions, destabilizations, and defenses that arise when we have unacknowledged, unprocessed, and untransformed social pain, trauma, toxicity, tension/stress, and addictions.

Developing & Evolving Embodied Wisdom Within

Embodied wisdom can be consciously deepened, developed, and integrated over the years of our lives. It can’t be hacked, hurried, or harried—but it can be sped up to an optimal rate of conscious and harmonious growth.

We can intentionally keep ourselves at our ‘growing edge’ without destabilizing from too much pressure. We can choose to learn from every mishap and mismatch, every trigger and travail, every fail and breakdown—and embody that learning in our everyday states of bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts, and actions.

“Every single one of us, with the power of our minds, has the ability to adapt and to overcome, to grow and to expand, and to learn.” The Kybalion

Embodied wisdom includes learning how to:

  • Befriend on own nervous system and working out how to settle it, regulate it in times of tension and toxicity, and activate it when necessary to step up into action
  • Heal intergenerational, biographical, ancestral, and collective trauma
  • Resolve inner child conflicts, resistances, and self-sabotaging coping mechanisms and adaptive responses to acts of commission and omission
  • Transform emotional pain, fear memories, outdated assumptions, limiting narratives, and other areas of destabilization and fixation within our psyches
  • Understand different attachment styles and sense nuanced relational fields—and their root in past experiences of wounding through neglect and abuse—and how to shift relationships consciously so those within meet in a co-creative, dialogical  ‘middle’
  • Heal ruptures in our relationships with others, and how to shift the dynamics of our friendships, co-working/team relationships, and intimate partnerships so we do not replicate issues and schisms from our past
  • Hold strong yet semi-permeable boundaries that keep everyone safe, self-regulated, and stable and tend towards wholeness and health within the system
  • Contribute appropriately to groups and communities in ways that are reciprocal and relational
  • Find our way, and then stay in personal and collective ‘flow’ states, collaborative rhythms, and transformational teamwork moments
  • Lead enterprises and systems toward regenerative states by transforming the people within them
  • Relate to nature and all that larger than humankind (in some kind of existential, even spiritual, sense) in ways that are humble, interconnected, and co-creative

Embodied wisdom allows us to avoid being triggered by a sharp comment or mean act. It allows us to heal some, maybe most, of our own pain, suffering, and emotional wounding. It allows us to see every problem we face as an opportunity to become more free, whole, and strong as we transform the problem within.

Embodied Wisdom Is Coming Into Wholeness Through Reuniting Opposites Within

At root, embodied wisdom has us orient our lives, relationships, and leadership intentions towards fostering thriving, interdependent, intimate, tender, and reciprocal relationships with each other and nature. It has us work together with others on the tangible alleviation of suffering in our shared social and ecological systems in agile, adaptive, and fitting ways.

Embodied wisdom is about living harmoniously in the balance between our inner lives and outer realities—in the flow between being one and many. It comes from integrating our more feminine and masculine aspects within. Yin and yang are united in one path— the way of transformation—also called in Chinese philosophy, the Tao.

Embodied wisdom comes from mastering the vast spectrum of attitudes we can have at any moment to what is presented to us—from extreme protection and to extreme connection—and consciously integrating them together over time into one unified, united, and whole human being who feels unified, united, and whole with society and the planet.

The Taoists speak of someone who has united these two polarities within embodied wisdom as a : the complete, integral, or perfected human. They have purified their hearts of pain so love shines forth from them—a compassionate love emboldened by masculine prowess. They can bring heaven (caring, creativity, compassion) down to earth to resolve everyday life, love, and leadership challenges.

Wisdom is never violent: where wisdom reigns there is no conflict between thinking and feeling. Carl Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis

For Alison and I at Switch On Leadership, this marriage of the polar opposites of rational and relational—of order and chaos, control and creativity, essence and ego—shows up as a profound yet practical embodied wisdom that allows us to be, in every conversation and choice, purposeful, interdependent, reciprocal, and inherently loving humans.

Embodied wisdom is where our physiology, psychology, and wisdom—and science—reunite in our single body-mind, our single global economic system, and our single geopolitical planet.

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