What is Embodied Wisdom?
Why understanding and cultivating embodied wisdom is so crucial for our own happiness and wellbeing—as well as the great unlock for a regenerative future.
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.
Embodied wisdom is a feeling, sensation, and state of being more than a thought or idea. It is a lived experience of being able to live, love, and lead in inappropriately relational and interdependent ways that seek to heal pain and suffering wherever they arise; and help to build connection, creativity, and collaboration within and between us and the planet.
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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 is our capacity to appropriately care for, tend, and nurture relationships across five key relational fields. Each relational field is the way we relate in terms of physiology (nervous system), psychology (emotions, assumptions, beliefs), and sociology (myths, codes, cultures, systems) with: ourself, 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 our 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 our existing systems through healing and repairing the broken, degenerating, hurting relationships within them. 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 Life, Love & Leadership
When presented with changes, crises, and challenges in life, relationships, and leadership the outside world, we have the resources to first sense into (interoceptively), feel into (affectively/emotionally), and then make sense of (cognitively) what is occurring in and around, us—before we form-make (behaviors).
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 all pain, suffering, and failure—including seemingly intractable problems—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 between others before we set about understanding how and when to best intervene.
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.
6 Ways of Knowing That Contribute To Embodied Wisdom
We stay centered, stable, and fluid around our psychological and physiological ‘midlines’—being able to return to home within our hearts, 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 the 6 Is within us and so make fitting choices about what to do next. The 6 Is are:
- Instinct (survival and safety)
- Information (analysis, data, and predictions)
- Intelligence (conceptual genius and cognitive complexity)
- Intuition (compassion and connectivity)
- Insight (empathic observation and learning)
- Imagination (creative possibilities)
However, 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 an embodied way, without constantly transforming, releasing, and healing trauma, emotional pain, wounding, looping patterns, addictions, and outdated stories and beliefs that hold us back.
We can check out our intuitions, insights, and imaginative possibilities within 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 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 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 we 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, thought, and action.
“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 is relational wisdom that 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 towards regenerative states through transforming the people within them
- Relate to nature, and all that larger than humankind (in the 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 the Tao.
The Taoists speak of someone who has united these two polarities within embodied wisdom as a Zhenren: 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, 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 and psychology—and wisdom and science—reunite in our single body-mind; and our single geopolitical planet.
Transform your challenges and make change happen fast by working with Alison McAulay as your Embodied Executive Coach.
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