Transformation thru Embodied Knowing

Embodied knowing is tapping the wisdom of the body and the emotions to expand and inform the conscious mind’s awareness for insights and for decision making. Embodied knowing enlists creativity and intuition, and sometimes presents “ahas’ that can happen outside of conscious awareness. Using images, metaphors and emotionally-rich stories accelerates and sustains change. These strategies create a way of expressing what a person might not understand.  Through embodied knowing something that has been unknown becomes known. Novel insights can pop up into the mind to solve intractable problems.

Psychologists like Carl Roger, the father of humanistic psychology, propose that there is a creative force in the unconscious which can generates creative insight. The “aha” comes from not logical reasoning, but from a felt sense in the body that includes emotional markers. In my wise mind-body model (Archetypal Imagery, 2014), I propose four bodies: 1. mental; 2. emotional; 3. physical; and 4. spiritual.  The physical and emotional bodies know things hidden from the conscious mind. The conscious mind, the stream of thoughts rolling like the breaking news tape on the bottom of the screen on CNN, only has access to limited perceptions and awareness. The ego doing its job for stability, curtails awareness blocking insight from the creative force in the unconscious. Embodied knowing in the form of images, metaphors, body awareness and emotionally-rich stories soothes the ego to open the mind to wisdom.

My Fielding Graduate University colleagues and myself just completed a chapter in the book, Innovations in Leadership Coaching. If you are a coach or therapist check out the book on amazon, link below. Our ideas are in Chapter 9, Transformation Coaching: The Use of Metaphors, Archetypes and Life Story in Embodied Knowing.   Authors besides myself are: João Noronha, Consultancy and Coaching for Change at INSEAD; Lee Palmer, Palmer Leadership; andKristen Truman-Allen, PULP Leadership Coaching.  What follows are some adaptations of the four embodied knowing coaching methods that you might apply in your own life.

Anxiety transformed by the visualization of metaphors in the body: For example, you feel a lot of anxiety about a decision.  If asked to find the place in your body that you felt it, you might visualize a black hole in the chest.  If asked if you have any resources to overcome the anxiety you might visualize a water pump near the black hole in your chest. The pump can produce a stream of water that fills up the black hole.  Being filled with water, the image in the chest changes to an immense landscape of mountains and rivers.  The anxiety dissipates, your mind is clear ,you feel calm.  You might have insight of what to do about it or might be able to release the anxiety. (adapted from João Noronha’s section)

Work stress transformed by visualizing a word.  Another example might be when you are feeling overwhelmed by the pressure at work.  You want to find some resiliency in yourself to overcome anxiety and manage the stress of the job.   You realize that if you could adapt to the stress, you might relieve it. As a result, you ask yourself the question, “What image comes to mind when I think ‘adaptation’?”   In a journal you might write all the words that come to mind thinking about the word adaptation, and even make drawings, for example an image of trees shaped by the wind.  After that you might go outside and see the wind and watch trees.  This might prompt you to embody the word adaptation and realize you can be as flexible as the trees. The stress is relieved, and possibly you have some other insight about the situation. (adapted from Kristen Truman Allen’s section)

Frustration and disappointment transformed by an earlier life story. Further when you experience frustration and disappointment over a particular setback or rejection you might think about your life as a story.  You might recall other instances in your past which involved similar circumstances or feelings of defeat, almost as if it were seeing your life as a story, asking yourself questions, “What wisdom did I gain about rejection from a previous story?” Journaling, reflecting, sitting with these feeling adds insight.  Asking more question gives strategies for transforming your rejection. “How can I rewrite the story of rejection to strength? What could I do now for positive change to rewrite the story of rejection to one of resiliency?” (adapted from Lee Palmer’s section)

Inadequacy transformed by bringing the archetype of Gaia into your daily life. The final example for this blog might be when you might feel inadequate to do your job or help someone.  Sometimes with inadequacy come hopelessness.  To use this embodied knowing technique, think of an archetype that could be a salve for inadequacy. This might be an archetype that embodies confidence.  Maybe Gaia the Greek Goddess of Mother earth might come to mind. Think back to a specific situation when the inadequacy was the strongest. See it unfold like a move in your mind.   See sensory details of the situation, colors, sounds, checking who is in the image and what they are saying. Seeing perceptional details in an imagery prompts the brain to think that the event is actually happening and activates the emotional centers of the brain.  Find the feeling of inadequacy in your body, it might be a tight fist in the belly. Then Gaia comes into the imagery.  What might you do with her help, what insight do you have, what might you do or not do?  The knot in the stomach releases, insight comes, and confidence grows. (adapted from Annabelle Nelson’s section)

Through embodied knowing there is a shift, a transformation, and as this happens through images, body sense and story it can accelerate change.  The drag of the ego in the conscious mind trying to control inner world is relaxed. The shift happens in the realm of the unconscious creative force and the resultant change pops into the conscious mind for transformation.  Much of embodied knowing is getting a fix on emotional and bodily experiences so that the uncomfortable, the confusing, the negative can be transformed to clarity. New awareness can be embodied for problem solving, peace and calm.

The book with our new chapter!

Chapter 9: Transformation Coaching: The Use of Metaphors, Archetypes and Life Story in Embodied Knowing 




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