On language and embodiment: choosing the words we feel.

When I wrote my end of year message this time last year, I could never have anticipated where we would be today. I wonder, what words might I have to describe the year that unfolded so dramatically differently to anything we could have anticipated? I am sure that we can all think of a few choice ones…

But words are so much more than descriptive. Words carry with them a swirling cloud of associations, implications, colours and textures that play in our brains and show up in our bodies. The magic of words that make us feel something in our bodies, the integrated experience of embodiment, has always been a feature of JEMS®, yet somehow this difficult period has created an even greater opportunity to invite people to explore this relationship. In doing so, they have found new ways to experience themselves in movement and in stillness.

One of the words we hear a lot about is resilience. Once the ongoing nature of the pandemic became apparent, resilience became the buzz word. Towards the end of the first lockdown here, I ran an online workshop with a group of dancers, a diverse group from different countries, and asked them how and where the word resilience showed up in their bodies. We purposefully did not define the word together beforehand, but simply allowed each dancer to discover their unfiltered responses.  All but one reported a sense of central stiffening, a feeling of bracing to withstand the adversity they faced, and a protective tightening against a threatening uncertainty.  The word felt exhausting, like a marathon to endure. The dictionary definition of resilience mentions the ability to respond or recover from a crisis, and perhaps therein lies the problem – to recover implies an ending to an event, where there has been none in sight.

I then asked them how the word adaptability landed in their bodies. The response was very different. The feeling was of softening and the potential for motion. Of possibility. There was a location shift in where it was perceived in the body. Changing a word altered the sensed experience in the body, its tension and its movement availability.

In reality, we must transition between resilience and adaptability, each one following the other around an imaginary infinity sign. Sometimes we must withstand, but it is hard to maintain indefinitely. Eventually, we might make another choice, and find a softening that allows for us to adapt to our circumstances. Just as the body tissues need time to adapt, so do our minds and emotions. So we adapt a little (or a lot), and then we glide for a while using our resilience to carry the momentum. Then, as if using our foot to kick a scooter along a little again, we again engage our adaptability, renegotiate what seemed immutable, find the wriggle room that we didn’t think we had, change something that maybe we thought we had nailed down for the long haul. As this pandemic made its true nature known, I found myself musing on the significance of resilience and adaptability as words that became embodied.

Let’s pause for a moment. Have you ever noticed how a word can affect how you feel?  Consider each of these words, resilience and adaptability, one at a time. Where does each one show up in your body? How do they feel when compared to each other? There is no right or wrong answer. They could be the exact opposite to what the dancers felt, because they were responding at that moment in time, in that context. You may have completely different associations. That is as it should be –  it is your unique felt experience, to provide your own individual insight.

Resilience and adaptability are good words, but they are not enough to support a life and mind, as they are tethered to survival, our most basic driver. We must have more to nourish us if we are to find a way to transcend this most rudimentary level and regain a sense of equilibrium, inspiration or reconnection with a sense of self. As I sat under the aged oak that has become my friend and mentor over these past months, I wanted to uncover the words that would reach the distant centre of me, to remind me of who I am when I am my best self. Two words that floated up and then dissolved into that space: patience, and kindness.

Patience and kindness with myself, patience and kindness with those around me. I wanted shiny yellow joy, or pastel green compassion, but they just didn’t fit at that moment in time, jangling around inside me like teenagers with too much makeup and no sense of authenticity. Instead, came dark blue patience, for remedying the sudden rush of short fused frustration that erupts when my personal resources are stretched too thinly. It seems that at present, I need patience in certain situations if I am to access my compassion and perspective.

Then came kindness, an old word, from the 13th century no less, offering the very simplest, modest path for relating to those around me.  Timeless kindness, unpretentious and humble, resonated like an ancient iron bell inside me in a way that made me feel calmer and somehow pinker inside.

At this moment, I need uncomplicated, stripped back, direct measures to orientate myself in my life right now. Although I can’t always achieve them in action as consistently as I’d like, reflecting upon the words kindness and patience nevertheless stabilises my centre. They engender a feeling in my body that makes resilience seem a little easier, and adaptability more inviting. They help me to feel a little bit more me.

This is embodiment – to integrate mind and body through the feelings that are communicated between each. To allow the mind to roam and search, and the body to confirm, or to offer its own suggestions for the mind to consider.

So, for the new year, what words shall we choose to carry us forward on their wings, from the turmoil of 2020 into the unknown territory of 2021? Experiment a little, letting some land in your body, noticing where they settle. Do some fill you up, and others create space? Do some make things feel easier and more flexible, or heavier and tighter? What words will you offer to your body to make things feel a little easier?

This is not mind over matter, and is far from the self help mantras and affirmations that we try to convince ourselves with. This is just your body’s honest feedback on what is working or not working for you right now. This week, I shall thrust my arms through the sleeves of some new words and see what lands. I like the fact that I don’t know what they will be.  I’ll let my body do the talking.

Tinselly glittering or glowing softly, which words will you choose to nurture and sustain you?

In kindness, and with gratitude to you all for your support, enthusiasm, humility and passion, Best wishes for the coming year. x Joanne




« « Let your body be your playground | New JEMS® Online Mentored Learning Programme » »