Embodiment Intro, Exercises and Questions
What Does It Mean To Be
A Community of Embodiment?
“I spend most time wondering if I should be somewhere else. Instead, I’m learning to shape the words “thank you” with my first breath each morning. My last breath each night. So when the very last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be. ”
– Sarah Kay, Poet, from The Paradox
We spend so much time in disappointment. We worry we’re missing out. We long for something better. Focused on how imperfect or incomplete our current situation is, we hunger for elsewhere.
And if not embodied in disappointment, we at least try our best to live in that place called “on our way.” We tell ourselves that the current situation is only temporary; we’re really better than this and meant for something bigger. This current embodiment is only a stepping stone.
And, of course, any good psychologist, smart life coach, or savvy talk show host will tell us that, by doing this, we’re missing out on peace. Striving for that “perfect life,” we miss out on the solace of the present moment. It’s a good message to pay attention to.
But religion wants to push us a bit harder. It wants us to see how we are out of touch, not only with the present moment, but also gratitude itself. The way back into real embodiment, it says, is not just through the skill of attention but also Sarah Kay’s skill of “shaping the words ‘thank you’ with our first and last breath.”
And not just the skill of ‘thank you,’ but the skill of listening as well. Every religion worth its salt will tell you that the reason to pay attention to the present moment is so that we can better hear what life and our hearts are trying to tell us! Embodied living is not simply about being grateful for the unnoticed gifts in front of us; it’s also about noticing that every moment and every context –- no matter how imperfect, messed up and incomplete – is trying to talk to us! The reason we are called to sink into and care for our bodies is not just to relieve stress; it’s so that our body’s voice no longer gets drowned out by all the other noise. The reason we are called to allow nature to embody us is not simply so that we can feel our interconnectedness; it’s so that we can allow that interconnectedness to tell us its wisdom. The reason to stop trying so hard to change our current circumstances is not simply to “be here now;” it’s so that our current circumstances will finally be able to get a word in edgewise about where it thinks we should go!
And if we do this friends – if we shape our ‘thank you’s’ and take listening seriously – then that elusive gift of embodiment will be ours: that sacred sense of being exactly where we are supposed to be!
May this month’s work help all of us stumble back to and
better embody that wonderful space!
Our Spiritual Exercises
Right Where You’re Supposed To Be?
The packet introduction challenges us to lean into the spiritual practices of gratitude and deep listening. As it highlights, embodiment is not simply “being present”; it is also about engaging life with the sense that “this is right where I am supposed to be.” This exercise is about having that experience. Here are your instructions:
1. Pick a random day on the August calendar. Remember embodiment is not so much about setting aside special days to intentionally cultivate meaning as it is about using intention to notice that any and every day has significance. Picking your day at random honors that.
2. Begin that day by “offering thanks.” Do it in your own way. Even if you have to learn a new way to do it. Like the poet quoted in our introduction, we are all “learning to shape the words “thank you” with our first breath each morning.” Bottom line: find some way to begin the day by telling it and yourself that you are grateful it is about to begin.
3. Center on the words “This is right where I am supposed to be.” Before the day gets going, get yourself in the mind frame of this sentence. Meditate on it. Write it down and pin it up by your desk. Say it out loud to yourself throughout the day like a mantra. Do whatever it takes to ensure it shapes your attitude and perspective. Don’t hesitate to lean on Sarah Kay’s poem as one way of getting into the “right where I am supposed to be” mind frame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StE7b5mRWHk
4. Start listening. Like our introduction says, the whole point of paying attention is for us to “better hear what life and our hearts are trying to tell us.” So spend the day listening to what life and your heart are trying to tell you, ask you, and invite you to lean into.
5. End with thank you…and a thank you note. The poet talks about shaping ‘thank you” with both our first and last breath. See how that works for you. As a way of saying thank you, write a paragraph or two about why this particular day of yours was “exactly where you were supposed to be.”
Come to your group ready to share your note and your
The Question We Embody
“Hearing about [others’] first, big question got me wondering about my own. What is the question that I asked as a little girl and have never stopped asking? How has asking that question defined, even if unconsciously, the choices I’ve made, the things I’ve created, the legacy I will leave behind?” -Courtney Martin
Courtney Martin sees our lives as embodiments of our “first big questions.” This exercise asks us to take that proposition seriously. Instead of a complex set of steps, your instructions are simply:
Spend the month figuring out and articulating your “first big question” and identify one way it has shaped you and one way it is calling you to change or deepen.
So… What question have you been trying to embody your entire life? What question has embodied you whether you liked it or not? What is the question that you asked as a little kid and have never stopped asking?
Check out the rest of Martin’s essay for more inspiration:
Embody Your Privilege
The embodiment of (or lack of) privilege is arguably the defining characteristic of our relationships and our life’s trajectory. And yet most of us in this culture are taught to ignore privilege, even pretend that it doesn’t exist. The website Buzzfeed has created a powerful video and shared a challenging set of questions to help us get in touch with our privilege and its consequences. So, for this exercise:
- go to the Buzzfeed website:
- read the article
- watch the video, and then
- reflect on the questions that are shared.
- Find a way to participate in the experiment/questionnaire either by organizing a handful of your friends or imagining yourself doing it with a circle of your family, neighbors and co-workers.
- Come to your group ready to share what it means to begin to embody and be aware of your privilege.
A Love Letter To Your Body
Deep Breaths are like little love notes to your body. – Anon
In a vulnerable and insightful essay, https://abbeyofthearts.com/blog/2017/02/12/becoming-body-words-of-love-a-love-note-from-your-online-abbess/ Christine Valters Paintner asks, “How many of us treat our bodies with the lavish attention they deserve? What does it mean to treat our bodies like the temples they really are? What is the damage caused by the endless messages we receive each day about our bodies’ inadequacies? What if for one day we could put to rest the damaging stories we tell ourselves about how our bodies don’t measure up? What if we could bring our full presence to our bodies’ needs instead of endlessly ignoring them?…What if our bodies truly were an “inexhaustible source of sanctification” and we treated them as such?”
She goes on to challenge us to “write a love letter to your body, offering both gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words, offer it in food, in warmth, in touch… Instead of rushing from place to place until you crash into bed exhausted, allow holy pauses to breathe deeply, take a long bath as an act of offering, lavish yourself with oil. Prepare a nourishing meal for just yourself. Eat chocolate, but make sure it is the deepest, darkest, richest kind you can find and eat it with as much attention as you can summon. Make an appointment for a massage and receive some loving touch imagining that you are being anointed for blessing others.”
So there you have it. Paintner lays out this exercise plan and simple:
“Write a love letter to your body, offering both
gratitude and forgiveness. Instead of using words,
offer it in food, in warmth, in touch… “
If you find yourself struggling with what this might mean for you or if you want to go take this further, consider another simple blessing or love letter. Spend a morning or evening completing the following list of sentences:
- To my mind I say thanks. It has helped me hold on to memory, dream bigger dreams and correct the sometimes confusing and confused voices in my head. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my eyes I say thanks. They have helped me perceive life more widely and anew. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my ears I say thanks. They have helped be take in beauty, new ideas and the wisdom and pain of others. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my throat and voice I say thanks. It has enabled me to speak into existence the me that is truly me. It has helped me bravely speak out, offer soft words of comfort to others and sing myself back into joy. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my heart I say thanks. It has been broken, allowed itself to mend and was brave enough to trust again. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my body’s sensuality I say thanks. It has helped love and feel loved. It has allowed me to know intimacy and experience a self that extends beyond the limits of my own skin. I especially thank it for the time it…
- To my hands I say thanks. They have allowed me the gift of good work. They have held others and allowed me to hold on tight to those I needed most. They have also been brave enough to let go. I especially thank them for the time they…
- To my feet I say thanks. They have led me on adventures and helped me stand tall. They have allowed me to dance and feel every ounce of my joy. They have made me move forward when my heart wanted to run in fear. I especially thank them for the time they…
As always, don’t treat these questions like “homework” or a list that needs to be covered in its entirety. Instead, simply pick the one question that speaks to you most and let it lead you where you need to go. The goal of these questions is not to help you analyze what Embodiment means, but to figure out what being a part of a community of embodiment means for you and your daily living. So, which question is calling to you? Which one contains “your work”?
- Have you found a way to embody your deepest insight?
- What family legacy are you embodying and living out? Is that legacy a blessing or a burden?
- When was the last time you felt that “this is exactly where I am supposed to be!”?
- Have you found your place yet?
- Have you embodied and embraced your shadow side as well as your light? https://openheartedrebellion.com/2015/10/26/embodying-your-shadow-what-it-means-and-how-to-do-it/
- When was the last time you listened to your body? What is your body saying right now?
- When was the last time you “found God” through your body and senses?
- Do you embody(embrace) or deny your pain?
- Do you embody or deny your joy?
- Have you forgiven your body for letting you down? For betraying you?
- Have you thanked your body for all its carried and given you?
- Have you allowed yourself to become embodied in and swallowed up by stress? (http://www.radiolab.org/story/91580-stress/ )
- What new story is your body trying to tell?
- What might it look and feel like to embody silence and stillness?
- Has your embodiment of the role of soldier turned out the way others promised?
- Has your embodiment of the role of mother turned out the way you expected?
- Who is asking you to embody the role of “mother” for them right now?
- What embodiment are you longing to break out of?
- What’s your question? Your question may not be listed above. As always, if the above questions don’t include what life is asking from you, spend the month listening to your days to hear it.