Body Wisdom in Dialogue

[a review by Jerry Kurtyka]

Body Wisdom in Dialogue is a guide book for understanding the feelings that enable and sustain heartfelt discussions as collective conversations — an ancient art which has been continued within tribal cultures. It addresses how we surface ideas that are embodied below the level of our conscious knowing and then sort out the wheat from the chafe, primarily in a collective context. The authors state that such ideas are known through “body wisdom,” the repository of inner feelings that can speak to our mind in a conscious way (p. 32). For a collective, these ideas might relate to what are sometimes called “wicked problems” that resist analysis because there are so many entangled issues and unintended consequences which can potentially result from tackling the problem prematurely. On the other hand, SDD and body wisdom techniques are probably not the best approach to deal with emergencies that require immediate, expert action to avert further disaster (I am recalling the Fukishima nuclear disaster response last year, though SDD would likely be an excellent way to develop contingency plans for such an event).

One technique to elicit unconscious ideas is the use of a “trigger question.” Trigger questions play an important role to surface the unmanifested ideas from their embodied, unconscious state. The authors give the example of a new cohort of participants for an Indigenous leadership development program who are asked upon entering the program, “Where did you get your Medicine?” This type of existential question is designed to elicit self-disclosure and common group experiences, leading to more cohesion as the cohort evolves. One could imagine asking President Obama about his controversial healthcare program – “How will this be our healing?” – and then listening closely to his answer!

The authors cite the Greek myth of Psyche (mind) and Aphrodite to illustrate the dynamic tension between the unformed yet salient new idea and the current embodied wisdom and practice (Aphrodite), especially as these play out in an organizational context. New ideas exist initially like Psyche, nebulous and still emergent, unproven and undefined, but also pushing at us in some way to find expression. Aphrodite, then, is the current paradigm: its attractiveness; business model; culture; technology; known markets; profits and revenues; respectability (she is a goddess, after all). It is against and with Aphrodite that Psyche must prove herself, but first she has to know herself and to this end is given a set of trials.

So it is with salient ideas; we have to first know them before we can prove them to ourselves and others. This is where body wisdom comes in; it helps us to discern when we need to engage an important problem (p. 132). Not necessarily how to engage, which is more in the domain of our rational mental process and which can be assisted by SDD. Thus, the two domains of body/goddess and mind/reason find each other in a common purpose, as the authors describe.

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