The second chapter from my upcoming book – The Body and Leadership
The Body and Leadership Chapter 2 – Awareness, Acceptance and Intention
– You’ve got to be in to win it, you’re perfect…but what the hell do you want?
“Have an in-body experience” – Lynne Forest
How does your back feel right now? Unless you have back pain or it happens to be being kissed by an insistent lover as you try to read it is unlikely you were thinking about it until I mentioned it. Now that I have, what has changed? Awareness.
To embody what you would like and lead your life with purpose and direction you must be aware of what is happening. This is so obvious it bears repeating for a chapter. You can’t begin to change what you are not noticing, so awareness always comes first. Paradoxically before anything can be changed acceptance is also needed, and the intention to change comes before any action so this is vital to consider as well. Awareness, acceptance and intention go hand in hand. This is a book on how the body and mind relate and this chapter is about body awareness, acceptance and intention. Even seemingly mental phenomena are fully embodied as we shall see …
Let’s start with simple body-awareness. Discussion of consciousness, awareness and attention can get abstract and philosophical quite quickly, so let’s begin with an exercise.
Exercise: Feel Your Feet
How are your feet feeling? Be curious about how your feet feel (more accurately: how you feel in your feet). How do they really feel right now – not how they should feel and avoid just making a mental image of your feet – but notice how they really are right now.
Try moving your attention from one foot to the other – notice what that’s like. Now try other parts of your body, move your attention around like a creeping ivy or spreading glow – always staying present and curious. Can you dire
ct your attention or is it more often “grabbed”? Who is in charge of the attention? What is the quality of it? What happen to parts of the body when you apply attention? Be like an alien explorer in what is familiar and make it extraordinary again – simply by paying attention.
“Cognito, ego sum” – Some French bloke
“No awareness = no choice: Awareness = freedom” – some English bloke
Consciousness – that we are aware that we are aware, and our ability to self-direct attention, is perhaps the defining feature of human beings. It underpins any learning (if you’ve ever seen a class of kids day-dream and not pay attention you’ll know this) and any change efforts – we cannot improve anything without it. Given this it is therefore somewhat surprising that it is not trained and developed in most cases. Happily things are changing and “mindfulness” – deliberately directing and therefore training the attention – has started to catch-on in many areas. It is for example now regarded as a clinically proven approach for treating anxiety, depression and stress within the UK National Health Service, used by the US military, leading-edge schools and in many big businesses (I have taught it myself in the glass towers of the City of London a number of times and it is always well received).
Mindfulness and all thinking, however, is in fact embodied. Our bodies are always present when our minds are at work, although it is a great pity our minds are not always attentive to our bodies. I would claim that “I think, therefore I am” – one translation of Rene Descartes famous quote – has misled the Western world for hundreds of years in putting thinking first. Time for an embodied change. Most of this chapter is experiential and I urge you to try these exercises as the truth is in the tasting – philosophising about food or reading the menu in a restaurant is ultimately unsatisfying.
Exercises: Limb Crossing and Eye Contact
We all live under the impression that we choose to do what we do – if we don’t what’s the point of being conscious non-robots with freewill after all! Yet if we try and do something that goes against a habit the illusion that we are always choosing becomes apparent very quickly:
Start by crossing you arms the other way around from normal – if the left arm and right hand are normally on top swap this, or vice-versa. Notice how strange this feels. There is no physiological reason why one way is better and little adaptation in term so strength or flexibility needed in most cases, yet it feels …well weird. Now try going a day without crossing your arms the normal way around. You can add feet and legs to this too if you tend to cross these one way or another. Most people do not last more than an hour without reverting to habit. This “bureaucracy of habit” as Stuart Heller calls it, is an important process that will crop up again and again in this book – we get used to one way of doing things, develop a habit and changes becomes tricky without awareness to counter the entropy.
Another version of this is to try and spend a day without making eye contact – a word of warning you may want to tell those around you what you’re doing or it may be misinterpreted though! This is almost impossible in my (somewhat extroverted and social) experience.
Exercise: Body Scan
This is an exercise to build body awareness that can be done lying down or standing up. I have given it here sitting toe to top for ease, though some find the other way around or another order altogether works for them – that’s fine. It can be done as slowly or as quickly as you like, though if you are new to the exercise and wish to build body awareness spending some time slowing down and really feeling the body – start with ten minutes to do the scan and work up to 30. In a centring context (see chapter 3) it can be done much quicker but this is for getting yourself together quickly, and the longer version is for building the fundamental skill. It is easier with the eyes closed though more advanced and in some ways useful with the eyes open so you may want to switch to this after some practice.
Start by finding a comfortable position where you are upright and self-supporting (no leaning on anything) yet relaxed. First find your feet, if you cannot feel them wiggling your toes a little can help. Bring your awareness and a gentle yet focussed curiosity to them – really notice the sensations as they are present here and now. Notice what parts of your foot is touching the ground, how your weight is balanced, how your socks feel – as much as possible. Whatever you’re doing is fine, no need to make adjustment unless you are uncomfortable. Naturally with awareness people will feel the urge for more aligned structure and relaxed musculature and if this happens again fine, if not – fine too. If your mind drifts that’s OK, it’s human, just bring your attention back to your feet. Be careful that you are present to the sensations and not an imagining of what the feet should be like. Now move your attention to your legs noting the sensations, perhaps of your clothes or your legs touching the chair. Start with the lower legs and then slowly work your way up, taking note of all sides. Then bring your attention to your weight on the chair, your hips, buttocks and genitals. Again bring a sense of present moment curiosity to what is actually going on. Move your attention up your front and around your back. The back is often forgotten as we are forward facing animals so it is usually with spending some extra time here. Pay attention also to the sensations form within your body (these are particularly crucial for empathy and intuition as we shall see). Notice what is moving as you breathe. Lastly pay attentions to your head and face, including the eyes, lips, noise, etc and then the arms, noting what is happening on all sides working your way down to each finger individually. If you want to spend more time scanning you can do a slow or brief up and down (I sometimes think of my awareness as a photocopier light or Star Trek transporter scanning backwards and forth – use whatever works for you).
You can also check which areas of the body you are not feeling and spend some time there. Physical (and therefore emotional) numbing is very common especially through trauma but also just through a modern fast-paced externally focused lifestyle. If it takes a little while to feel anything that’s OK, just keep bringing the attention to the body with gentle perseverance and ask “if I did feel something what would it be?”. If emotions arise notice them in the body and if they start to feel overwhelming it’s OK to take a break. As you come out of the scan notice how your body feels as a whole and perhaps what has shifted from starting. Many people find they feel more relaxed and alive.
Exercise: Awareness Tennis
A fun little body awareness and attention exercise I like to play with is to move my attention around my body like a tennis ball bouncing from one place to another. I may switch feet left and right, or switch attention from the front to the back for example. Mostly I just mess around and make a game of it. Notice if your eyes move while doing this – the eyes are closely linked to attention.
Conscious Competence and The Johari Window
Two classic models that are worth considering in a chapter on awareness are the conscious and unconscious competence model first developed by Abraham Maslow and the Johari window (invented by Jo and Hari!).
Maslow model states that there are some things we don’t know we don’t know (unconscious incompetence). As you read this book and practice the exercises within some of these things may come to light and move into the area of conscious incompetence. It takes humility to do the former and it’s important you’re kind to yourself when the latter occurs. With practice any of the skills in this book can be developed though you will need to think about them to do them (conscious competence) and if you continual to practice they may even become automated, not requiring your attention (unconscious competence). This can be of the “flow” variety described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try and pronounce that unconsciously – aka Mike What’s-his-face) or simply slip back into habit. In order to develop a higher level of skill in any area it is then necessary to challenge yourself and pay attention again to things that have gone on “autopilot”. Many of the practices in this chapter fall into this category.
What is most pertinent in the Johari model is that others can be aware of aspects of ourselves that we cannot – in fact the body because we are habituated to it may be much easier for others to see (more on this in chapter 5). That is why while self-exploration is important in this book working with others is also crucial for building awareness. Hopefully too we will also wish to share more of what we become awareness creating an authentic public self aligned with our private self (see chapters 6 and 7).
There is a gentle ten-minute moving body-scan video available on the Integration Training Youtube channel for those who want something short and active. Practices like yoga, some dance, tai chi and other slower martial arts which bring awareness to posture and the sensations of active muscles are also excellent for body-awareness. Some people find these work better for them in fact as it is hard not to be body-aware in a class where set postures are required and muscles are aching! Other relatively gentle activities such as walking and gardening can also be used in this way, although discipline is required here and without stretched muscles or fine concentration on posture required of the art, the mind can drift.
Exercise: Shaking and Tapping
A support to just pay attention to the body is the use of shaking and tapping. This is part of the online moving body awareness practice. (The rest is harder to explain in a book but just involves circling the main joint s of the body).
From standing, make your hand into a fist with the thumb on top of the index finger and gently tap the body. Be careful of the boney and tender bits! The point is to awaken sensation and bring awareness to the areas being tapped not beat yourself up! I usually start by tapping one forearm, working my way up the arm, then tapping the shoulders and chest, (go very gently on the heart) then lower back, buttocks, and legs. You can use an open palm on areas where a fist feels too strong. I usually finish by rubbing the face and tapping “raindrops” fingertips on the head. This type of tapping is used in many oriental systems such as Japanese do-in massage.
You can also shake the body while imaging you are full of dry rice or beans. Visualise the beans (or whatever) moving into areas where there is less sensation and moving out of areas that are tight. This image is from a practice called Ideokenesis.
Exercise: Sitting Mindfulness of Breathing
This is a classic meditation form found in many traditions worldwide which can be used to train the “muscle of attention”. It would highly recommend it as a daily foundational practice, not only for stress relief but for building the capacity to notice, focusing concentration and developing an “observer self” – a part of you that can see what you’re doing rather than just being swept away in whatever is exciting.
Sitting upright yet relaxed is the best posture for it as this means you will stay awake but not be tense. You can sit either on the floor kneeling or cross-legged, or in a chair with your back away from the chair back so you are self-supporting. I like to sit in the “Burmese” or “tailor” manner with legs folded in front (but not crossed) with a rolled up towel supporting my coccyx. Any upright yet relaxed posture that works for you is fine.
The technique is simple yet often not easy at first. All you do is pay attention to the physical sensation of breathing – e.g. the stomach or chest moving, or cool air going in and out. I recommend picking a point like the tip of the nose or just below your navel and focus the concentration there. When your mind drifts (and it will if you’re human, meditation is not about having a totally blank mind) simply bring it firmly yet compassionately back to the breathing, as if you were picking up a small child that was running to far from a mother’s safety. You cannot stop thoughts, but you can choose not to follow them and keep returning to the sensations of breath in the body.
I recommend doing this for at least ten minutes (thirty ideally) so the stress hormones can settle. At first however this can be too much for many people’s comfort so you may want to start with 3-5 minutes and work up gradually. Like anything practice is key and I recommend 4+ days a week and incorporating it into a routine – I enjoy mornings and look at it as “mental hygiene” like having a shower very day. Evenings however work better for other people and as with all the practices in the book it’s what works of you that matters. If you are concerned about the time it takes I would note meditation saves time in that it is more restful than sleep and leads to increased clarity and therefore increased efficiency/ and fewer mistakes in whatever you’re doing. Seeking the guidance and support of a meditation group can also be helpful when starting, there is now one in most towns.
Exercise: Walking Meditation
Another classic kind of meditation is to pay attention to the body while walking. This is often done very slowly, but there are also faster versions in wisdom traditions such as various Buddhist schools with which it is normally associated (video). The important thing is that the attention is brought to the sensations of the body in movement in the present moment: weight transfer, the muscles, the quality of movement, etc.
Slow walking meditation can be done back and forwards in an office or hotel room and well as barefoot in nature. Fast walking forms can be added to daily life simply by paying attention as one moves. I will sometimes count steps and see how many I can get to without losing count as a way to stay focused and as a kind of mindfulness game.
Exercise: Massage and Self-Massage
Massage can be an excellent tool for body awareness, get some from a professional, ask your partner or just massage yourself in the bath. Take your time and as with all the exercises in this chapter keep coming back to your experience of the body. What do you notice?
For me washing is a daily body-awareness practice as much as a way of getting clean. Hell, if I’m going to do something 30,000 times in a life it might as well be interesting!
Exercise: Mini-Mindfulness Breaks – Everyday Attention
While formal sitting meditation and body-scans are certainly excellent for training awareness it is very difficult for some people (and challenging for most living a hectic modern lifestyle) so I also recommend mini-mindfulness breaks. This may just be taking a 1-3 min break sitting at your computer and paying attention to your breathing. I call these “non-cigarette breaks”. Mindfulness can also be bought to other everyday activities such as brushing your teeth, how you make a cup of tea (the Japanese have a whole ceremony around this), computer posture awareness, how you stand at a bus stop and how you eat (mindful eating tends to taste better and mean you eat less). Even taking 5 minutes to really enjoy a sandwich savouring the taste or smell a cup of coffee can bring you back to here and now and develop awareness.
The beauty is your are always doing something with a body so it doesn’t really matter what you pick as long as you practice and give it your full attention.
Exercises: Speeding up, Slowing Down and Getting Bored
Paying attention can be aided by one of two things – speeding up to the point where 100% concentration is needed and unconscious competence is pushed to its limits, or really slowing down so there is plenty of time to notice the “how” of any action. The former is what makes extreme sports and the like popular – this state of enforced mindfulness “clears the head” and is a wonderful (if addictive) stress reliever – see the narrative section on aikido. The latter is more common in traditional meditative disciplines such as Tai Chi and Buddhist walking mediation, is in many ways more challenging and also doesn’t stress the adrenals as much! Personality can be a factor in which route you go down to mindfulness, though I would encourage all to try the slow versions despite the challenge and not use personality as an excuse – this is just a habit too. As a very busy habitually fast person who would probably be put on Ritalin in today’s school system, I almost went bonkers when I started “slow mindfulness” and think I wouldn’t have been able to do it at all had I not done plenty of the other kind first and then built up from small amounts. Now I enjoy sitting meditation everyday and notice a huge difference in how effectively my brain works if I don’t.
To explore the faster side if you are not a fan of adrenaline sports you can try extreme vacuuming or washing up! Simply take a safe activity you do every day (not driving or something common sense would dictate against) and speed it up to its limit. See what you notice. The same can be done with slowing down. Take three minutes to wash one plate for example or turn making a coffee into a mini-mindfulness adventure. If you get bored that’s great! Keep being curious, notice what you do when you’re bored so you get interested in being bored! This “boredom threshold” is a passing barrier and not a sign to give up. Keep noticing, how you move and how your mind works – attention, intention and the verbal “monkey-mind” chatter that will inevitably result!
Repetition is also useful for mindfulness. Take a daily task and do it again and again, past your boredom threshold until you start noticing new things. Doing this will also almost always make you more efficient at whatever it is you’re doing (think of Daniela-san in Karate Kid being asked to needlessly paint fences and polish cars by Mr Miyagi – also about developing unconscious competence).
Exercise: Attention Narrowing
Pt.1: Try staring at an object across the room. Really narrow your attention to it so nothing else exists. Keeping staring and making your attention smaller and smaller. Notice what happens to your body and emotions after you’ve done this.
Pt.2: Next time you are in a clear emotional state whether it be anger or love – notice how narrow or wide your attention is. What is the connection between the “width” of your focus, emotions and the body?
Exercise: Video Taping Oneself
Use a camera to video yourself. If you can get a friend to do it when you’re not looking all the better. A simple phone camera will do, just film your daily life for a few minutes.
Now watch the footage back. Aghhh! It’s like hearing your won voice I know but stay with it. How do you move? What qualities describe your movement? What little unconscious “shadow gestures” do you do habitually – e.g. flicking hair or picking lint off clothes. If this person was a stranger what might you think of them?
Exercises: Mindful Speech and Silence
We are linguistic animals and while this book’s primary focus is on the body, speech is a related element that we can be mindful of – chapter ten will develop this.
For now, try this as an exercise: Go ten minutes, an hour or even day, only saying things deliberately and accurately. Again we may think we do this but check, would you really choose to add those “ums” “errs” and “know what I means” for example? Are you telling white lies, exaggerating or repeating yourself? Most of us do. What would it be like to only say things for a day which are necessary, kind, beautiful and true? Let me know if you manage it!
Silence is also a profound practice and an integral part of life for monks East and West looking to develop awareness. In silence the mind tends to slow its chatter (often after a period of struggle) which can make body-awareness much easier. Try going a few hours or days without talking, or even better not engaging written language too via text, e-mails, books, etc. Again you may want to tell people what you are doing or have a card handy with what you’re doing written on to explain!
Exercise: Mindfulness of Social Media
…This is one you won’t find in ancient Sanskrit texts.
Social media is the most popular use of the internet today and if you’re anything like me you may enjoy a little Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Youtube etc. Actually, who am I kidding, I’m a total social media addict so I’ve started some mindfulness practice around this. This involves asking the following questions when I post on Facebook or on a message board for example:
– What is my intention?
– Am I improving silence?
– What is my embodied state as I do this?
Body Hating in the Modern World
Many people in the modern world feel anger, embarrassment, shame or resentment in relation to their bodies. This body hating was first caused first by the orthodox religious traditions mentioned in chapter one and now the modern media assault. In other cultures it is considered pathological and bizarre which it is. Comparisons are indeed odious and we now have increasingly unrealistic male and female model’s bodies (see my video on this subject online) to compare ourselves too while also being increasingly exposed to unhealthy foods and lifestyles! This has led to an epidemic of guilt and other less useful feelings around even healthy bodies and once unheard of eating disorders amongst many young people are now common. Body hating makes much of the work in this book hard so acceptance the first step for many, irrespective of what body type you were born with and what has happened to it since. You’re fine.
Exercise: Embodied Total Acceptance
Take a moment to scan your body and senses. Notice what is happening. Start with the most obvious thing in your attention, particularly if it is something you are finding annoying like a ticking clock or ache in your neck. Now say to yourself “it’s OK”, “it’s all good” or a similar acceptance “mantra” in your own natural language. Even if you don’t believe it say it anyway. Also notice if your body contracts, twist or tenses in any way as a result. If you do, open and soften the area (e.g. the jaw or stomach) and say it again.
When you have moved from what is immediately noticeable let’s work with the body. First get a felt sense of your whole body and say your acceptance mantra again several times, use the first person – “I’m OK” (not “my body is OK”). Then start with areas of the body, beginning with an area you like, maybe your eyes, hand or foot. Look at it and feel it if at all possible, looking and feeling as if you were appreciating a fine piece of art, a magnificent scientific achievement or old dear friend – you are after all, all these things. Take your time and repeat it as many times as necessary for one area. When you really hear yourself say it it “lands” and the body may relax or open a little.
You can also stand in front of a mirror naked and say this, if you have a partner or trusted friend who can witness and reaffirm this all the better. I appreciate this may be seem strange and the benefits of accepting one’s body for leadership and intimacy are huge. It is hard to let another really see, let alone love, your embodied self if you cannot yourself. You’re OK.
Exercise:- Hello, Yes, Welcome
Set and alarm to go off a few times a day at random intervals – there are various smart-phone apps and RSI prevention computer interruption software which can do this and more methods for practice are discussed later in the book.
Whenever the alarm goes off simply say “hello” then “yes” then “welcome” to whatever sensation are in your body. You can do this internally if others are around and you are embarrassed. If the sensations are difficult or painful make it a warm hello, a big “yes” an enthusiastic “welcome”! Unpleasant sensation are like someone else’s annoying children which will only nag and misbehave more for attention if you don’t you don’t give them some positive regard.
Awareness of The Body’s Systems
Traditionally the body has been seen as a collection of more or different systems such as circulatory, nervous and digestive – these are often the chapters in a school biology text books for example. While this approach to the body is in some ways misleading as the systems are so interrelated as to not be separate at all, they are embedded in the Western mind and can be useful to work with. Try spending five to ten minutes bringing awareness and gratitude to one system at a time.
Exercise: Body System Awareness and Appreciation
Let’s start by bring our attention to the bones. Scan your body and notice where they are. If you can’t feel them directly but can where they press the skin. Visualise those you can’t feel directly based on what you know of anatomy. Pay particular attention to the spine and notice how your bones support you in whatever position you’re in. Notice the qualities of the bones – hardiness, strength, whatever comes to mind for you. Thank you bones for doing their job, without them we would be jelly fish!
Now feel your muscles – scan the body and imagine those you can’t feel directly as with the bones. Pay particular attention to the limbs. Again notice the qualities of muscle – action, power, aliveness – your ability to reach out, move and do things in the world. Thank your muscles for doing their job, without them we would be like lumps of rock. This scan is best done after a workout or a deep massage when you can feel a pleasant ache in the muscles.
Now notice your skin, scanning the whole body, remembering the back and sides and around all the little joints like the fingers and toes. Pay particular attention to your face and hands. Notice the qualities of the skin – how it both allows us to feel heat and cold, touch others and provides a protective boundary. Thank your skin, without it our guts would spill out on the floor and we couldn’t cuddle anyone! This scan is best done after being in the sun, after a bath or shower or after a massage when you can feel your skin in a pleasant way.
Cardiovascular, respiratory and immune
Put your hand on your chest, feel your heart pumping, keeping you alive day and night. Visualise the blood, bringing oxygen to your system and white blood cells in it fighting infection. Now move your attention to your breathing – the air going in your nose or mouth, your chest and belly moving bring your blood oxygen. As you breath out say a word (“yes” is good) and appreciate how it enables you to talk.This scan is best done after aerobic exercise or some kind of emotional excitement when you can feel your heart pumping and your breathing deeply.
Digestive and Excretory System
Notice and visualise your digestive system from mouth to bottom. Pay particular attention to the stomach and gut area (and breast if you are female). Note any intuitions you may have. Note also the various glands and endocrine systems of the body secreting useful substances we need. Note the qualities of these systems that bring you nourishment and excrete waste. Thank them. This scan is best done after a good meal or enjoyable bowl movement!
Sexual System – NB: if you have had abuse or are infertile go gently on this one.
Bring your attention to your sexual organs inside and out. Notice the qualities they have. Allow gratitude for how much pleasure they have and can give you. Perhaps you’ve used them to make children, perhaps you will, in any event they are part of you and your identity. You can guess when this one is best done 🙂
Lastly bring your attention to your eyes and brain. Notice the external world though sight, smell and hearing, then close your eyes and notice how these systems feel internally. Notice what qualities they have and your own thinking. Thank your nervous system for bringing you so much information and processing it so elegantly. Notice your awareness now reading this. You are alive!
Awareness, Intention and Leadership choice sign
One definition of leadership is that which we choose to do deliberately. When we lead our lives, rather than have them lead us, we are consciously choosing to do X not Y. While it may seem tempting to take the easy road and give this up stating “I had to”, “its my job” or “I have no choice”, there are always options. If you don’t believe me and think “there are just some things you have to do damn it!” read Viktor Frankl’s book on having choice in the Nazi death camps.
A good test for this can be time – next time you’re late ask – why did I make this choice? Why did I not leave more time for the traffic jam (or whatever) I knew could happen? What did I make a higher priority? This honesty is courageous and difficult as we give up the convenience of being a victim – blaming others and circumstance – when we take this stance and become truly accountable.
A life without awareness and intention might be one full of TV, MacDonald’s, shopping and being told what to do – essentially living someone else’s life and values (unless these happen to be yours in which case fine). If you are reading this book I am making the assumption that you want to choose how to lead your life rather than get the default. If you wish to lead others too this is certainly the foundation. I’ve found that taking this somewhat extreme stance on personal accountability is the single most important thing a person can do in becoming an effective leader – leadership increases with awareness and choice. I invite you to admit you are making choices and never make another excuse again in your life. It is of course however, your choice 🙂
Surrender and Balance
The balance to choice and intention is surrender. This is a more extreme way of talking about acceptance and equally important lest we become out of balance control-freaks! The ability to completely accept what is, is also paradoxically a leadership trait, underpinning any change efforts and skills such as empathy and intuition that we will examine later. Of course the balance and dance between agency and acceptance is where the art of leadership lives…and this of course is embodied…
Exercise: The Jedi Biro
This is an exercise from Paul Linden of Columbus Ohio, USA, used with permission.
Put a pen or pencil on the floor in front of you and stand up if you are sitting. Now this is no ordinary writing implement, it is a magic Jedi biro and whatever you write with it will come true. Money, sex, happiness for your loved ones, world peace – whatever you’d like, just by writing it! Start to want the biro, not just think about wanting it but really wanting it. Build the intention to go and get it very soon before anyone else does! You may find yourself looking at it, you may find yourself leaning in its direction or the weight coming to the front of your feet (about 1/10 people find the opposite interestingly if they have been taught not to go after what they want). Notice what happens to your body as a result focussed attention (the place of the biro) and intention (wanting to go and get it). Attention and intention are basic bodymind tools, yet most often we throw them around blindly like clowns in a food-fight, or let them be grabbed by the forces such as advertising around us, and in us (our desires). What would it be like to use them consciously?
Exercises: Lifting Your Arm
Have you ever seen a young child learning to walk for the first time, or a teenager whose body has grown quicker than their internal map of it? It’s tricky business pairing intention with the body at first! Of course we have had a lot of practice and now take something as complicated as walking – which takes the coordinated actions of dozens of muscles and perfect timing – for granted. We are unconsciously competent to refer back to the model presented earlier. It is useful however to unpair intention and movement so we can really study this and start to use it more consciously.
Start my raising an arm quickly and with a big movement – from by your side to right above your head. Do this several times. Now start to slow the movement down and make it smaller -just a little bit each time so that after around twenty lifts you are hardly lifting the arm at all and doing it as slowly as possible. Notice what you do with your mind. See if you can reduce the movement to just the intention to move. This normally causes micro movements and tension patterns which you can feel before the arm moves. Use curiosity to get more and more subtle.
You can also try lifting your arm while holding the intention not to lift it. This takes a certain amount of mental gymnastics and be very revealing. Many people feel as if the arm is heavy.
These exercises are best done after doing the mindfulness of breathing exercise or a similar “slowing down” activity so you can really notice what is going on. They come from various traditions.
A Person as a Set of Directions
I sat with one of my teachers Paul Linden on a wall by Brighton beach one day licking an ice-cream. As people walked by he pointed how how their bodies, and therefore personalities, were shaped by unconscious intentions. He’d look at someone then touch a point on me and draw a line away from that point in a direction saying, “this point to here”. We’d been working with intention so I could shape my body using this and normally after two or three I had been transformed into the person we were watching. It felt very strange to “inhabit” someone else’s body, different emotionally and new thoughts were available. In a way all our personalities are a set of embodied intentions…more on this in later chapters.
Exercise: Expansive “Force Field” Awareness
This is another exercise from Paul Linden, it is much easier if you’ve played with Jedi Biro a few times first.
Start by “wanting” directly in front of you, you can imagine a beam of light going out if the centre of your body far way. This is using “intentional projection” deliberately in the same way as it developed for the magic biro. Now balance this with one going backwards – this can be a little tricky at first as we are front-facing bipeds however with a little practice is easy enough. You can imagine (and intend) to reach our in different directions – I use an image of an ice-cream or piece of pizza to help with this – it us the same feeling that extends before you shake someone’s hand – and the feeling that is missing if they have a limp shake – extension feels good!
Now reach out with your intention to the left and right, you can put my arms ups and reach out physically before lowering them and keeping the feeling if this helps. Now “reach out” up and down, sending a “root” down and beam up through your spine and out the top of your head. Again imagining light or water shooting as if from a hose-pipe can help. Check you are doing all six directions and now imagine a bubble expanding equally in all sides like a force filed. Some may find it easier to do this straight off but many find using the six intentional directions or 3 lines (front-back, horizontal, vertical) helps first. Keeping opening and expanding. Notice the effect this spaciousness has on your body, mind and emotions.Exercise:
Wanting an Ice-Cream / The Unbendable Arm Party-Trick
This is an exercise from aikido sometimes called “energy arm” or unbendable arm” that demonstrates the power of intention in shaping the body.
Reach out in the direction you are looking and want something on the other side of the room. You can reach out for an ice-cream or other food you like – real or imagine – use a £50 note or image of picking a flower. (More on images in chapter ten). Reach out with your attention and intention and hold your arm in this position. Keep “reaching” with your mind!
Now have someone try and bend your arm, with one hand on the elbow and one on the wrist (for safety make sure you are not going against the joint but are trying to bend the arm in the direction the bicep would naturally bend it in). Most people find that of the intention is kept up, it can be difficult if not impossible to bend the arm even for a much stronger person. This makes neat party trick 🙂 Intention and attention make the body stronger.
What are some of the implications of this in your life?
Exercise: Walking with Intention
Try walking down the street wanting something to one side of you. Don’t try and get it just hold the “mental” intention to want it. Most people will waver off to that side and not walk in a straight line. Intention shapes our movement even when we try not to let it.
Now have someone hold your shoulders gently but firmly form behind. First imagine you are going to a dreary job on grey Monday morning and put your attention behind you as you try and walk forward. They will probably have no problem stopping you! Now imagine you are going somewhere you really want to go – perhaps a hot date or to pick up your winning lottery ticket – put your attention in front and “want” forwards. Notice the difference from the first time. Get feedback from your partner
A third version of this exercise is to have one or two people create a “gate” by holding one arm each out at chest (not breast or throat) height. You can then walk through this gate. Experiment with different attentions and intentions. Try making a statement as to something you want to do first and the walk. Change the statement and try again…more on this later…
Intention – The Wider Meaning
If attention is a point then intention is a line through space – a vector. Intention can also be more than a simple direction it can be a motivating force – the “why” behind any action. Dr Richard Strozzi-Heckler is fond of asking his students, “For the sake of what?” are they doing XY or Z. I’m a bit more causal and tend to ask myself “why am I bothering” lest I waste my energy and go of course? The intention with which we do any action is critical to our outcome – like putting in the co-ordinates into a GPS before we head off on a journey. This greatly improves put chances of getting to a desirable destination! It is also critical to the nature of the journey, if the intention of a walk is enjoyment it is a very different walk if the intention is exercise or to not be late for work. Again intention shapes the body.
It is easy to go through life without managing one intention and this is not what I’d call a leadership stance. Once, I was just about to have a heated conversation with a friend before a colleague asked me – “what are you trying to achieve in talking to her”. I realised that quite unconsciously – always a sign that not much leadership is happening – that my aim was to make myself right, belittle her and win some ego-points. When I noticed this with some horror I was able to change my intention and have a much more productive conversation.
Exercise: What Do I Want?
Try asking yourself this question before doing anything in a day. For each e-mail, call conversation, whatever, ask – what do I want here? If this is too much try a random reminder several times a day. What is your intention for what you are doing at the time.
You may want to build this into your day like having a screen saver that reminds you or doing it at the start of every work-meeting.
This Chapter’s Tools and the Bodymind
Let’s take a moment to review the tools we’ve been using in this chapter as they underpin the leadership skills we’ll be developing in the rest of this book. The main areas we’ve explored are:
(and we have introduced imagination which we will look at more in chapter ten)
These are all important elements of daily life – at work in an often confused and mixed-up way, and what we have done is clarify them so they can be used consciously as targeted tools. One could spend a lifetime just working with these and they are fundamental to almost any discipline. I recommend being rigorous about these distinctions for clarity. Consciousness is what holds all of these, and nobody has any idea what that is. Note that when people talk about “mind” it is really more than one thing, and we now have some clearer distinctions we can use with the body. “Bodymind” is perhaps a better term for what’s going on with a human being as the two are so interrelated as we are begging to see.
The Awareness Algorithm
– identify – exaggerate – contrast – notice
To conclude this chapter let’s look at a practical approach to building embodied awareness of issues affecting you.
• Notice where you are having challenges in life and listen to what you consistently get feedback upon
• Take the key issue and identify how it is embodied (through self observation – superior – do this first; and outside observation – often necessary when we have habituated).
• Exaggerate and contrast this pattern with its opposite noting transitions, the middle ground and specific pattern markers to make it obvious and its movement coming and going obvious
• Notice the pattern as it occurs habitually
NB: This algorithm is influenced by Wendy Palmer Sensei who states that “The body learns through exaggeration and contrast”.
For example: Let’s say people at work say I’m “a bit of a pushover”, not really standing my ground (note the language) and letting others take credit for my work, boss me around, etc. I notice that when I’m being dominated in a meeting I “collapse” my chest and roll my shoulder forward. I ask a colleague and she agrees noting I also look down and my arms go limp. On my own, I exaggerate this to really feel it and then try the opposite – tensing my arms, looking up, puffing put my chest, etc. I go back and forth a few times and feel both states and how they transition. I find a few “markers” – specific things I do with my body that let me know when I move into the collapsed state. I can now find a healthy middle ground between the habitual one and the other which seems arrogant and aggressive to me (note we could be working the other way around). I now have a clear embodied pattern that I am aware of and can watch out for. I may of course now want to use other algorithms later in this book to do something about the pattern I notice!
The Issue I’d like to test this on:
Embodied Pattern (use specific observations not evaluations/ opinions, and note spine/posture, face, arms and legs, breathing, etc)
Markers (e.g. “I take a sharp in-breath”, or “my chin goes up”)