My experience of working in a wide range of organisations has been that our bodies are both taken for granted and ‘disappeared’. Submitting ourselves to gruelling schedules we expect our body to cope without protest, and we learn to ignore physical signals of distress, exhaustion, or over-load.
It would seem that our bodies are not really welcome in organisations, except as the vehicles to carry our minds around. This tendency has only increased since the growth of ‘knowledge industries’ and the relative decline of manufacturing. On the shop floor at least we were aware of the significance of workers’ physical health. When we talk about “knowledge” in organisations we tend to mean “the stuff that we think”, propositions which we can capture in bullet points, on slides.
This is our positivist enlightenment inheritance. It has served us well. It liberated us from dark and oppressive superstition and brought about a never ending quest to understand, manipulate and ultimately rule our universe. Much of what we now take for granted in life is the result of this rationalist quest.
And yet, it has cast a shadow. We are gradually beginning to see the long term impact of acting as if we were masters of our universe, weavers of the web of life, rather than mere parts of it. And there are personal costs of ignoring physical symptoms and our gut feelings. If the oil lamp in the car flickers we attend to the underlying problem, if our body sends warning signals we deal with the symptom.
Einstein famously said that we can’t solve a problem from the same level of consciousness that created it. If we are going to address some of the pressing issues of our time we will need to expand our consciousness, and literally, reincorporate our bodies in our notion of ‘mind’.
Engaging with our bodily experience is harder than it might seem. Becoming aware of the information that’s there to be engaged with is a first hurdle. There is so much sensory data available in any moment that paying attention to it can be quite overwhelming. To act upon that information is altogether another matter again.
Paul gently brings us back to our senses. Drawing on a formidable range of traditions and a deep experience, he carefully guides us through a series of movements, whilst inviting us to notice what we feel and see, how we breathe, how stable we are balanced. We are all engaged in the task. It’s fun and it’s fascinating to discover the extent to which our bodies ‘betray’ our state, our mood, our doubts and our confidence. We (re)learn how changing our posture can change our state.
As a leader I found this work invaluable. I have learned to yield in the daily organizational storm, without losing my center or my balance. I am more conscious, more often, of what my body is trying to tell me, and at the same time I can ‘talk back’, rather than being flooded by my instinctive physical responses. As a result I have more ‘mental space’ to attend to colleagues and clients.
On the Ashridge MSc and Doctorate in Organizational Change we invite people to pay careful attention to their experience and the somatic responses because we consider it an essential discipline for any change agent. Paul adds to that discipline by enabling his clients to work with what their attention surfaces.
Kathleen King Programme Director Ashridge Masters and Doctorate in Organisational Change
(Kathleen is not related to Paul King, in case you are wondering.)