I sometimes wonder why things seem to take longer to do than I expect. In our household, the “X” factor stands for the multiplication sign. We talk of a 2X or 3 X job, meaning the job took two times or three times as long as we anticipated when we planned for the task or project. Discovering an “X” factor in the middle of an important project can be pretty frustrating in our time stressed world.
Often there’s a computer involved, which makes me suspicious of the real ramifications of technology. What if the real effect of technology was to turn us back to our selves? That is, to bring us back into contact with who, and what, we really are. By this I mean, embodied, living, social beings. Contrary to the popular metaphor, man is not a machine. Recent work in the field of neuroscience is making this abundantly clear, and we risk losing essential aspects of what we value most about being human, compassion and empathy, by not attending to our real nature. Child psychiatrist, Bruce Perry and his co-author Maia Szalvitz (2010) make this point very clear in their new book, Born To love: Why empathy is essential and endangered. Clearly our technology isn’t going to make us more loving. Love is a form of reciprocal relationship that we can have only with another feeling being. That means a creature in a living body.
One of my favorite papers on the topic is still that of Tom Ziemke, Are Robots Embodied? He makes a compelling argument that machines will never experience emotion or life as we humans know it because they are not alive. Don and I were in the mall tonight at closing time. Two Apple employees, both men in their mid-twenties, were walking side-by-side towards us down the hall in companionable silence, their thumbs dancing on their iPhones and their faces turned away from each other. We know from studies of the brain how important gaze is for our development as empathic beings. What happens when the object of our attention takes our gaze away from the other embodied being we are with? Can you feel empathy through an iPhone?
Culturally we have favored the mind and the face over the rest of the body. We like to imagine that we can read a person’s thoughts and know what they are feeling from the expression on their face. Interestingly, recent research by de Gerder and her colleagues (de Gerder, 2009) have demonstrated that we read emotional states through body postures and gestures just as well as we read emotional states from faces. This disappearance of the living body from our awareness, and from our planning, has consequences. It’s easy to visualize building a city in our mind’s eye. It takes much longer for our bodies to create such a place. When we plan, we often get swept up in the speed and creativity of our mind, without taking a moment to ask what will be required of our bodies to actually create in real time and space what our minds are envisioning. This gap can cause a lot of problems.
One way to ensure that you allow your body the time and space to create in the world what your mind can envision is to stop before launching a project and take a moment to do the following simple exercise.
- Sit quietly. Let your breathing and your body settle. Notice what your “baseline” state is like when you are not being agitated by ideas. How do you breathe? What is the sensation in your belly? In your head? In your jaw and throat? What awareness do you have of your heart? When you feel relaxed and aware of your own experience of yourself, then go on to the next step.
- Call this vision of what you want to do back into your mind. Notice your body’s immediate response. Does it become tense or relax, are you enervated with excitement, or is there a moment of pause, of uncertainty on your body’s part. Then take some time to imagine the physical steps needed in as much detail as you can. How does your body-brain-being respond to these steps?
Sometimes you will discover that steps your mind quickly glossed over are in fact challenging or the way forward is unclear. Sometimes new opportunities or pathways to the same goal can now present themselves when the body-brain can inform the mind what is possible. As you factor in your bodily response to the vision your mind projects, you may find that your plans shift and change and take on a more grounded feeling. That’s a sign of good planning. Planning with the body in mind is a good way to reduce the “X” factor.
Our embodied self knows things that the mind doesn’t have direct access to – for instance the spatial-relational awareness of family patterns as represented in family or organizational constellations. These lived awarenesses, once we recover a connection to them, help us understand the true nature of our relationships that exists beyond mind and often beyond words. When we are in touch with our embodied wisdom, we can move in attunement with life, and things just flow easier.