Growing up, most of us kids took our body for granted. Cuts healed, broken bones mended, measles, mumps and flu peaked and then eventually moseyed on down the road. What few parents realized then, and probably fewer realize today, is how integral and critically important body-awareness is to both worldly and noetic wisdom. Learning to deeply attend to and be supported and validated in how we feel in our bodies becomes an essential component for not only finding meaning and purpose in our work and relationships, but for also being able to refuse work and relationships that don’t provide sufficient meaning and purpose.
Barry Schwartz, a long-time professor at Swarthmore College has recently written a book entitled Practical Wisdom (with Kenneth Sharpe). In a Google talk on The Choices That Matter, Schwartz outlines how kids who grow up body-wise will operate at very high levels of consciousness in future society.
First of all they will be “moral jazzmen” and “jazzwomen.” Meaning they will realize that there are exceptions to every social and personal rule and know instinctively how and when to improvise and break them for the greater good. Body-wise kids will be able to use the feelings in their bodies to choose among virtues or rules that show up in conflict in their daily lives. They will be easily able to navigate the gray waters running between the world’s black and white borders. They will also have a preponderance of mirror neurons allowing them to become Monster Empaths, easily able to take on the perspectives of others. They will instantly and instinctively know how falsifying a mortgage application or over-leveraging investments will play out personally and globally (Hint: Not good). And most importantly, they won’t need social approval to adamantly trust such instincts.
Free in the Middle
Unlike the people we currently have representing us in Congress, body-wise kids will be readily able to recognize the middle ground and have a toolbox full of creative ways to get there. They will deeply know the good and virtue in serving others rather than manipulating them for their own personal needs. They will form businesses and creative associations for the express purpose of serving. Their personal national anthem will be found in this short, compelling ironic video: What About Me?
Body-wise kids will know that wisdom requires more than a cap and gown and that the expression of wisdom is necessary to monitor and deploy every day. They will also know that when it’s up and running, wisdom will very likely become self-sustaining. Wisdom will no longer let us – as parents, teachers, healers and citizens – get away with simply doing tricky, clever, left brain things. They will come to intimately know the Great Heart required of wisdom.
Part of why wisdom needs to be embodied is because, together with the right brain, the body holds the security clearance that perpetually determines what information makes it up and into conscious awareness. In his seminal paper on PTSD and unconscious process, The Body Keeps the Score, Harvard psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk describes how every action of emotional significance that we take or that is perpetrated upon us, whether it be a circumcision before we have words to remember with, or unskillful actions done in a drunken stupor or blind rage, it all becomes stored somatically in the body and right brain. It’s for that reason, in part, that soldiers who kill the enemy have significantly higher incidents of post-traumatic stress than those who witness a comrade’s death. There’s no escaping the Santa Claus who knows if we’ve been bad or good – s/he lives eternally in our own neurophysiology.
FACE the Music
Finally, Dan Siegel, the acronym-loving UCLA neuro-psychiatrist, considers that body-wise children will be walking around with brains showing up with great FACES – brains that are Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and Stable. What we will find at the heart of such brains is COHERENCE – our children becoming Connected, Open, Harmonious, Engaged, Receptive, Emergent, Noetic, Compassionate and Empathic. For a delightful illustration of what that might look like directly, check out this interview with a one-year old!