EmBODYing the Work

January 16, 2014 4 Comments

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”

– James Joyce, The Dubliners

vision bodies

The above quote caught my attention in light of much thinking about and work around the importance of being more fully embodied in social change efforts. This year I have personally made some commitments to more intentionally acknowledge and care for my own body, including investing in a rather basic standing desk, and recommitting to a morning workout (this post on the lasting benefits of just a 20 minute exercise routine served as an extra-added push).  And I’ve been carrying this commitment directly into my work with clients, not just in terms of focusing on the importance of caring for themselves, but also grounding aspirations they have for their work.

My friend and mentor Carol Sanford has voiced her own distrust in traditional approaches to visioning in that they can quickly become rather abstract and anthropocentric.  I would add that in many circles they can tend to be highly intellectual, not grounded in a fuller experience of what is and could be.  Noting my own historical tendencies to fall into this trap, I’ve been actively working to break free.

During a recent session with a group of emerging leaders in a leadership development program, Carole Martin and I invited participants to not simply talk about vision, but to experience it.  In one segment committed to talking about power and empowerment, we facilitated a guided imagery exercise around disempowerment, asking that people conjure up a time when they felt disempowered and helpless, and to feel what they felt in their bodies. What happened next was rather striking – bodies slouched, heads in hands, arms folded, someone curled up on the floor.  People really felt it, and did not want to stay there.  This was no longer an intellectual discussion. We had tapped into and added what seemed to be an important empathic element to our conversations about power, equity, and inclusion.

In another exercise, using improv (and rifting on some of the great ideas in Jeannie Lindheim’s book Trusting the Moment), we invited people to direct a vision or fantasy that they have for their life, to articulate the exact scene and direct others to be players in that scene.  One participant shared his vision of learning to fly a helicopter.  What unfolded in front of us was incredible – we could see it, hear it, palpably feel his joy and excitement, and so could he.  Everyone in the room was smiling and boosted by the scene and continued to feel the surge of energy for some time.

These experiences have only served to bolster my commitment to bridge some of the distance that exists between social change agents and their bodies of and at work.  I aspire to continue prudently working with embodied memory, imagery, “imaging” and exploring ways to more deeply sense what is and could be. And I am curious to hear how others are doing so.


  • Jen Willsea says:

    Cool! I am definitely a proponent of visioning work ONLY if it is grounded somehow in what will actually be different in a felt sense as a result of our work and the work of others. Overly abstract and intellectual visions don’t serve us in my experience.

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Love the reminder that you often give. We are not “brains on a stick.” There’s power in getting people into their bodies around stuff that is also very heady.

  • Carole Martin says:

    Such power and possibility in bringing our bodies into envisioning how things could be, versus how they are, at any given moment – every day, I practice “standing tall” and opening my shoulders by throwing them back just a bit – I immediately feel an increased sense of possibility. It’s my morning step in recommitting to my work. Even as I type this, I am sitting taller!

    • Curtis Ogden says:

      Thanks, Carole, for both your comment and your collegiality in this work! You remind me of the mantra that I developed a few years ago, that includes the line “I am embodied.” As soon as I say it to myself I feel more grounded. For real!

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