“Wisdom of the Body: An Experiential Program of Healing” Part IV
FOR THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN SOUTH CAROLINA DIOCESAN CONVENTION
In November of 2017, Bill answered the call of his former Bishop and friend, Bishop Skip Adams to present at the Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Bishop Adams believed Bill could respond to the potential for healing in a time of pain and separation through the Wisdom of the Body that Bill had helped to initiate in his work in Syracuse NY. This picture of Wisdom in action is here to inspire your own relationship with Wisdom; perhaps something will quicken and connect to your personal inner work or to your work in the world. If so, it continues to serve, as it did in South Carolina.
Part I of this series, posted February 16, 2018 on the Northeast Wisdom website home page blog, Bill shares his foreword to this series. In Part II, posted February 21, 2018 on the Breaking Ground page on this website, Bill introduced the first part of his presentation: Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of Our Physical Bodies. In Part III Bill builds upon the innate Wisdom of the physical body, turning to the current situation, with the first dyad exercise of the presentation. There the practice was welcoming in the body the whole reality, from pain to growing edge to opening. Here in Part IV, Bill continues with the Wisdom of the Body as the Faithful.
Wisdom of the Body, I figured in my planning and preparation, has different dimensions and expressions. There is the individual physical body, which can bring a resonant Wisdom that the mental mind cannot. That’s the piece we had started with. But there is beyond that the Wisdom of the Body Faithful.
This Wisdom apprehends that we are not just isolated, separate bodies. We become persons when we are bodies in relation.
This is exquisitely expressed when we can uncover that place of authenticity where—beyond the masks, the roles, and the persona—we can be real with each other.
Another dimension or aspect reflecting the Wisdom of the Body concerns the Wisdom of the Body of the Gathered Faithful. Here we see ourselves beyond the smaller stories of ourselves and our individual identities. Here we can find ourselves as part of a larger story. But more than just the aggregate of a bunch of individual stories, the Wisdom of the Body of the Gathered Faithful has a deeper and qualitatively different identity.
Here we touch the reality that we are an integral part of something that is greater even than the sum of its parts.
But the ripples extend out even further. The Church is more than a human entity, even if it is more than the sum of its parts. It has its fullest identity in Jesus, the Wisdom Master. This, I will call, Wisdom of the Body and the Blood. The sacraments are the dynamic instantiations that connect us to the eternal dimension. The trajectory I would take would be to follow these ripples outward.
But I wanted to do more with these folks than declare these truths.
Remember, Wisdom understandings must be experienced in order to be known.
Without having already developed a relationship with them, my hope was that I would be able to lead them through a sequence of experiential exercises that could open these realities to them.
Having experienced these truths myself, I was confident that their apprehension would touch and begin to heal the pain and disillusionment they were in. The more challenging question would be whether I would be able to engage them deeply and energetically enough so that they would give themselves to these experiences.
My own preparation was specifically addressed to this question.
As you have seen from the text of my script so far, after I led them through in internal scan of their difficult feelings, I invited them to locate these feelings in their bodies. And specifically, I suggested that they touch them there with love and compassion instead of fear or self-pity. Undoubtedly, this a new experience for most of those present. But my sense was that, as I invited them to this internal work, they were truly engaged.
Then, from locating their difficult feelings in their bodies, I will be asking them to see if they can find verbal expression for them. This was in anticipation of the opportunity to share these intimate feelings with each other in dyads. Although having them seated in rows was a challenge to this process, they cooperated willingly and efficiently. They maneuvered themselves physically in order to address this task. The instructions stressed the importance of truth and authenticity in the sharing and the ministry of hospitality in the listening. As you will see, I try to make my instructions explicitly clear.
II. Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of the Body as the Faithful
One definition of the word “body” is: “to give material form to something abstract.” So, we, then, are the body of the faithful. We, in fact, embody the faith.
This doesn’t have anything to do with being perfect followers of Jesus. It is simply about setting an intention to put ourselves on the path he is on—the path to which he bids us. And although we all have our good moments and our bad, the path itself has claimed us, and we belong to it and we belong on it. We are, then, the body of the faithful.
And because we are the embodied faithful, we are growing into the capacity to manifest God’s love. We do this in many ways, but, among them, by being our authentic selves and by allowing others in our presence be their authentic selves. This is about dropping pretenses and being real with each other. When we can give-and-take in this way, God’s love becomes manifest. Through honest speaking and sensitive listening, we can touch each other heart-to-heart. And that is precisely what I’m going to invite you to do, right now.
In this process, I again ask you to hold any self-consciousness lightly. Obviously, this is not something we do every day. It is not easy work–especially in a formal gathering like this.
If part of being on the path of Jesus is growing into our authenticity and becoming more real with each other, what better place to practice this work?
So, without thinking too much about it, let’s organize ourselves in pairs. Probably it will be better not to pair up with someone you know. That will mean, then, seeking out someone other than the one sitting next to you. Can you take the risk of standing up and seeking out someone across the room? But, if you would feel much more comfortable speaking with some you already know, don’t worry—we are not going to enforce any formal rules here. So, in whatever way, let’s have a room full of dyads…
[Allow several minutes for this to happen.]
Great, now that we’ve gotten this far, I’d love to have you seated directly in front of one another and close enough together so that you can speak directly to each other in soft voices…
[Softly begin, “Numinous” by Hammock.]
Now please close your eyes. Remember what you were thinking about and sensing in your body just a few minutes ago. That’s right, I want you to go back to the difficult feelings you were experiencing just a little while ago. A few moments ago, you worked to locate them in your body. Now I want you to work to try to put them into words and verbal expression.
Now open your eyes, and, between you and your partner, determine who will share first… Then, in a couple of minutes I am going to ask you to speak softly to each other and, leaning in so that you can hear, I will want each of you to have a time to share what has been held deep within. This is not about complaining and not about self-pity. It is simply sharing your experience and the feelings that arose in response to that experience. In your turn of sharing, you are being called to witness to your deepest, most authentic self. This sharing is holy.
This will not be a conversation where you will go back and forth. This is a sharing by the one who is speaking first. So, in listening, the listener simply listens—listens without comment or interruption. This is not about solving a problem or explaining it away. It’s not a back and forth. It is simply about bearing witness through silent and attentive listening. Without using any words in response, the listeners simply, through their eyes and rapt attention, let the speakers know that they are being heard.
In this I encourage you also to listen not just with your ears and your mental mind, but receive what the speaker has to share with your body. Imagine yourself having enough porousness in your physical body to allow what is being shared into your own embodied being. This will help you ground yourself in your listening. This kind of listening is the holy gift of hospitality.
If there are emotions that accompany this sharing, either on the part of the one sharing or on the part of the one listening, just let them be there. There is nothing here to be fixed—all of this just needs to be witnessed. For speaker and listener—just keep grounded in your own body and your attention attuned.
You will each have about ten minutes, with a two-minute warning. I know that many of you will want more time, but, trust me, even this short duration will have its impact. Then after ten minutes, I will have you switch. The speaker will become the listener and the listener will become the speaker.
[Dyad Sharing for 22 minutes.]
[“Structures from Silence” by Steve Roach plays in the background.]
The participants are encouraged to listen not just with their ears, but with their whole bodies. Through this Wisdom of the Body work, the people are continuously being invited to utilize their bodies in new and creative ways. I don’t know how much this alternative way of knowing is engaged, but during the two ten-minute sessions of sharing, I could feel the energy in the room shift. I could sense real interactions taking place. This was the Wisdom of the Body Faithful.
In their honest engagement with one another, they were living into the reality of their identity of the Body Faithful.
The point they were experiencing was the importance of sharing these kinds of truths with each other in the deepening of community. I received some feedback after the session that many of the conversations were extremely powerful for the participants. Some told me that they disclosed personal information and feelings that they had not shared before.
I know most of you could have gone longer, but I want you to stop here.
[“Structures from Silence” by Steve Roach continues to play in the background.]
Now I want you all to again close your eyes. Without speaking out loud, just consider these questions and ponder them in your heart.
What was it like to be given the invitation to speak what was deep inside…? Check in with your body.
What were you sensing inside yourself in the experience, and what are you sensing inside yourself right now…?
What was it like to receive and to hold what was important for your partner…? Were you able to sense a particular part of your body that especially received what was shared…?
This is Wisdom of Body—an essential part of being the Body Faithful. Using the whole of ourselves to relate deeply and meaningfully to each other out of an embodied awareness… This is Wisdom of the Body.
You are invited to Part V of Wisdom of the Body: An Experiential Program of Healing, soon to follow on Breaking Ground. In Part V Bill looks at how to “seal” the Wisdom of the Body experience that emerges through the exercises, and after summarizing Wisdom of the Body and the Wisdom Body of the Faithful, goes on to explore Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of the Dying Body. Stay tuned!
posted April 17, 2018 by Bill Redfield
The Rev. William C. Redfield prepared this material for a presentation at The Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Saturday, November 11, 2017. You may read more about Bill on the Our Teachers page of this website.