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  • Francoise Gielen

The body knows

Updated: Jan 9

The unexpected antidote to feeling clueless

Have you ever come up against moments when life requires a response--and you feel clueless? We all have. And here is the good news: we all have the wisdom we need to respond to any situation. But it may be coming from a different place than what you envisaged it to be.

We have not met live for almost 2 years. And now we meet for our team off-site. The team asks me to facilitate their day. We have a jampacked agenda, so there is no time to lose. We need to catch up where we left it. So let’s get into it right away!

Dying to be doing

We love getting into it right away. The dopamine rush, that it creates makes us feel good. It provides the short-term reward, that we long for. Our body continuously sends us all kinds of signals that boost or tamper with our behavior. Getting things done activates the feeling of being successful. And don’t we all want more of that?

That is why the team reacts a little disturbed when I propose to start by slowing down. To take a step backwards. To change our perspective and check into what is happening within us right now.

I deliberately ignore the looks of slight bewilderment. “Just join me for a moment. The worst that can happen is that you have 7 minutes to day dream.” And I guide them into themselves. “Please sit comfortably, with your feet on the ground and straighten up your back. Bring back your attention from the connection with the people around you, from the space that surrounds you onto yourself. Become aware of how you are currently sitting here. Take a couple of deep conscious breaths. And, if that feels good for you, please close your eyes.” By the way, when you close your eyes, all visual impressions are blocked. That accounts for about 80% of your sensory perceptions. A valuable tool to focus your attention inwards.

At this point, I can hear some restless movement and when I take a peak, I see most team members have started to relax, except for Sanne. She looks me straight in the eyes. Her gaze darts from side to side. Her body wiggles a little, she laughs in a nervous giggle. It is clear that this is extremely uncomfortable for her.

Subsequently I ask all participants to check into their body. “What do you feel now? What wants your attention?” I invite them to become aware of their breathing and sense into what is happening under their skin. Aiming at what Eugene Gendlin coined as ‘felt sense’: that subtle physical sensation that lives somewhere between your conscious and subconscious mind.” Take a moment to become aware of the sensations in your body.” In the meanwhile I see Sanne relaxing as well.

After a couple of minutes I invite them to open their eyes again and ask: ”What needs our attention today?” Answers come up rapidly. There is a clear desire: before we dive into the content, we want to know how we are really doing. We reverse the agenda and start by deep-listening to each other.

Later, I ask for a short reaction to the presencing exercise we started the day with. A couple of participants share how they feel more present and awake. Sanne is silent at first, but when she speaks this is what she says:

“Incredible how much difference these couple of minutes made for me. I came into the room agitated and your ask to slow down triggered me big time. But when I allowed myself to surrender I was blown away by the myriad of feelings I had not been conscious of at all. This awareness made me relax and at the same time alert and fully present. It became crystal clear I have a strong desire to know how others feel, after this long period without having had the chance to really connect. This is what today’s focus needs to be.”

Slowing down to hear the whispers

Obviously, this is exactly why we started by slowing down and sensing into our feelings. Our feelings form the connection between our mind and our body. They are the interface between the physical and mental language, where boundaries disappear and where one can perceive what is actually true for the whole being.

By becoming aware of your body, you get access to an intellect that goes beyond the capacity of your brain. It opens a universe of wisdom that you tend to miss in your daily rhythm of doing, doing, doing. It’s like listening to the whispering (or screaming) voices from within to get a sense of what wants to emerge.

And interestingly enough, in contrast to what Sanne potentially thought, there is no need to believe this. The body reacts instantly, to the shutting out of external impressions, to the slowing down through the breath, by opening the gate to deeper ‘knowing’.

We all know these smart leaders, who have grown their impressive careers by making clever use of their intellect. The ‘smartest kids in the class’ come a long way in our culture, by merely using their body as a pedestal for their head. Many leaders are prone to ignore the signals of the body and rely solely on the smartness of their intellect to guide them.

The need for embodied leaders

However, in these challenging times, where change happens at an unprecedented pace and disruption seems to be the permanent status quo, we don’t need leaders who ‘know’ about leadership. As Pete Hamill so clearly points out in his book ‘Embodied leadership’: “We need leaders who embody the capacity to lead in the midst of ambiguity and complexity.” A solid bond between body and mind provide access to our ability to our deep-rooted creativity. And that is what it takes to be able to come up with answers to questions that leave you clueless.

On this off-site day it is crucial that we need to bring our attention to what really matters. To not just doing, but rather doing the things that make a difference. Slowing down at the start, helps us to connect to what lives in us. As an individual and as a collective as we share the images that have just popped up.

Practice leads to mastery

Of course, a few minutes at the start of the day, are enough to transform long standing patterns of behavior in the team. It takes practice to master new ways of doing. Our default wiring has taken years to become deeply engrained and tends to take over whenever possible. But practice fosters mastery and impressive results start with a small initiative.

When we focus on our body and connect with our inner stillness, our wisdom is revealed like a bright star. As embodied leaders, we recognize the intelligence of the nature that lives within and outside of us as a valuable source for liberation.

When we focus on our body and connect with our inner stillness, our wisdom is revealed like a bright star. As embodied leaders, we recognize the intelligence of the nature that lives within and outside of us as a valuable source for liberation.

That is why, within LOF, we consciously integrate the body in our approach to learning. In on the spot, small experiments that make us feel the effect of newly found insights. And in deliberate, continuous practice that leads to reshaping the ingrained pathways that condition our behaviour .

Liberation Of Facilitation' is a facilitator development programme that supports you to in your road to mastery, and to support leaders to do the same. Want to know more? Check out the programme here. 

Or contact Jeroentje van Joolingen via to explore further.


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