Celebrating Entangled Relationships Through Appreciative Embodying

Celebrating Entangled Relationships Through Appreciative Embodying

Wrapping up Season 4, I’ve interviewed and talked to 7 guests. They were all delightful and I found common threads across all conversations as I sought to learn more about appreciative embodying.  It was all so valuable, and, as a result I’m in a place that moves me deeply.  It’s not directly related to the ideas, practices and findings my guests have shared.  Yet without those conversations and reading their books, the explorations I conducted outside and beyond those conversations and their books, I am moved to far more sacred and beautiful places. I've come home to me.  

Table of Contents

This season has been a personal inquiry. During this time, I’ve come to appreciate myself as being both tiny – tiny, tiny in geological or deep time  – yet also huge in how I am signifiant in my current time and how I value my being in relationship to everything. Even considering the cultural imprint I inherited and was socialized into, I have influence to shape the kind of being I want to be when it comes to being human, being a wife, a friend, a sister, teacher, a neighbor, and what has become so acute to me, being a steward of this planet.  

I have learned that the forests and trees, and rivers and oceans, deserts, and all creatures have much to teach us about mutuality of purpose and collaboration, and respect and values.  Paying attention to the natural phenomena – the ecology of our planet – reshapes what being in community and in cooperation means. It’s more than connection and belonging that holds us together, it’s entanglement.  We are living together in entangled relationships.

Principles of Appreciative Embodying

I am still a baby when it comes to understanding the topic of embodying. My curiosity has set me off on a new course of study and the more I learn, the more I have to learn. I have found truth that every thought, every emotion I experience, there are corresponding feelings in the body. I've come to experience it as entangled relationships.

Where am I now as a result of this season after my personal inquiry in appreciative embodying?

As a start, I've created four guiding principles. I plan to dig in deeper overtime.

  • Wholeness: Life is full of fun and failures.
  • Integration: Body, mind and spirt are integrated.
  • Awareness: I choose what I pay attention to.
  • Practice: To learn I gotta do the work.

Wholeness: Life is full of fun and failures

Entangled relationships
De Soto National Park, Bradenton, Florida, photographed by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

I opened the first episode of this season, How Do You Do Appreciative Embodying saying I was keen to explore how, when we see from the wholeness of who we are, we embark on a developmental and generative process.  I wanted to find out more how we can design experiences that use the whole body and ways that integrate head, heart and body.  This addresses our human wholeness, of who we are in totality, and in the fullness of being alive.

Anecdotally, I experience that it's awareness of vulnerabilities and when I feel frail and am at the edge of discomfort, that I have the greatest potential to become more aware and appreciative of my wholeness.  Dr Kyra Bobinet shared that when she was still practicing as a medical doctor that without discomfort, you cannot  embody anything. There has to be a balanced recognition of what the body is telling us, regardless if it is comfortable or not. There has to be a disconnect in order to connect, an inconvenience to appreciate what’s convenient. That is appreciative embodying. In order to appreciate what’s good, one has to be willing to face and deal with the bad.

This was also brought out in my conversation with Miriam Novotny who has been cultivating an appreciative learning culture in her organization.  When developing an orientation around the positive, at first people are unsure about how to talk about and deal with areas of discomfort and the areas of challenge. There's a misconception that we can't talk about negativity because "we're appreciative and only looking at what's going right."  We dispelled that myth. Miriam also talked about ways to face fear with embodying Fear Melters.  She had a lovely way of saying it – "Fear Melters help us move from a place of fear and to flow." The practice is to move into a specific physical position that can counteract the physiological response to the fear we’re facing.  

Each of my guests touched on this principle of wholeness as the essence to embodying. Gail Condrick talked of her experiencing “walking the grove”, paying attention to all that nature offers is all about our interconnectedness to all things and the complete fullness of our aliveness.  

I invited, Dr. Diane Gehart to respond to:

How does appreciating and cultivating our sensibility around wholeness facilitate our deeper connection and acceptance of what is?

And she echoed what I had been intuiting. We need to be able to embrace both the good and the bad, both the challenges and the joys, both the people that you can't stand and the people that you love. It's this perspective that she sees as embracing wholeness and being able to engage in the fullness of life skillfully.

The light shines brightly on the joyful affirmation of my wholeness and how I am living entangled relationships with all that is living in this cosmos – from the air that we breath, to the earth we walk on, and the tress that provide us shade and oxygen and beauty, and the sun that nourishes our very health, and the water that also nourishes us and both clean water we drink and the oceans that feed us and supply us more oxygen.

And, of course, the wholeness within me.  I’ve experienced when something goes missing in my life, I feel less whole.

Integration: Body, mind and spirt are integrated

entangled relationships - attention
Sunset with Juergen Berkessel at Manatee State Park, Florida, photographed by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

It without doubt that the reinforcement of the principle of wholeness is the key high point coming from my conversations and readings. Then there are the principles of integration or alignment. The principle of integration is so close to wholeness. It’s not ideal to separate these learnings. They all entangled – that lovely word again.

In every episode “wholeness” came up and so did the principle of “integration.” We talked about the Integration of mind, body and spirit. My guest Dr. Lynda Klau said clearly

You don't have a body. You are a body.

Guests shared research and personal stories about how we become more acutely aware of our bodies, when we put our attention to the integration of mind, body and spirit; and specifically, how to do that with greater intentionality and joy. It’s moving from the view of mind is one thing, body another and spirit yet a third.

In my conversation with Susan Steinbrecher, who comes to this principle of integration through her research and language around meaningful alignment. She refers to it as inner work and outer work. When we talk about the inside game, we're talking about what is going on inside our bodies. It's our inner emotional experience that underlies our physical sensations as we prepare for interacting with the world. The Outside Game involves developing the behaviors to develop competence to be present to our emotions.

To cultivate meaningful relationships is the work of integrating the inner and the outer worlds – so they become one. For example, it is resourceful to cultivate resilience (emotionally – inner work, and behaviorally – outer work) in order to address highly charged emotional responses in preparation for situations that arise when we least expect them.

The principle of integration is about paying attention to what your body tells you, so you strengthen your capacity to make changes to improve your well-being connecting health and attitude, strengthening relationships and offering kindness to self and others.

I realized that it was this integration of mind and body that brings me into alignment. It also addresses what appreciative embodying is to me. We are so much more than just being smart or just being physical, or connecting with spirit. It's this integration that creates full ways of being and a full life experience. When you experience the entanglement of your physicality and emotionality and spirituality as one. It is truly transformational.

The principle of integration addresses our human wholeness and in the fullness of who we are. The body is where the feelings live. The body holds our beliefs, our opinions. So it's very beautiful to have an appreciation of the heart in the body, beyond the heart and the body.

Awareness: I choose what I pay attention to

Loving the bird life in Tara, Bradenton, Florida, photographed by Robyn Stratton-Berkessel

Third, there is the principle of awareness which involves noticing, being present, and mindful – all of which are behaviors and mindsets and, of course, overlap with practices (the fourth principle). Paying greater attention to where we place our awareness and noticing where we put our energy – whether that’s during different times of the day, doing specific activities, being around certain people.

The principle of awareness relates to appreciative embodying in the sense that it involves movement and action, thought and environment. We don't walk around in total alignment at all times, yet we can learn to know the difference. That knowing, that awareness of when we are out of balance invites us into the place of slowing down, of being still, of taking beautiful breaths to reflect on what we can do to bring ourselves back into balance.

The principle of awareness invites us to make choices about the kinds of activities that will heighten our appreciative embodying. Examples include mindfulness practices, and body movement whether that’s working out, dancing, singing, improv, martial arts, painting, sports and more.

For those of you familiar with Appreciative Inquiry, the Dream Step in the Appreciative Inquiry process is embodiment work as I have come to realize. Through the principle of awareness, it invites a community to dream together to bring new possibilities to the foreground. When we dream together, it’s playful and imaginative. We invite people to envision a desired future, and as a manifestation of their dream, we also invite them to create something – such as a prototype, or enact some scene that shows their future in a physical form. As my first guest Anita Sheehan describes, this enactment is a way of finding the language that is relevant to our contexts, and then physically creating the future that we want. This dream is an enactment of a felt sense about possible futures the community envisions and and how they can create and live into those futures.

Diane Gehart talks about the Buddhist mindset of Crazy Wisdom as a way to bring in play and humor to help us lighten up and not take ourselves too seriously or become too attached to outcomes that can block us and keep us rigid. Another way we can cultivate our awareness is to view problems and challenges as friends. Like me, you’re very likely to be of the mindset that we can reframe problems, challenges and failures as learning opportunities. So when Diane talked about "befriending problems", it offered a broader perspective .

"Befriending problems, befriending life" is a concept with which I resonate strongly, because it invites us to look at life in a different way – taking on new thoughts, feelings, actions to find out how we might create new approaches to relate to the wholeness of life. It takes reflection, will, and action to make shifts to help us develop the qualities and skills so that we can live in a more gentle and loving way with ourselves and with others.

Practice: To learn, I gotta do the work

Practice - entangled relationships

Shifting to the fourth principle that I’m playing with in regards to appreciative embodying is the principle of practice which is closely related to the principle of awareness. These last two sound very close.  In fact, all four are intertwined or entangled – I so love that concept –  I will never look at entanglement as anything messy or needing straightening out ever again. 

Enacting, or acknowledging or honoring feelings in the body – that is embodying. The way we move, the way we feel, what we carry within us, whether it shaped by our birth, our culture, our relationships, and our beliefs lives in the body.

Many of the practices involve movement, and many invite us to be still.

  1. You can practice movement to enliven your senses through many different activities and learn to pay attention to what you are noticing in your body
  2. You can practice stillness through mindfulness and breath work to slow down and pay attention to learn what you are noticing in your body

One of my guests mentioned that embodiment was essential to creativity. Embodying is linked to seeing new gateways of possibility involving the whole being: mind and heart, body and spirit to show up fully. The body is a gateway into what you’re feeling.

Understanding the body as a gateway elevates your awareness, sets up pathways of choices, of novelty and creativity. Anther guest mentioned that you cannot understand the impact of climate change other than through your body. You have to truly integrate the interconnections of all that lives on planet earth and within our solar system and how entangled we are – not only with the present, but our past and our unknowable future to fully understand how the climate is changing life here on the planet.

In summary, I offer this beautiful quote.from biologist Professor David George Haskell, from his book, The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors. It expresses how I am feeling, thinking, being: appreciative embodying is a magnificent experience within and without of entangled relationships.

We’re all — trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria — pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.Because life is network, there is no “nature” or “environment,” separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory.

Mentioned in this Episode

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