What Does it Mean to Embody?

What Does it Mean to Embody?

"To embody" means what? What follows is a summary of an impromptu conversation. It's a joyful, naive exploration. Topics include designing experiences that use the whole body and ways that integrate head, heart and body. We vote with our feet, we make choices through conversations that come from where we are literally standing.

Table of Contents

Introducing my Guest, Anita Sheehan

Anita Sheehan to embody

This conversation is with a colleague from Belgium, Anita Sheehan. It started with an impromptu chat on LinkedIn about what does it mean "to embody". I was beginning to plan this Season's podcast, and serendipitously, I discovered Anita had become curious about the topic also. We scheduled a video call to explore each other’s perspectives. In this show, you'll hear snippets of our conversation. It wasn’t intended to be turned into an episode, but Anita kindly gave me permission to do that.

Anita does coaching, community and org development in Europe and Africa using a blend of participatory methods. You’ll hear more about her experiences throughout our conversation. As a start, I invited Anita to share her story about how she came to do this human and organizational design work.

Discovering Appreciative Inquiry

Anita was attracted to Appreciative Inquiry (AI) because of its collaborative, holistic approach to human and organizational development. She undertook AI trainings in the USA with Kathy Becker and returned to Europe very excited about all the possibilities. However, back in Europe, her enthusiasm was slower to gain momentum.

Nevertheless, she kept at it. She met other consultants and practitioners through the European AI Network, including Tim Slack and Suzanne Quinney. Both these lovely people have been guests on Positivity Strategist Podcast. More relationships blossomed. Through Tim and Suzanne, Anita met Jean Louis-Lomboray of Community Life Competence. The work with Community Life Competence with its S.A.L.T. process truly resonated. Listen in to the show to hear Anita describe what S.A.L.T.means and how it creates deep change.

Differentiating Between Communities and Corporations

to embody community
Photographer: Dario Valenzuela | Source: Unsplash

Anita observes that the S.A.L.T. model developed by Community Life Competence facilitates greater opportunity to go more deeply into the human psyche opening up human connection. She finds this comes more easily in community contexts than in corporate, because often times people in companies are afraid of being vulnerable especially where she works in Europe.

Anita: I love Community Life Competence. It's a close cousin to Appreciative Inquiry. What I have found is communities tend to be more receptive because people in communities wear fewer masks than in a corporate setting. We've tried it out in a corporate setting and it was with mixed results. A lot of people in companies are afraid to show who they really are. And so Appreciative Inquiry is perhaps a little bit better suited (than S.A.L.T.) because there is an academic background and you can talk to people using a more cognitive approach.

Conversations Moving from Head to Body

Here's a beautiful example of a playful activity: Anita invites her participants in workshops to apply their own words to S.A.L.T, rather than use those from the model.

Anita: We play and we let participants stick their own words to the letters. We do it in English and in French. There are differences in the languages. Even in a corporate setting, people have come up with the word love for the "L" in S.A.L.T . In French the word is amour and they apply that to the "A" in S.A.L.T. With the "T" they come up with the words team, trust, transparency. We can play with it.

Robyn: They use their own words. That is beautiful! You've just given me a fabulous insight: when we do the Dream Step in Appreciative Inquiry, it's playful and it is about embodiment. We invite people to act into their dream. This enactment is a way of using our bodies to create the future that we want.

AI Model
Appreciative Inquiry 4-D Process: Graphic created by Juergen Berkessel

Similarly with S.A.L.T., when people come up with their own language for their own contexts, it's obviously coming from some felt sense about what it means to them and how they might then carry that through in their actions through their bodies.

Anita: That's the word I was looking for the felt sense because it's that which helps us anchor our input or what we feel in connection with the Dream. That is crucial because as long as it stays too much in the head, it's like Teflon. You can easily forget it. The minute it's more anchored in your body, we can retain it better.

Exchanging Perceptions about Embodying

To embody creativity
crPhotographer: Edu Lauton | Source: Unsplash

In a heartfelt manner, Anita and I exchanged our thoughts around what it means to embody and what we have learnt over time. (You can find out even more about how this topic emerged for me after a time of illness in the first episode of this season.)

11 Key Observations

We identified the following characteristics that increase our awareness of what facilitates our ability to embody:

  • being real and authentic
  • coming from integrity
  • getting out of one's head
  • listening to our bodies
  • focusing our awareness
  • practicing mindfulness
  • seeking novelty
  • developing creativity
  • expanding our contextual references
  • experiencing the mind, the body and spirit as one
  • valuing our wholeness

To Embody and Holistic Practices Are Aligned

Anita shares that using the head, and our feelings, and our bodies is crucial for wellbeing. She thinks about the whole person. She also references the work of Frédéric Laloux and his book Reinventing Organizations. What resonated so powerfully for her about Laloux is whole systems approach to designing organizational change.

Anita: his desire to reinvent organizations from that holistic aspect; and that loops back to what you were saying to bring the whole person into any kind of process. I think that's absolutely crucial.

We go back and forth on a number of designs that we use in our workshops and trainings to bring in body work as a way to shift the thinking, the emotions and the energy of people. A common denominator is to have people move physically which helps them to move cognitively and emotionally. As an example, in the quote below, Anita offers a design to help align people around new initiatives or behaviors in organizations.

Anita: We usually use a scale from one to five. We put numbers on the floor and each member of the team can put themselves on the number that they consider themselves to be at [in relation to an initiative] … And here's the interesting part: everybody needs to be on the same number at the end.

The fascinating aspect of that is that [this process] generates conversations … everybody has to explain their reasons why they're standing on #3 as opposed to #2. Each number also has its own definition. For example. #1 is: we know in principle that we should be doing it. It's a good idea … we do it sporadically. #4 would be: we do it regularly. #5: it's second nature. We do it so automatically we don't even have to think of it.

Keep, Chuck, Create

I chime in with two processes which focus on the co-creative, conversational, collaborative aspects of facilitating holistic change, which I affectionately refer to as "Keep, Chuck, and Create." It fits into organizational design.

  • Keep: What do we want to keep doing? We're doing it well already. Let's keep it!
  • Chuck: What do we want to get rid of? It just no longer serves. It's a hindrance. Let's chuck it!
  • Create: What do we want to create? It doesn't exist in our environment and it would be such a help to advance our strategy. Let's create it!

All of these processes are conversational based and involve movement of some kind, such as getting up and writing on post-it notes and adding them to a poster board, following a prioritization process through conversation.

Self-Worth and Embodiment

Anita is collaborating with a colleague, John Niland, author of Self-worth Safari. She highly recommends the book. She describes it as an "Appreciative Inquiry into oneself," which is particularly important in organizations if collaboration is hindered by individuals "who are who are not okay with themselves, or who haven't been seen growing up." Anita observes such folk can sabotage all the good intentions around collaborating.

Anita: John and I host workshops. And in these workshops, John suggested that we design an activity where we embody self-worth through playfulness. For instance, we ask participants to take one quality that they like about themselves and perform it. They can dress up as clowns, or not, as they wish. Then they take one quality they like less about themselves and perform that. It's like improv: body, mind, playfulness, all rolled in, all with the intention of having people see themselves and hear how they talk to themselves.

Circling Back to Our Inquiry

As we wrap up our conversation, we circle back to our inquiry: What does it mean to embody?

We reflect that we are experiencing embodying work more than we are conscious of. Our thoughts, our feelings, our conversations, our actions all involve the body. There is no separation. It's all of who we are. It's showing up day-in and day-out, and there are so many more ways to show up fully and in all our aliveness.

If our intention is to embody positivity and appreciation, we do that by walking the talk, and practicing what we preach. We make it our life's work to keep trying to bring across that which we want about being positive and being appreciative to the best of our abilities.

It incorporates that which we want to bring across through our language and our actions – our being. That is embodiment. And, as a student of Latin for 8 years, I note the etymology of the word "incorporate." It is derived from "corpus", the Latin for "body."

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