Body-Centered Speaking and Listening
By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West
In Integral Coaching we often talk about the three centers of intelligence: head, heart, and body.* Useful across all areas of coaching, they are particularly interesting to explore in the realm of speaking and listening.
Recently, I had the opportunity to spend several days with a group of highly experienced Integral Coaches, observing how they interacted with each other as they explored issues that were both deeply personal and globally impactful. And in such a skillfully held and spacious environment, I was extra aware of my own ways of speaking and listening from the three centers. Here is some of what I noticed.
Head, heart, and body conversations
Often when we’re speaking from our head, or rational mind, we’ve put some thought into what we’re going to say. Obviously this isn’t a bad thing—there are plenty of instances when that is very appropriate and necessary. However, in a conversation that is intended to be reflective or supportive, what is arising freshly in the moment is often more helpful—and that comes from some place other than the head.
For example, I noticed several times that I was bringing stories about my life that, while they seemed relevant to the topic at hand, nonetheless contained very little ‘juice’ or aliveness. The words felt hollow, and I noticed the listeners (mindful and attentive and loving as they are) become a little detached. Once or twice I even wrote down what I wanted to say to ensure that I was being clear, but by the time I spoke the words there was something else in me that had been moved by what others said, evoked a different memory, or just wasn’t as current as it could have been. In retrospect I see that those would have been moments to trust my body and simply say what was there to say.
In a group of trusted friends and colleagues, there were moments of big emotion as people recalled things about their pasts, regretting blindness and missteps, enraged over injustice, or feeling near overwhelming amounts of love for others in the group. By and large the listeners were still and steady, spaciously receiving the speaker’s words and not reacting… but not always.
There is a big difference between maintaining a steady presence and stifling our emotions. Naturally, being human, we will simply be moved sometimes and laugh or cry right along with our friend or even our client. It can be supportive and healing for the speaker to feel known in this way. Far from a departure from presence, it can actually point to just how present and connected we are.
However, it isn’t supportive if we get swept up in the other person's experience entirely. So even if we are moved by the person speaking and have a very human, emotional response of our own, it is essential we come back to ourselves ultimately. Our bodies are reliable anchors to return to our own selves, our own experience, our own ground.
Notice the vital role that the body played (or would have played, with more trust) in the examples above. It is the body that signals the difference between empty words and ones infused with meaning. Anchored in our physicality, we can be more fully impacted by something another says, which may in turn shape what we say—something, perhaps, that is truer to the moment. It allows us to be attuned to the mood and energy of a group, so that what we speak into the space has relevance and impact. It is the place of our own grounding and solidity, through which we can source the capacity to hold another’s big emotions. And lots more.
Integral speaking and listening aren’t any one thing: we don’t flip a switch and suddenly we’re in integral mode. As with everything in this work, it is about cultivating a way of being that allows us to bring more of ourselves forward in all conversations—and in all of life. We have found that focusing on the body is a relatively failsafe way to begin this cultivation. It’s an area that offers infinite room for deepening development.
A meditation for cultivating embodiment
For two weeks, augment your sitting practice by doing the following. Imagine a silver ball, somewhere between the size of a marble and a tennis ball (see what fits best), nestled in the space right behind your belly button, halfway between front and back. Feel its weight, solidity, and texture. For this period of time, allow this point of awareness to replace your usual one (mantra, breath, sensation). When your attention wanders, come back to the ball. Focusing our attention on our physical center of gravity can gently train our attention on our embodiment.
- Leadership Embodiment by Wendy Palmer and Bodyfulness by Christine Caldwell are two wonderful books on integrating body awareness into our lives, development and work with others.
- Join us at the Free Integral Coaching Forum to practice integral speaking and listening with your peers, guided by NVW faculty. These events are designed to support you in gaining clarity in your life and give you ways of supporting others more powerfully.
- * Sign up for a 5-week mini-course on the Three Centers, which offers examples, practices and resources to further acquaint you with this way of working.
Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West in San Francisco.
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