One of the first of our instincts that we’re socialised away from is the instinctual intelligence of our bodies.
The school system many of us encounter in the post-industrial Cartesian world does exactly this – gradually reducing the childhood orientation towards bodily experience and feeling, and replacing it almost exclusively with a much more detached, rational-intellectual approach. You only have to look in to a class of five-year-old children and then into a class of thirteen-year-olds to see how spontaneity, movement, and responding to feeling have been replaced by a more rigid uniformity.
We’re rarely, if ever, asked to engage in reflection on how our study of different subjects feels – what we’re drawn to, what we’re drawn away from, what dulls us, what brings us to life. And we’re discouraged from paying serious attention to what else our bodies might have to tell us – that we need rest, that we’re afraid, that we’re lit up, that we’ve discovered something special and of significance to us. All of this prepares very well for the numerous situations in adult life, in organisations especially, where we are encouraged to fit in, in just the same way that everybody else is fitting in.
It’s no wonder that, as adults, we have a hard time discerning what’s most meaningful for us, what’s of particular importance in our lives and our responses. And why we’ll put up for years with living in a way that is at odds with ourselves.
Reclaiming our adult lives involves no small measure of reclaiming the wisdom of the body from which we’ve been separated for so long. It requires us to start to treat what our bodies are telling us with discernment, care and respect. And it requires us to pay attention to ourselves and our experience in a new way, usually by cultivating some quiet time in which we allow ourselves to actually feel.
And it takes a certain kind of ongoing curiosity and wonder, because most of us have been estranged from our bodies for so long that we first start to feel again we no longer know quite what it is that we are being shown.