It is vital to reawaken the wisdom of the body. Mark Vernon introduces Constellations
The body has its own intelligence. It can sound strange to put it like that because we live in an age that has become preoccupied with computers as the paradigm of smartness. This approach values the sort of intelligence that solves problems, calculates and works with concepts. But it’s increasingly being recognised that there are other ways of knowing, and that the body plays a key part.
One way it is showing up is in the cognitive sciences. For example, Philip Barnard of Cambridge University has developed a model to understand how the mind works that includes the body. It draws on empirical research in psychology and sees the body as connected to what Barnard calls the ‘implicational subsystem’.
This implicit mode of understanding is particularly active when we are interacting with the world through relational and social connections or intuitive and practical insights. It is also more open-ended and inclined to go with the flow, rather than attempting to pin things down. You can say you experience it when you recognise the meaning in the touch of a lover, the lift gained by entering a resonant or sacred place, or the mental relaxation offered by a walk or warm bath.
Barnard is not alone in developing the science. Iain McGilchrist’s work on how the two hemispheres of the brain relate to the world differently will be familiar to followers of Perspectiva (see, for example, this interview). He shows how the right hemisphere’s understanding of things can be characterised as implicational, which is not surprising as it is also much more widely connected to the body than the left hemisphere.
Alternatively, anyone who practices mindfulness or other forms of meditation will know that the body is key. It both supports the attention and offers a stream of hints and nudges that can be felt, focused on and amplified to reveal all manner of insights that might otherwise not rise into consciousness.
Various forms of energy psychotherapy do something similar and are now recognised as effective treatments by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). Techniques such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) and EFT (Emotional freedom technique) can seem strange at first but they are gaining respect because they release awareness held in the body. This can prove invaluable when it comes to treating trauma as well as developing what might be called a more felt or soulful approach to life.
You might say we are reawakening to the importance of the body. But that raises further questions. How can we work with its wisdom? How can we learn from its intelligence and what might it tell us?
This year, I will be running a series of evenings at Perspectiva that use another embodied practice called Constellations. It’s particularly illuminating because it works with groups of people.
The patterns or movements that the group makes can reveal what the body is saying. I’m particularly excited to be offering this introduction with Perspectiva because the dynamics constellations can show operate at the three levels of life to which Perspectiva attends: the inner life of the individual soul; the more objective social factors within which we live; and the intersubjective systemic flows that link these elements together.
The approach will be safe and gently playful. They will, I hope, be fascinating, too. The evenings are a chance to look at how we’re affected by the groups — from family and workplace, to time and culture — to which we belong. At one level, the embodied approach can open up new ways of relating to ourselves and others. At another, it can help with particular issues and problems.
The body’s intelligence is an important resource for the type of personal formation and social education called Bildung that is important at Perspectiva (see here). This is the attempt to ask not just what we know or need to know, but also to address how we know and might know differently. Constellations can help with that because it doesn’t just ask what’s going on but invites us to transform how we perceive what’s going, via the body. It generates all sorts of often unexpected, felt realisations.
So please consider these introductory evenings. They will offer an overview of the practice, explain how it arose, and offer a sense of what it can reveal and how it works. I will unpack some of the insights that emerge and the time will include demonstrations and opportunities to test things out in small groups.
The body has things to say. Constellations is one way of paying it attention and listening.
Image: Constellation of the Pleiades (NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, Palomar Observatory)