In teaching, embodiment is considered a really good thing. I want to be embodied. I want to fully understand my material – intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, and socially – and I want to be enthusiastic about my material. The reason this works really nicely as a teaching tool is because a lot of teaching is relational: it’s about how the student connects with the material through the teacher. If the teacher is connected with themself and embodied with the material then the student is going to have an easier time connecting to the teacher and to the material. And if the teacher uses contemplative pedagogy – a way of helping students to develop a relationship with the material by encouraging them to look into their own experience – embodiment is a great vehicle through which to invite a felt experience of what’s being taught.
Embodiment is great in a teacher teaching contemplative skills, interpersonal skills, meditation, self-compassion, loving kindness, gratitude, savoring, and even shame resilience. The teacher who embodies and is able to practice something like shame resilience in front of their students is one who can instill faith in their students that shame resilience is a reality, and their students can see and relate to what shame resilience looks and feels like.
Embodiment, however, might not be such an asset if it’s your modus operandi in a conventional workplace. If the way you need to relate to the world is through visceral experience and being fully onboard, and this translates to your workplace, there can be challenges. If I need to understand things in the workplace at a visceral level – to feel, to believe in, to accept, to be enthusiastic about everything I’m required to do – this can be tricky. It can take time to integrate my workplace culture into my own understanding, belief system, and motivation when I work from an embodied perspective. If my boss gives me instructions, there might be resistance to carrying them out quickly because I haven’t had time to integrate that material. It might take days, weeks, even months to integrate policy and procedure to really get on board. The flip side of this process is that when I am able to get on board, I’m a great ambassador. I can really get behind, cheerlead and support people in the initiative. It just takes a while for me to get there.
You’re not changing culture or rebelling – you’re just bringing creativity to the process of interpretation: even the law is open to interpretation, so you can give yourself some creative license with your organization’s values.
Embodiment can also be tricky if I’m working in customer care and in order to feel satisfied in my work I feel I must embody the mission, vision and values of the organization. If I’m under a lot of stress or if I want to be in relationship with clients differently to the way policy and procedure states, this can cause internal tension. For example, if I would like to spend extra time on the phone with an upset client, but my organization’s key performance indicators state a time limit for phone calls, I’ll probably be left feeling unresolved when I can’t go that extra mile to help out a client. And one sure way to lead yourself to anxiety or depression is to be continually resisting how things are. Unfortunately this is where the embodied soul can end up if they’re not on board with what their organization is wanting to do. I know this from experience.
The other downside of being embodied is I have to really feel like doing my work in order to do it. When I don’t feel like churning through a bunch of emails, and I force myself to do this, it can feel terribly violent. There’s internal resistance – this does not sit well with me, this is not feeding me! Once again in the long term this can turn into anxiety or depression.
I have, however, found a way to remain embodied in the workplace within the context of workplace policy and procedures that might not immediately align with my core values. I’ve worked in a lot of different workplaces, so I have some experience with this! But I’ve needed to do some homework to get there. Here are some suggestions from my own work:
· Sit with the organization’s mission, vision, and values. Compare them to your own mission, vision, and values – your own core values – and determine where there are connections, how the person you are fits in with the organization.
· Be creative about interpreting your workplaces’ mission, vision and values. Imagine that you can interpret them in any way that works for you, in a way that makes them sit honestly with you. You’re not changing culture or rebelling – you’re just bringing creativity to the process of interpretation: even the law is open to interpretation, so you can give yourself some creative license with your organization’s values.
An example of creative interpretation is that I might be in an organization that wants to proliferate a product, that wants to spread the word, to reach as many people as possible. All the while, my core value is based on intimate, one-to-one connections with individuals that let them know that they matter and feeds my need for meaningful connection – not exactly the epitome of proliferation! In that context, I can simply consider my core value of one-on-one connection within the context of proliferation – I am playing my part within a much larger context, and my little contribution is meaningful to me, to my clients, and to my organization because of the quality it brings to the exchanges I have with people. If I can remind myself that that’s my core value and as long as I have enough opportunities to cultivate an intimate conversation here and there, then I’ll be okay. I’ll be able to work in an embodied way in that organization.
This might be one of our greatest feats of self-compassion – to find a way to work authentically within a workplace that we chose to become a member of.
It does take doing the homework to get to that place, but you’re worth it 😉 Usually, it doesn’t occur to us that we need to or that we could work on that kind of homework. Usually we feel tension, a mismatch, a misconnect, a disconnect and we don’t know that we can look deeply into where that disconnect comes from. We can tend to blame it on the organization, or the boss, or whatever it might be. But it really is worthwhile looking into, investigating the statements of intention (both yours and the organizations), finding commonalities. This might be one of our greatest feats of self-compassion – to find a way to work authentically within a workplace that we chose to become a member of. And it can be a great guide in making career decisions within an organization, or in deciding whether or not to move to another job.
I care so much about finding these places of connection between our core values and our work life that I’m developing a new program for women, the Spirit of Self-Compassion. This is a journey I’ll be inviting you to share with me, where we’ll start by exploring core values – starting with getting to know who we are – before we move out to working on what we need in our life to truly nurture ourselves. And then we’ll get creative about meeting these needs through contemplative practices that are delightful and doable; a spirituality that suits us as individuals; developing shame resilience; practicing self-compassion; making art; and connecting with other women on a similar path. Stay tuned!