Embodied knowing: The wisdom of the body

One of the best ways to solve a problem is to stop thinking about it. That sounds counterintuitive, but it works! If you simply keep ruminating on a problem, it stays in your conscious mind. However, really innovative solutions emerge from below our conscious awareness. This is the mysterious realm of embodied knowing, which I sometimes call the wisdom of the body. In her book, The Extended Mind Annie Murphy Paul writes that the body “can act as a sagacious guide to good decision making … more knowledgable and more judicious than the easily overwhelmed conscious mind”. I’m fascinated by embodied knowing – I even did my PhD on it!

Embodied ways of knowing include intuitions, hunches and the kind of fast thinking that Malcolm Gladwell explores in his book, Blink. He describes an elite group of art historians known in the trade as the ‘fake busters’. They are called in when the authenticity of a work of art is in question. Although they are brilliant at spotting a fake, they can’t say how they can tell: One just said he had a feeling of “intuitive repulsion”. These experts are drawing on embodied knowing. Some of the most successful financial traders draw on embodied intuition. George Soros, who made a fortune from trading, relies a “great deal on animal instincts”. He noticed that when there was some problem that he was consciously missing, he’d start to get a bad back. “I used the onset of acute pain as a signal that there was something wrong in my portfolio”.

Thankfully you don’t have to develop back problems to learn to listen to your embodied knowing, because Eugene Gendlin found a better way. Most of us sometimes get a ‘gut feeling’ about something. You have a sense that things aren’t quite right, but you can’t pin down what’s wrong. For me, it’s often that I’ve forgotten something and my body wisdom is nudging me to remember it. For you, it might be a vague sense that this person you’ve just met isn’t quite what they seem or that there’s something not quite right about a particular situation. This is the same kind of embodied intuition that the ‘fake busters’ and George Soros used.

Although I can’t promise that you’ll become the next George Soros, I can help you access your embodied knowing using the Focusing technique. I introduce Focusing in this video and would be delighted to help you learn this powerful life skill. Contact me to find out more.

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