Living in myself


ast weekend I took part in a Embodied-Relational Therapy (ERT) course in Hebden Bridge, run by Jayne Johnson and Nick Totton. It was brilliant, and I learnt a lot, both in terms of my work and myself. ERT looks at (1) humans as embodied beings: we are not brains inhabiting robotic bodies which our brains give life to. Rather, we are the collection of our physical body and mind. We cannot live one without the other. Again, that cartesian split has a lot to answer for in giving us this false divide. ERT also says that (2) we are born hard-wired to relate to others, and that this is evidenced from the moment that we are born: we seek relationship instantly. To bring the two aspects together: we relate to others (both human and non-human) through our whole body, and relating is not simply a connection of minds/brains. This is only my simplified understanding of ERT at the moment, but Nick Totton is bringing out a book soon!

So, early on the morning of the second day of the workshop, I went for a walk with the dog and a thought came to me. I often talk about my physical health problems in the third person. So, I might say "my neck and shoulders are aching" or I might think "Come on legs, I need to run faster!", as if I am trying to command a separate being. Yet, I wonder if it makes more sense to replace "my legs" with "me", and thus own these aches, pains and discomforts. For example,  when running I need to say "Come on Luke, I need to run faster", as all of me is involved in this process, not simply my legs. If I am a whole being, commanding one part of myself to do something is ludicrous! While this is a very trite example, it demonstrates how we disassociate parts of ourselves (my legs, in this case), rather than being fully integrated.

I look at our dog and cats, and they appear to be fully embodied. What their bodies/they want to do, they do. There appears to be none of this forcing one part of themselves to do something when it does not want to. They do not appear to force themselves to eat if they are not hungry, nor to sleep when they do not want to. Meanwhile, I force myself to run further, even though I feel exhausted, and to sleep because it is nighttime even though I am not tired.

This may come across as mere semantics. However, I believe that changing the way in which we interact with ourselves (including our bodies) involves changing the way in which we see ourselves. A change in semantics paves the way for a change in the way we see and treat ourselves. If we see ourselves as embodied, unified beings (i.e. "This body is a part of me, just as much as my personality is"), we can then hear what our bodies are telling us, instead of ignoring it, or fighting against it, and causing ourselves more harm.