FOR THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN SOUTH CAROLINA DIOCESAN CONVENTION
This is Part V of a series that chronicles how Bill Redfield developed and presented his years of experience with Wisdom of the Body to address the healing process of an ongoing experience of pain and separation within the Episcopalian community in South Carolina. You will find Bill’s Introduction to this work in Part I of this series on the home page blog, and each of the links to Parts II-IV on the Breaking Ground page of Growing! on this website. Part II opens with Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of Our Physical Bodies, and Bill continues to guide the group into the first dyad exercise in Part III. In Part IV Bill introduces Wisdom of the Body Faithful with further experiential practices.
At the conclusion of Part IV, Bill asks the group to return to the exercise of locating their feelings, however difficult, in their bodies. He then asks them to form dyads for a twenty-minute exercise where they each have time to put their sensations and feelings into words–into quiet, reverent verbal expression. He says, “This is Wisdom of Body—an essential part of being the Body Faithful. Using the whole of ourselves to relate deeply and meaningfully to each other out of an embodied awareness…” Processing that exercise, with questions related to locating the experience in the body, Bill continues on to Part V saying:
Usually it seems that we don’t give ourselves the time and opportunity to integrate our experiences by moving quickly on to something else.
This gave them a chance to reflect more deeply on what they had just been through. It also gave them the opportunity to more deeply understand this experience by checking in with the bodies regarding its effects.
Please stay seated there in front of your partner and continue to keep your eyes closed for another couple of moments. In preparation to opening your eyes, I want to first give you these instructions. When you will open your eyes in a moment, I want you to look directly and deeply into the eyes of your dyad partner for about a half a minute without saying anything. But don’t open your eyes quite yet. Let me first say that in our culture we do not generally give ourselves permission to do this, and so at first it might feel a little risky, but, I assure you, it will very likely be an important experience for you. In preparation for this, let’s all take a couple of deeper and more intentional breaths…
OK, open your eyes. Look directly at your partner without saying anything…
Before you, you see a whole and holy being. Behind their eyes, is a fullness of being in embodied form… And your partner is seeing the same: a whole and holy being in embodied form… Seated right in front of your partner also is a whole and holy being… Can healing and blessing be bestowed through this kind of heart-seeing…?
Now, with your eyes alone, thank your partner for this exchange. You may now release your gaze…
I ask you now to intentionally and consciously welcome whatever healing or transmission might have taken place in that wordless encounter. I invite you to hold this in your heart and to accept its gift as part of the grace of Wisdom of the Body.
Here we paused, as “Structures from Silence” played to its conclusion. And to seal this experience and again, to give them the opportunity to see themselves and each other as “whole and holy,” I had them open their eyes and look directly into each other’s eyes without saying anything. I articulated: “Before you, you see a whole and holy being. Behind their eyes, is a fullness of being in embodied form… And your partner is seeing the same: a whole and holy being in embodied form…” While this can be a very powerful experience, it is also, obviously, a huge risk. I was inching right out there to the very edge of the limb… My sense, though, is that most of them were able and willing to take this risk—although I couldn’t see everyone. Judging from the energy in the room, something significant was being transacted.
I used the word “transmission” very intentionally. When we come to each other in sheer openness, authenticity, and vulnerability—something of great importance is transacted. This is part of the healing process as well.
Next, to consolidate the learning, I review the territory we have covered so far. Again, I am looking for just the right mix of the experiential on the one hand and the cognitive and the conceptual on the other. It is the linking of the two that helps us to move from a passing state into the possibility of an abiding stage.
Please pull your chairs apart now and give your attention here in this direction.
We have reflected on and experienced the Wisdom of the Body in terms of living more abundantly as fully embodied beings and even using our bodies to carry and begin to heal some of the wounds we have experienced. And we also experienced that, when we can locate and ground our emotional feelings in the whole of ourselves, beyond just our mental minds—in other words:
When we can ground our emotions in our physical bodies we create a new relationship with our feelings, and it allows us to begin to gradually heal them in a deeper and more integrative way…
We have also experienced the Wisdom of the Body in seeing our deep connection with others of the greater Body of the Faithful. And as the Body Faithful we have expressed our deepest and most authentic identity as we have shared some of deepest and most difficult memories. We have sealed this exchange through our attentive listening and witnessing.
III. Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of the Dying Body
In my planning of the various dimensions of Wisdom of the Body, the next ripple out to me seemed to be an experiential appreciation of the body’s ability to hold the meaning of death and diminishment—even as our minds cannot. Usually our mental minds are unable and unwilling to conceive the possibility of their own deaths, so repression and denial are the customary means by which this fear is warded off.
But our bodies in their Wisdom know how to hold death.
This short meditation was designed to give them a taste of that. We begin with “God Be With You Till We Meet Again” by Steven Sharp Nelson.
Now I have yet another expression of the Wisdom of the Body—this one comes out of a deep place of vulnerability. Let’s go there. I mentioned earlier how the human body is amazingly resilient. It has complex and innate capacities to protect us from germs and toxins. And that’s true. And we also experienced that, when we can locate and ground our emotional feelings in the whole of ourselves beyond just our mental minds—in other words when we can ground our emotions in our physical bodies—we create a new relationship with our feelings, and it allows us to begin to gradually heal them in a deeper and more integrative way…
But it is also true that these bodies of ours are ultimately fragile and they eventually break down. While feeling powerful and robust in our youth, as we continue to age, life seems more and more fragile and fleeting. Our bodies diminish, and, as we age, we experience an increasing number of loved ones leaving us through death. These conditions of life are not because we have sinned or because we are being punished. They are simply the realities of life in this realm…
So, these constrictions of life-as-we-know-it are the conditions into which we are born. Life is a challenging walk through life’s contingencies and through this finitude.
But when, in the midst of these challenging conditions, we can live fully into our authenticity and when even in the midst of these limiting constrictions we can love despite the challenges, we call forth the fullest and deepest expression of love in this realm.
And if we didn’t have to bear the costs of this finitude and these contingencies, this love wouldn’t be nearly so precious. But when, out of this dangerous finitude, we can love despite the costs, the love that is produced has a holy and sacred savor…
This, then, is the cost of life we are asked to bear. And, while our mental minds may struggle with this, our bodies know how to bear this. And that is also why in the conflict that most all of you in the diocese have been through over the past months, your bodies know exactly how to bear this and how to move forward. While you are, and should be, attentive to your own wounds and the wounds of those around you, and while you seek to hold them gently and tenderly, may you know that your real work is to continue to love in spite of these wounds and scars.
For, when—out of this challenging constriction and hurt—generous and forgiving love can be engendered, the universe receives precisely what it needs from this human realm.
And in this process, we manifest the love and mercy of God. This is the work of all the souls of this diocese. This is the work before you. And it is assisted by the Wisdom of your Body and the Wisdom of the greater Body of the Faithful. This, too, is Wisdom of the Body…
Perhaps another word or two is necessary here. I find that the fear of death seems to be the shadow lurking behind all other fears. Even though it may not be logically linked to some of these other fears and anxieties, to me it seems like the dark backdrop beneath all that scares or troubles us. When we can face into this fundamental fear in some fashion—and here I mean actually experience the diminishment of fear, rather than countering it with a mental thought or belief—everything else shifts as a result. It makes dealing with all other fears and challenges just a little more bearable. Here I think of the difference between whistling in the dark and actually coming to be able to see in the dark.
You are invited to Part VI of Wisdom of the Body: An Experiential Program of Healing, soon to follow on Breaking Ground. Bill shares how the group joins together to represent the Wisdom of the Gathered Body of the Faithful, and to become, through an adaptation of the Meditation of Lovingkindness and the Prayers of the People, even more, the Prayerful Body of the Gathered Faithful. Stay tuned!
posted May 21, 2018 by Bill Redfield
The Rev. William C. Redfield prepared this material for a presentation at The Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Saturday, November 11, 2017. You may read more about Bill on the Our Teachers page of this website.