Mr. Duffy's Body – Somatics in the 21st Century
By Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D.
Recently skimming through my daughter’s books for her World Literature class I came across James Joyce’s novel The Dubliners. Remembering what is required to engage with Joyce’s dense prose I forged ahead anyway and came across a certain Mr. Duffy who “lived a short distance from his body.” I soon learned that Mr. Duffy is a one-dimensional bureaucrat who lives an unattractively plain, colorless life. He represents the post-modern everyman: cut off from his feelings, defined by rules and protocols, and lacking purpose and meaningful connections.
From a somatic point of view living any distance from our bodies is dodgy and the consequences harmful, even grave. Now we can scientifically ground, through technological advances in the emerging field of neuroscience, that distancing ourselves from our body places not only our physical health at risk, but our emotional health as well. Furthermore, being out of touch with our sensate life limits our capacity to learn and dramatically reduces the possibility of authentic, meaningful relationships, surely one of the foundations of exemplary leadership, and the good life.
Somatics – the unity of feeling, acting, and spiriting – has traditionally focused on the individuals’ physical and emotional health. Numerous forms of bodywork, movement therapies, and body-oriented psychotherapies have emerged under the broad heading of somatics. It’s good work, it’s growing, and many are helped by it. May it continue. May it thrive.
I propose that the central task of somatics now is to recognize and confront that the degradation to our planet, to our communities, to social justice, to our spiritual and moral health, and to the dignity of all people has its roots in the marginalization of our deep biological heritage to feel and sense.
At the beginning of the last century Joyce revealed through Mr. Duffy that when we live even a short distance from our body it could create an awkward, even calamitous life. As we begin the 21st century the disembodied life has been institutionalized. Instead of living in our body we now inhabit a world of symbols, ideology, an unexamined materialism, predigested information, and ten second sound bites. When we’re at this distance from our bodies we begin to move into the shadow of evil.
We can now arguably say that the reason we so effortlessly destroy our soil, the air we breathe, and the water we drink is because we live at a distance from our bodies. We can also say that it is because of this same disconnect that we allow conflict to escalate to violence instead of evolving to a creative resolution; and the same bodily estrangement creates a growing gap between those that have and those that don’t.
When we live at a distance from our body we live at a distance from our self, and this makes us unable to feel ourselves; conscience, self-reflection, imagination, intuition, energy, and a moral imperative are not accessible to us when we are disembodied. This leads to innumerable problems including difficulty in building trust, working effectively with others, being skillful in action, managing our moods and emotions, and accessing the intuitive part of our nature; as well as the physical, emotional, and mental problems which all add up to an isolated, fragmented life.
To the point of the matter: if we are unable to feel ourselves it’s very difficult to feel others, to feel their joy, their pain, their hopes and fears; or to feel our four-legged friends, or those that fly, swim or crawl; or to fully relate to the world of plants, grasses, and trees, or any living system for that matter. Unable to feel we lose our capacity for empathy and compassion and people become symbols and objects. From here it’s a short step to inflicting violence on others and objectifying the natural world until she is seen only as a means for profit.
The primary difference of living in our bodies or at a distance from our bodies lies in the heart’s purpose, in the intention of consciousness. It is following that thread of unity and oneness that we call love. To live from the inner impulse to love instead of being driven by the need to be loved is an evolutionary step.
This is now the task of somatics: To train leaders who embody the ethic of being in service to the planet, to social equity, and to building a new, generative interpretations of conflict.