Embodiment

Blog by Valerie – a final chapter shared from the book that was just written

Being authentic, centred and grounded means having awareness of our core values and doing our best to en-live-en them through our life choices and forms of expression. Embodiment is a recognition of the universality of our connection with all of Creation as well as our individuality of lived experience. It’s important not to confuse lived experience knowledge with intellectual understanding or awareness, often referred to as ‘knowledge’ in Western science. We all have intellectual under-standing and awareness about life experiences we haven’t had; for example, we may say that -10 is cold, but unless we’ve felt it, we don’t have an embodied knowing of how cold that is.

coehlo quoteThere is so much power in lived experience that from an Indigenous science perspective, it is the only way we can ‘know’ something. People with a lot Western theoretical or book ‘knowledge’ are often seen as arrogant, or even dangerous. If you’ve learned some ‘evidence-based’ ways to prevent obesity, you will still have a limited ability to empathise with people who have experienced it themselves or witnessed it through an intimate relationship. Knowing our standing, or positionality, makes a huge difference in how well we embody our values and medicine. Our standing refers to placement – socio-politically, culturally, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I’ve included socio-politically and culturally because we live in two worlds as Indigenous scientists and need to be aware of our Western political placement as well as Indigenous cultural placement.

positionality-300x156As an Indigenous scientist living far from ancestral lands, from a socio-political perspective, I am a settler[1] doing my best to be a political ally[2] of Aboriginal peoples of Australia. I can’t experience what’s embodied through their cultural lineages and relationships; they carry a power of intergenerational knowledge that, if shared with me, supports me to build my own relationships with their ancestors and the land where I live (Image from here). Gitksan scientist Dr. Cindy Blackstock explains Indigenous scientific trust in long-tested ancestral wisdom and our collective responsibility for carrying and passing on Indigenous knowledge:

As knowledge trustees, whose job it is to understand and relay knowledge which has been passed down by generations before us, we pay great attention to the detail of the knowledge and the values and spirit embedded in it so that we can pass it on. Because knowledge needs to echo across lifetimes and generations, multidimensional standards of rigor are needed to ensure knowledge is understood within the four dimensions of learning: spiritual, emotional, physical and cognitive and that each teaching is situated within an interconnected knowledge web[3].

It’s natural to speak about things we haven’t experienced at times, but it’s wise to do so with humility in recognition of our standing within that interconnected web of life. For without lived experience (which includes knowledge embedded in our bodies through ancestral inheritance), to some extent we are guessing.  

Embodied methods for sharing traditional knowledge have helped ensure its efficacy and accuracy over time and prevented the impact of such human limitations from diluting or distorting it. As Dr. Lynne Kelly explains, “At every level of initiation into knowledge there were memory aids…from hand-held objects to art on bark or rocks, to the landscape itself”[4] in addition to songs and stories that were easy to remember yet cleverly layered with knowledge[5]. This is why changing landscapes and moving Indigenous peoples can be severely disorienting and detrimental to cultural integrity.

Exercise: Reflect on embodied memory aids you have – such as objects in your house, photos, places you go, music, etc. Which ones bring you joy? Which ones feel like clutter that could be let go? Are there any that trigger you into trauma or other difficult emotion? If so, do you wish to let them go or ceremonially cleanse them?

It’s helpful to consider that our bodies themselves ‘speak’ stories, with our bones showing how nourished we are, our body’s ergonomic strain, and even our toxin exposure[6]. Our bodies also arouse stories in others. Shona scientist Dr. Virginia Mapedzahama says when she walks into a room she experiences predetermined socio-political space simply because of her Black body[7], whereas Yuin scientist Shannon Field describes awareness of her socio-political privilege since she can pass as White though she is a Blak Aboriginal woman[8].

To further complicate things, many of us have lived experiences that aren’t fully processed. For example, if someone believes that lying makes them a ‘bad person’, they may subconsciously trick themselves and others into believing an altered story that omits a ‘bad’ thing they did. An acute listener will likely experience cognitive dissonance, a sense that the storyteller’s heart and head were in conflict. This highlights the importance of using discernment with shared knowledge, even when it is embodied.

Exercise: Reflect on what spaces embody, such as a school, a park, or a prison. Reflect on what social structures embody, such as a performer and an audience, or a judge sitting higher than the jury, victim, lawyers, or the accused. Reflect in your own life what you embody and what you intentionally wish to.

giveheart If you value this content, please engage in reciprocity by living, sharing and giving.

[1] For a discussion of the settler role, see Settler trauma dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj5-MTr78V0&t=3s

[2] For a discussion of embodying Indigenous allyship, see Weaving Knowledges dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9N7UE7UMqY

[3] Blackstock, C. (2007). The breath of life versus the embodiment of life: Indigenous knowledge and western research. World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium Journal4(1), 67-79, p. 68.

[4] Kelly, L. (2015). Knowledge and power in prehistoric societies: Orality, memory, and the transmission of culture. Cambridge University Press, p. xvii.

[5] See e.g. Karl-Erik Svieby & Tex Skuthorpe. (2006.) Treading Lightly: The hidden wisdom of the world’s oldest people. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.

[6] See e.g. Krieger, N. (2005). Embodiment: a conceptual glossary for epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health59(5), 350-355. https://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/59/5/350.full.pdf

[7] Navigating whiteness dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYYN-f5m3YI

[8] Identity politics dialogue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxIJAARiZLo

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