Using the following method often, sometimes just for fun, will help you gain confidence in listening to your “horse,” accessing all kinds of information you can put to any number of uses.
1. Map the Sensations
Before you enter a situation involving other people (a business meeting, for example), scan down your body in a neutral environment where you are alone (your office, your car, the restroom). Notice what sensations you are feeling — without trying to “relax out of them.”
2. Dialog with Prominent Sensations
If any sensations or postures stand out, dialog with your body by expanding the sensation and asking it for a message.
What information is that sensation or posture holding?
It may be a tension, a feeling of pins and needles, energy, excitement, anxiety, openness, fullness, and so on. (So-called negative as well as positive sensations can hold valuable information.)
Imagine breathing into the sensation, sending it oxygen and awareness.
This encourages the sensation to “speak,” almost as if it’s sending an email to your mind in the form of an image, brief text message, color, memory, song fragment, cliché, poetic phrase, or strange, irrational phrase, and so on.
Remember that the message can be simple and straightforward.
Feeling “the weight of the world on your shoulders” or that “someone has kicked you in the belly” or that “you don’t have a leg to stand on” is a message in the form of a metaphor, no less meaningful because it is common!
3. Assess the Result
When you receive the message, whether it makes logical sense or not, check in again with the sensation.
If it has released completely, this means the message was received to your body’s satisfaction, even if your thinking brain doesn’t completely understand the symbol. (Proceed to step 4.)
If the sensation has released slightly, it means you’re on the right track, but that you probably need to change something. When Maggie’s ankles began to relax in response to the message “Gotta be on your toes,” she still had to dismount and connect with the horse before her heels would lower completely in the stirrups.
Sometimes you can’t immediately address the issue raised, such as a tension related to your spouse that you notice when you are at work. In this case, take note of the body’s insight or recommendation, and put it into action the next time you have some quality time with your mate.
If a work-related tension arises at home, you might discuss it briefly with your spouse in order to become congruent, to make sure that he or she doesn’t take the agitation, frustration, or anger you’re experiencing personally, perhaps inspiring him or her to offer valuable suggestions or support.
If the sensation has intensified, it generally means your body has more to say on the subject, or it has other issues to address. (You may choose to ask for another message, if time permits, or check in with the body again later for more information. Remember to invoke the self-regulation program, releasing one “horse” at a time.)
If the sensation stays the same, it may mean the circuit between your mind and body has been interrupted or is “off-line” in some way. In most cases, this happens when an initial, subtle message from the body has been ignored or judged as irrational and the mind has come up with a message it thinks is more appropriate.
The lack of response from the body means the mind has missed the boat. Go back and engage with the sensation, remaining open to how the body might speak. Remember that the body is often more like an artist than a scientist in its communication style, using imagery, color, song fragments, or odd poetic phrases to communicate insights that are too complex to fit into plain linear statements. However, if you still can’t get a message, just move for- ward with your day, noticing if the sensation changes when you interact with other people, horses, situations, and so on.
4. Get a New Baseline Reading
When you dialogue with the body, sensations will change. Before you walk into that business meeting, scan down your body one more time, without dialoging, to get a new baseline reading.
5. Stay in contact with your body as you walk into the room, and notice any changes in your body
If your baseline reading included tension in your right shoulder, butterflies in your stomach, and energy in your hands, notice how these sensations intensify, release, or shift (or what new sensations arise) as you enter the meeting, sit down, and interact with your colleagues.
Any new sensations that come into your body are a direct result of something nonverbal that’s already happening in that meeting before anyone even speaks a word.
If the butterflies in your stomach go away, and the tension in your shoulder releases, your body feels not only safe but also nourished by the setting or people involved.
On the other hand, if you feel like you’re getting kicked in the stomach whenever you look at one of your supervisors or potential clients, your body is sending you a potent alarm.
If you feel inexplicably agitated by someone who is smiling and saying he’s “fine,” this person may be incongruent — in other words he’s consciously or unconsciously hiding something.
It may be a personal issue, trouble at home, and so on, and truly none of your business. Even so, this person is likely to act unpredictably because of his conflicted emotional state, and his judgment regarding work issues may be temporarily impaired. It is to your advantage to be aware of this.
6. Continue a Silent Dialog with Your Body
As new sensations rise or previous baseline sensations intensify, breathe into them and ask for input.
Most business meetings offer lots of little opportunities for checking in. Rather than resorting to daydreaming or mentally going over your grocery list when things get tedious, check in with your body, watch other people’s nonverbal responses, and take notes.
If you feel uncontrollably tense or overwhelmed, you may choose to take a bathroom break. Rather than stepping outside for a smoke (a way of releasing tension without getting the message), step into a private space and dialog with your body.
Teams of individuals who are fluent in using the body scan and assessing the messages behind sensations and emotions can engage in consensual leadership, a principle I explore more deeply in Guiding Principle 10, in chapter 22. Here the word consensual does not mean that everyone agrees, but that every- one is willing and able to “sense together” in determining the most promising course of action.
In teams that employ consensual leadership, the group can more accurately assess which team members are calmest, clearest, most experienced, most inspired, or most invested in handling certain challenges.
Using the “other 90 percent,” teams can also enter the unknown more confidently, realizing that their own bodies will flash them little “warning lights” when the plan needs to be altered or reassessed — early enough to avoid a mishap.
By checking the Emotional Message Chart in response to these subtle somatic alarms, members can tell the difference between fear (a legitimate environmental threat) and vulnerability (performance anxiety, a need for additional staff or training, or a challenge to an outmoded method, paradigm, or belief system).
They can tell the difference between anger (boundaries that have been crossed) and frustration (blocks in the road to success). (These self-assessment, intersubjectivity, and emotional-fitness skills are helpful in overcoming what Patrick Lencioni calls the “five dysfunctions of a team” in his bestselling leadership book by that name, which we will explore as a part of Guiding Principle 5, in chapter 17.)
You can also use this scanning and messaging process privately to aid in problem solving, accessing your body’s genius — its direct line to creative, metaphorical, poetic, and intuitive forms of wisdom — to help you develop fresh approaches to challenges that your linear, logical mind might not otherwise entertain or even begin to imagine.
Like Amy, you can learn to sense when your body is skeptical of a certain course of action, when it feels safe, and when it feels excited moving forward, allowing you to “really put your heart into” what- ever you decide to do.
With all three intelligence centers online and aligned, you’ll have much more energy to accomplish your goals.
Other people will sense your clarity, vision, focus, inspiration, enthusiasm, and authentic, full-bodied conviction, finding it difficult to resist following your lead — whether you’re the official leader or not. That is charisma in the purest, most productive sense of the word.
About the author
Linda Kohanov speaks and teaches around the world. She founded Epona Equestrian Services to explore the healing potential of working with horses and to offer programs on everything from stress reduction and parenting to consensus building and mindfulness. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. To know more about Linda, visit www.eponaquest.com.