I Hope You Dance (A 1-minute reading on somatic knowledge)

January 25, 2012

danceWhen the electricity is on in our small village of Masaka, Uganda, there is loud music blasting from speakers positioned in front of the stores that dot our main street.  This means that when I’m doing my errands, I’m often dancing.  One day, as I careened into a new shop, the keeper said, “Eh!  Even you feel it?” 

I have often reflected on that exchange, considering the notion of “feeling” the moment, and allowing it to influence your whole being: mind, body and spirit.  Somatic knowledge is like that.  (The word somatic comes from the Greek sōmatikós: of, or pertaining to the body, the physical.)  As a leader, it is important to be somatically aware, to be in tune with your visceral responses and reactions.  It is essential to feel.

When there is silence in a room, Professor Terri Monroe asks, “What is the texture of this silence?” Ask yourself the same.  Sense what is happening around you.  Somatic knowledge can be a dear ally.  (Note that it can also be a confused whisperer.  Our feelings can have faulty mechanisms that trigger false alarms, so one mustn’t allow somatic knowledge to reign supreme.  Interrogate it when it’s not in sync with what your physical eyes are telling you.  That process, too, can be very telling indeed.)

So, when you begin a meeting, enter a new space, or meet someone new, don’t be afraid to tune into your gut reactions to the moment and see what’s there.

Similarly, the next time you “feel” a great song, I hope you’ll dance.

(If you’d like more info or to further discuss somatic knowledge, leave a comment below, and I’ll reply.)

3 Responses to I Hope You Dance (A 1-minute reading on somatic knowledge)

  1. January 25, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I had forgotten that question and I so appreciate it. Truly there are different kinds of silence–awkward, angry, fearful, serene, questioning, pausing, breathing, waiting, so many options…Thanks for the reminder!

  2. January 25, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Thanks, Tricia. I very much agree. I also like when she asks about “the currency” of a group or discussion. Contemplating the answers to those questions, engaging somatically, really can lead to insight, clarity, and changemaking that matters. Thanks for the comment. –N

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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