You talk about embodiment a lot. Why, and what does embodiment even mean?

woman doing stretches


MCC talks about “embodiment” a lot. Why?…and what does embodiment even mean?

It is true that, in groups and one-to-one interactions, I often offer encouragement to pay attention to what is going on in and with our bodies, as we are able and ready. I believe that this is important and useful whether we gather as MCC communities in brick and mortar or virtual spaces. It is a reminder to not leave our bodies behind as we traverse day in day out and moment-to-moment interactions with ourselves, with others in this realm, and with God and the Ancestors. It is a call to notice bodily sensation.

Noticing sensation arising in the body means that, just as one can be aware of, and ultimately reflect on, one’s own thoughts and own emotions, that practice can be developed and engaged in relationship to sensation—the quality of breath (how shallow or deep), a squiggiliness in the diaphragm, an expansiveness in the chest, a tightness in the neck, bouncy legs and feet while seated. I doubt that this is the first time that you have heard of this process. And yet, I know that I need and appreciate reminders to recall and utilize it, for, in so many ways, a wide variety of societal systems, structures, and institutional policies, practices, and procedures (here in the U.S. where I was raised and currently reside) continually encourage leaving the body behind.

Remembering the body and sensation can support managing and engaging the range of experiences that occur in life each day, from aches and pains of an aging body, to staying in awareness of, and taking action (alone and in community) against, systems of oppression that exist institutionally and structurally. In noticing sensation, the decision can be made, as one is ready, to turn toward and engage it. This might include offering oneself a gentle, kind touch to the tight spot in the neck as an invitation to release tension. In paying attention, one might stay with expansiveness in the chest, or extend the opening by pulling back the shoulders. Bouncy legs and feet might become movement to another location in the room. The timing of the squiggiliness in the diaphragm, might lead to wondering about the relationship of the sensation to verbally interrupting and interrogating racism intersectionally (e.g.: anti-Black racism and ableism). Engaging and working with the sensation might include placing one hand on the diaphragm, with care and support for the muscle, and allowing more breath for voicing. It is important to note that these processes include bodily sensations, thought, and emotion.

Thus far, I have not mentioned embodiment here. As it has become a buzzword in many societal contexts, concerning assumptions have emerged–that we should experience as much sensation as possible, and that increased sensation, often referenced as embodiment, is a reflection of mental health. What can follow from this is that the more sensation one experiences, the healthier one is assumed to be. This narrative can undermine choicefulness in noticing, paying attention to, and engaging bodily sensation. Developing a practice that includes choice in when and how sensation is engaged can support titration (e.g.: a light brief touch into sensation) and gentleness as what is happening in the body is noticed. This choicefulness and titration can be an act of self-care that does not involve abandoning the body. This self-care can be especially important for those who have experienced trauma, in whatever form, and/or who have been institutionally and structurally pushed to the margins. These processes can support each of us in developing internal and external capacity to, in relationship, courageously co-create more just institutions and communities.

Remembering my body always raises awareness of spirit for me, for I believe that as I indeed re-member myself, I am engaging in what the God of my understanding and the Ancestors desire for me. Among my favorite readings from the Bible is Psalm 139: 13-14.

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I believe that God and the Ancestors hold me as beloved, and thus granted this body in all of its complexity and possibilities. I believe that I am to be in it, be with it, and work with it, to utilize it to be in relationship in service. When that is challenging and unclear, and it often is, I get to remember that the God of my understanding sent Jesus to model truly embodied love and justice.


ABOUT THIS MCC AUTHOR:  Carla Sherrell, Ed.D, has been a social justice leader for over 30 years as a consultant, facilitator, speaker, educator, and counselor. She is Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Counseling and Psychology Somatic Counseling Program at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, where the focus of her work is the infusion of justice throughout all aspects of counselor education and institutional policies, practices, and procedures. As a scholar and consultant, she studies and explores with others the salience of body, mind, and emotion in dismantling oppression internally and externally, and in co-creating vibrant, sustainable, socially just groups and communities. She is in formation, moving toward vocational ministry in the Metropolitan Community Churches.