“Do I have a body, or am I a body?”, a good friend asked me years ago whilst walking through the Hampstead Heath. Even though the thought resonated, I filed it somewhere in my memory not thinking about it for more than a decade. Recently I realised that my working assumption in my every day life has been for a long time that ‘I have a body’. It needs to function smoothly all the time. I now realise it has been a dangerous assumption. When I lost my Achilles tendon, I was very angry with my body. I was even swearing at my lower leg. I was furious for ‘it’ not meeting my 100% assumed service level agreement. “Who are you swearing at” a small voice was asking me in the back of my mind. I ignored it. I had not asked my brain for comments on my behavior.
I have asked many executives how they respond to the physical signals they get from their body. An overwhelming number confirmed that they are ‘having a body’ like you have a watch, a car and sport shoes. Including ignoring the signals that our bodies are sending us. It is my heroic belief that my body will never fail on me, probably confirmed by my experiences in hospitals and messages in the media that my body can be fixed, patched up or parts replaced when malfunctioning.
“The hero can be hero until he meets forces bigger than himself”, my Vision Quest leader said lovingly and slightly understated. I did not quite know what she meant, but I figured I was on to something important. Her sentence was a response to the list of physical problems I am experiencing over the last half year: two ankles and a knee hurt, a back pain that has been lingering around for more than a decade and recent sleeping problems. The hero in me thought I needed to combat these symptoms with exercise, exercise and more exercise in order to get on top of it. But I was going to a place where there was no exercise but just room for contemplation: staying out in the forest of Southern Sweden for three days.
The big surprise out there was that I slept better outside in the woods on a self-inflatable mattress, than on my Hästens bed back at home. I had no back pains like I experience in the world of ‘having a body’. Something is broken, I realised. And it is not my body.
In the debrief we talked the soul, my soul. New horizons emerge. Possibilities are opening up. And yet I thought: do I have a soul, or…