Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Embodied Knowing
Embodied Knowing

Knowing with Our Whole Being

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Father Richard Rohr affirms that true “knowing” occurs within our bodies, not just our minds:

Deep knowing and presence do not happen with our thinking minds. To truly know something, our whole being must be open, awake, and present. We intuitively knew how to be present as babies. The psychologist D. W. Winnicott (1896–1971) once said “There is no such thing as a baby.” [1] There’s only an infant/caregiver. In the first several months, from the infant’s perspective, they are one and the same. Infants see themselves entirely mirrored in their family’s eyes; they soon believe and become this vision. Contemplative prayer offers a similar mirroring as we receive and return the divine gaze.

In his book Coming to Our Senses, historian Morris Berman makes the point that our first experience of being alive is not through the visual or auditory experience of knowing ourselves through other people’s responses; it is primarily felt in the body. He calls this kinesthetic knowing. We know ourselves in the security of those who hold us, skin to skin. This early encounter is not so much heard, seen, or thought. It’s felt. That’s the original knowing. [2]

Psychologists say that when we begin to move outside of that first kinesthetic knowing, we hold onto things like teddy bears and dolls. My little sister, Alana, had the classic security blanket as a baby. She dragged it everywhere until it was dirty and ragged, but we could not take it away from her. Children do such things to reassure themselves that they are still connected and one. We all begin to doubt this primal union as the subject/object split of a divided world slowly takes over. Body/mind/world/self all start getting split apart. The basic fault lines in the world become real to us—and the rest of life will be spent trying to put it all back together again. True spirituality is always bringing us back to this original, embodied knowing that is unitive experience.

When primal knowing is wounded or missing, an immense doubt is often created about our own and God’s foundational goodness. Many people live with this doubt, and religious experience only comes to them with great difficulty. Most people don’t know how to surrender to God. How can we surrender unless we believe there is Someone trustworthy out there to surrender to?

Hopefully, our caregivers’ early gaze told us we were foundationally beloved. But when we inevitably begin to see ourselves through eyes that compare, judge, and dismiss, then we need spirituality to help heal the brokenness of our identity and our world. The gift of true religion is that it parts the veil and tells us that our primal experience was trustworthy. It tells us that we are beloved, whether we received that mirroring gaze or not. It reassures us that we live in a benevolent universe, and it is on our side. The universe, it assures us, is radical grace.

[1] D. W. Winnicott, “Anxiety Associated with Insecurity,” in Through Paediatrics to Psycho-Analysis (New York: Basic Books, 1975), 99.

[2] See Morris Berman, Coming to Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West (Brattleboro, VT: Echo Point Books and Media, 1989, 2015), chapter 1.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1999, 2003), 66–69.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.

Story from Our Community:

Hearing the Silence of God / It says: Nothing. / Simply embraces me like a warm lover’s breath blowing over my body. / In it I feel again the taste of hot apple cider my mother would hand me as I stamped the snow from my little child’s leggings and came to the warmth of her morning fire. / Or taste the sweetness of that last sip of coffee rich with sugar at the bottom of the cup. / Or see the secret smile my mother’s eyes could flash in the airless rooms of my father’s anger. / Like all of these, like none of these. . . / there is where God lives: / In the deepest, wordless silence inside of us. / In the spaces between the words of our prayers.
—Francis G.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.