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  Article: What is Radical Emergent Self-Wisdom?

by Kristy Arbon

Image: CC0 Unsplash/Patrick Fore

Think of a time when you felt most alive, most proud, most right. This might be a moment when you were teaching or it might be something else you were doing. In your mind’s eye, put yourself back into that space. Feel the emotions. See what you saw. Hear what you heard. This is how it feels when you follow your emergent self-wisdom and connect with your soul’s purpose. This is what you were put on earth to be.

Emergent self-wisdom and our ability to connect with our soul’s purpose is inherent in all of us. Our wisdom emerges in every moment, rising out from the vastness of our soul’s databanks. We may have mistaken our wisdom for something else, and it may be covered over by life’s challenges, but it remains, waiting for us to reunite with.

It is not intellect

Our self-wisdom is not our intellect; it is what happens when we drop into our body and leave our book learning behind. Our intellect is most useful when it is recruited in service of this powerful source of information. Albert Einstein said, “… certainly we should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve; and it is not fastidious in its choices of a leader.” My mind is very useful for putting words to page and remembering concepts I want to teach, but it’s my self-wisdom in each moment that informs the message I want to convey in any moment and how I want to convey it. Why is tapping into our emergent self-wisdom radical? Because many of us have done what Einstein suggested does not work – we have made our intellect the leader and we teach from our head rather than our heart.

It is blocked by trauma

Emergent self-wisdom is our personal oracle and our body is it’s conduit for communication. We may have forgotten that we have the power to act on our emergent self-wisdom if trauma has been part of our past. Our body never lies, and we feel ill-equipped to handle it’s unabashed truth-telling so we distance ourself from it instead. Old traumas play themselves out repeatedly through our body and we continually don’t have the tools to respond in a way that allows for completion of these processes.

We were born into this world with the seeds for understanding our inherent goodness and our emergent wisdom. For some of us these seeds were not nurtured and we had to leave any understanding of our emergent self-wisdom behind in order to simply survive, turning to the wisdom of our amygdala to be hypervigilant to danger; our sympathetic nervous system to fight or run; and our dorsal vagal system to freeze or faint. While useful in acute threat situations, we were never meant to respond to constant threat. Our emergent self-wisdom, our creativity, our true love and inner beauty is covered over when we are in a war zone, tending to our basic need to survive.

But our soul’s wisdom never left. Our true “Self” is indestructible and remains a source we can tap into if we can just find the trailhead that leads us back. At our core we are not damaged – we are pristine. In order to reconnect with our wellspring of wisdom, we first need to tend to the wounds of our psyche and the body.

It is blocked by the inner critic

Many of us are motivated by an inner critic whose purview includes commenting on and punishing us over our commitment to our contemplative and inquiry practices as well as the material, message and methods of our teaching. We feel that if we can just meditate for longer, just get disciplined about doing a certain practice at the same time every day, just answer every student's question skillfully, just learn every piece of relevant research or theory, we’ll surely get to the level of happiness promised by such mastery. We want to believe in the promise of happiness. But how happy are we denying the needs of our body? How happy are we ignoring the signs that our practice just doesn't feel right for us? How happy are we feeling that we are not measuring up to the other teachers in our industry? Our inner critic is not our self-wisdom; it is an internalized voice of oppression and injustice whose methods are cruel and clumsy. We are much better than that! We just need to find that alternative voice, the voice of our emergent self-wisdom.

Tending to every part of us

In order to thrive, I understand that we need the four parts of our being to work together.

  1. Emergent self-wisdom or our soul’s wisdom communicates through our…
  2. …body which in turn gives information to our…
  3. …mind which can then inform our actions in the world.
  4. Spirit, the spark that ignites our willingness to respond to our soul’s calling through a sense of a higher, collective purpose, guides the process.

We all have these elements, albeit in our own individual forms.

Self-compassion, mindfulness and shame resilience

Whenever we head off on an adventure of self-exploration, we know we’ll find something unexpected. It’s important to have some tools in our kit that put us in good stead to hold our ground and take care of ourselves when the road gets a bit rocky. Self-compassion, mindfulness and shame resilience are three vital pieces of our toolkit, so we make sure we have these first before we wander too far. Throwing ourselves into experience may not be wise, kind or safe, and the beautiful thing about bringing our self-compassion, mindfulness and shame resilience with us is that we get an even better idea of what is wise, kind and safe for us as a unique, never-to-be-repeated individual. No-one else can tell us how this looks for us; we are our own best guide and teacher in this respect.

A step-by-step process toward self-wisdom

So how do we find a space for our self-wisdom to emerge in a way that our body can communicate so that our mind can carry out our soul’s purpose? There are many paths, but here’s the place where I work with fellow travelers:

  1. If trauma is part of our past, we acknowledge that our trauma has robbed us of our connection with our self-wisdom;
  2. We recruit help in exploring that territory, in finding our way back, often through relationship with a therapist who can join us on our journey as a shaman rather than pathologize us;
  3. Though experience, we feel our ability to re-connect with our soul’s voice and gain confidence in our emergent self-wisdom;
  4. Through mindfulness, courage and self-compassion, we bring that wisdom into our experience more and more so that it informs our daily life and our teaching;
  5. We arrive at that place that we were never really away from: standing in our own emergent self-wisdom.

As I deepen into my own emergent self-wisdom, I invite others to deepen into theirs. What we find there is exquisitely unique to each one of us. It is our source of power, creativity, sensuality and belonging. It offers both amazing, unrepeatable soul expression and an enveloping, enduring lineage of sisterhood and brotherhood.

We can explore all of this in the HeartWorks Teachers' Circle. Looking forward to this adventure with you!


  • Albert Einstein, In My Later Years
  • Martha Graham, Blood Memory: An autobiography
  • Peter A. Levine, PhD In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
  • Dick Schwartz, Internal Family Systems Therapy