Reading My Body By: Debbie Rosas

I have a reading ritual on Sunday morning: I and the Times newspaper have a date. As someone who grew up with learning disabilities, struggling to read and comprehend, I feel proud every time I sit down with my coffee to read this paper. Something was different today. Not once did I feel proud of my accomplishment. I believe this means I have transformed and finally embodied the belief, “I can read.” By finally, I mean I’ve come close to sensing this, but I have never really arrived at this as MY truth.

The first time I sensed this might be true was when I read the book, Zen Mind Zen Horse: The Science and Spirituality of Working with Horses, by Allan J. Hamilton, MD. He's the author of this most beautiful book about horses where he eloquently discusses the primary method of human communication. He explains how we receive information, and that 70% comes from what we see as body language, i.e. nonverbal, 20% comes from the tone of our voice, and 10% comes from the actual words we speak. After reading this I finally understood something about me, and the brain: we are both coded to learn, first by receiving and processing information through sight, images, colors, and body language; second through sound, the tone, and pitch of a voice; and third, by the words we speak and hear. This was a revelation to me. It explained why I am so seduced by what I see, and why being unable to read propelled me into the arts. As an artist you don’t have to read words, you read symbols. Shape and design are how you receive information. Looking is how I came to learn, know, and understand things. By looking at shapes and seeing how things fit together, support each other, or don’t, I gained knowledge.

The second time I sensed it might be true, “I can read,” was when I read the book, Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf. I loved how she beautifully synthesized cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research, psychology, and archaeology, linguistics and education, neuroscience and history to help me understand what she calls “the reading brain.” She chronicled human development from the process of writing to reading, detailing the neuroscience, the magic, and mechanics behind writing and reading. Her perspective gave me a deeper understanding and respect for how I, we as humans, have developed a reading brain. This knowledge provided me with the validation I needed to understand how I learn, and how going to my body to sense to interpret information, starting by decoding symbols and then adding words to explain what I knew and understood is my way. The quote in Wolf’s book by the Greek dramatist best known for Athenian New Comedy, Menander, “Those who can read see twice as well” stimulated a conversation between my body and my mind. I wondered if this was true about reading the body? If I can read the body, do I see twice as well? As someone who struggled with book reading, the idea I could see twice as well by reading the body was exciting! It is still is. Reading the body is my way.

When people ask me what I am here to do, I believe I am here to inspire people to “feel to heal.” Feeling and reading the body is my work, and teaching people to develop the most important relationship they will ever have, the one they have with their body, drives me to share what I perceive as the most endangered species on the planet: the human being body. I want to do something about this.

Wolf believes reading is one of the single most remarkable inventions in history and that our ability to record history has been one of the consequences of reading. Like other scientists researching the brain, she points out that due to the design and plasticity of the brain, the brain has an extraordinary ability to change and make new connections among the existing structures that shape our experiences. As I see it, it is up to us to use this knowledge and wisdom to change things for the better. While Wolf tells the story of the reading brain, the context of which she explains our evolutionary development and unfolding, I have applied this thinking to the reading body. Imagine what kind of life and world we will have if we develop a reading body and a reading brain. If we do, I believe this will create a more holistic context upon which to guide our human evolutionary and personal development, and more importantly, guide the relationship we have with our body, health, and wellbeing.

Is a reading brain the same as a reading body? I think so. While the physical parts we have are generally the same, the way we communicate with our body parts and systems of the body, and how we interpret or read and decode information is different for everyone. The way we use our parts is also different. Some of us listen to our bodies, we walk, run, and feed our bodies with good food and love, while others do the opposite.

Today, I can confidently say "I can read", but the truth is the deep learning, understanding and embodied knowledge comes from me reading my body. This is where my seeing, sensing, and turning words and mental constructs, concepts, and theories into body sensations make me smart from listening to and hearing the voices of my body speak to me.

No matter how mentally intelligent or challenged someone may be, whether they’re labeled normal or dyslexic, given the opportunity to learn, everyone can learn. I’m a perfect example of this. My way, the body’s way, gave me a path to learn and discover how to learn, how to read, and best of all, how to be in a relationship with my body. I know given the time and space to explore the body’s way and your body’s way, everyone can find a way to live a healthier and more meaningful life at any age.

Proust said, “I believe that reading, in its original essence, is that fruitful miracle of communication amid solitude.” I believe sense, in its original essence, is the fruitful miracle of communication discovered while thinking.

In a body, we are someone with a life partner, the ultimate listener, and a lover. It’s called your body. I promise if you commit to cultivating this relationship you can become your body's best partner.

So I ask, what is going to happen to human communication as we continue to live in a technological world with a digital brain? Will we lose the ability to sense, feel, and be connected to life through our bodies? If we are to live and thrive in a digital world, we need a linking intelligence, something we can use that will connect our reading body, the part of us that reads via body sensation, with our reading brain, the part of us that reads and interprets written language. 

Imagine what might happen when we connect the reading brain and the reading body. Imagine what might happen when we develop a new kind of communication, a psychophysical alphabet integrating the sensing body with the reading brain. I believe we will be able to communicate truthfully and respectfully with our inner self, our body, people and the world and universe we live in.

Remember this: as a biological species we are coded to think, sense and feel. The body gives us a way to create a psychophysical (mind-body) alphabet with two other human bits of intelligence: feeling (emotions), and spirit (personal uniqueness). 

I truly believe we can live in the fast-growing, inevitable digital world successfully, and that by learning the technology of the body’s design and function is as important as learning a new computer program. I believe the body is the most important relationship we will ever have and that the body is an instrument of change. It can help us evolve and stay connected to the most valuable and important attributes of being human: sensing and feeling.

This is why I am excited to share what I know about The Body’s Way!