Be careful with what I’m about to say. For this idea to be rock-solid, one has to be a raw truth-teller with self. Most of us are complete fabricators inside our own minds. But should we eventually develop honesty with ourselves, the reality I’m about to expound on can be a helpful tool for getting unstuck. The truth is this. Our bodies are wired moral, even when our beliefs and actions are not.
Hypothetically, I attend a party. The atmosphere is lovely. Candles, music, food, good company. I’ve worn clothes that give me the feeling I’m pretty. Friends and I, we chat up a storm, we laugh a lot. As I say goodbye and head into the night, I feel sick and low. I hate myself. But why? Not sure what’s the matter, back home I find myself in kitchen, fridge door ajar, stuffing left-over cold pizza down my throat, even after all the rich tasty food I’d taken in over the course of the evening. Laying in bed, sick to my stomach, now stuffed full from the excess food I’ve devoured, I hate myself even more, tell myself I’m a disgusting pig, and flip on the TV to watch something so I’ll relax. These are the things I recall about my evening, and how I interpret it.
If it’s not food, it could have been a crazy spending spree on amazon, too much alcohol, TV watching, gambling. I could have been working hours into the night on an important project, but all for reasons of numbing out. In other-words, plug in a vice and you get the idea.
Rewind the tape to beginning of the party. For most of us, not all parties end in a numbing binge. Then what might have actually occurred at this party? I may not know. And for good reason. We all try to lock step in doing what we have been taught to do all our lives. To not be thin skinned. To not feel sorry for myself. To make jokes about others who are “too sensitive”. To laugh when someone takes a jab at me. To toughen-up. To look on the bright side. To be other centered. To be cut off from feelings because feelings are fickle things.
These ideas sound mature, solid, even holy. Unfortunately they are quite the opposite. If an out of control life were a tree, choosing to not be “thin skinned” would be it’s roots. Anxiety, depression, obesity, alcoholism, gambling, obsessive working, compulsive credit card use, obsessive-compulsive cleaning …. all things out of control and addictive are the fruits of our insistence on cutting ourselves off from our feelings.
Back to the party. I tell myself I’m excited I get to go to a party tonight. I have a new dress for the occasion, I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to wear this dress. If I were to pay attention to the body God has given me, intact with all kinds of systems, including systems that send out signals called feelings, I’d reach for the dress in my closet and notice that my body is not comfortable with this party. The sick feeling in my stomach is the first signal I get. I’d be curious as to why. As I invite curiosity around the feelings I’m noticing, I’d admit to myself that the main reason I’m attending this party is to gain some ground at work with a project. My body, however, would notify me by way of a knot in my gut, a tight throat, a racing heart, or whatever way it talks to me, that the last time I attended a party for the same reasons with the same people, the ones I was there to impress ended up acting like obnoxious power-mongers, working to out-do each other with stories, seedy jokes and other outlandish behavior. I would pay attention to my body and remember that I promised myself I’d never again use a party to try to gain ground for a work project. My body would feel sick at the memory of the way I was sexualized even mildly, but completely creepy last time I spent an evening with these people - they would be drinking this time, they weren’t drinking the last time round. And because I don’t pay any attention to signals my body is putting out, I arrive at the party, play the game, am ignored by a group of girls I have always felt I could trust, completely locked out of their company because I ware a evening gown and they ware pants and sweaters. I end up hanging with the guys, am flirted with, and sexualized and minimized and the whole attempt at team building is one giant shame.
When I say the body is moral, I am saying that the mind might say what is expected to be said. It might say “It’s important to be able to mingle socially with the people I work with.”, while my body is telling the truth about these particular people, the truth about how non-helpful has been and will be to mingle with them, and what the outcome will most likely be. My body has memory, even when my mind tends to throw out information it does not wish to remember.
I have given an example of a party, but this principal is true of every situation in life. It's true about food I reach for. About projects I agree to take on. About holiday realities. We wonder why we are depressed over holidays. Depression gives a physiological response which is similar to a bear that has gone into hibernation. Sleep, lack of appetite, non-productive. It's a way for the body to protect me from doing something that is not healthy for me to do. If I have learned to honor the wisdom of my body, and have, in a sense, invited it into the conversation of my life, I will notice when it’s disagreeing with what I’ve decided to do or say. It will remind me of what is true. As I merge my actions and mind with what my body knows is true, the physiological responses calm down. It’s as if the body starts trusting me when I start acting trustworthy. I overwork, sleeping just a couple hours a night, surviving on coffee black and chocolate. My truth-telling body will realize I’m not trust-worthy and it’s response will be chronic fatigue. ‘There, now she’ll slow down’, Body quips. And as I work the right amount of hours, feeding my body what it needs, the body will back off from taking control of how much sleep I need.
What about cravings? Are cravings body signals that are legit? Should the body be given what it’s demanding? No. Cravings are almost always a demand for the wrong thing in response to legitimate needs that have been long ignored and neglected. We are humans. We are made for tender-loving-care. Just as a baby needs regular sleep, a happy atmosphere, social interaction, cotton against it’s skin, thrives on good music, the best foods, low stress, we need careful and intentional care, and don’t give it to ourselves, nor do we notice when our body is asking for it. We yawn when we are tired. We get a physical feeling of loneliness when we are over-due good healthy friendship time. Our skin sweats when we wear happy-plastic (polyester), and so on. Rather than seeking ways to befriend ourselves and provide the self care we need, we pride ourselves on how little we can get by on. In the farming community where my husband grew up, this is definitely something that is flaunted. How little sleep one has managed to suffer through for how many days in a row, self-neglect is a badge of honor. Not a personalized billboard of a poorly managed life set up for addiction. The same could be said for Microsoft folks, Boeing shift workers, church ladies, … .
To be healthy does not mean I must never face what makes me nervous, what gives me anxiety, what causes me to want to numb out. It does mean that I acknowledge what my body is reacting to and make the correct choice, not the cool choice or the choice I think someone else wants me to make, or the choice I’m expected to make, but the right choice. Like a child who has taken a fall and ripped up her knee, ignoring her cry does not make the cut worse. Nor does acknowledging the pain and hugging her and telling her your sorry it hurt make it better. However, one behavior increases the bodies need to signal extreme distress, and one decreases the need for the body to signal extreme distress. The same principal applies for me. When I acknowledge that my body is throwing me signals, when it remembers something I’ve not thought of in a long time. When I pay attention to my feelings of anxiety, sadness, feeling shut down, anger, fear, etc… When I bring a curiosity to the situation. When I explore what the body is signaling against, and acknowledge that it has had a legitimate reason to be uncomfortable with the situation. When I take the time to explain to myself the steps being taken this time around that will hopefully give a better outcome, with safeguards in place, my body often stops it’s need to send distress signals my way, I relax and move forward with my plans.
The body will tell me when I’m saying “yes” to something I have no time for. It will tell me if my values and priorities are being trampled on by myself with choices I’m making. It will slow the signals down as I take more control of my life, able to trust that I’m functioning as a kind truth-telling caretaker of myself. The body signals are given for a reason. Be thin skinned. Notice feelings. They are often the gate-keepers of the truth of our lives.