Our bodies are a bit like children (or lovers) - we love them when they behave how we want, and hate them when they don’t. But, like children, lovers, and ourselves, bodies want to be loved for who they are, warts n’all.
It’s easy to get annoyed with our bodies when they don’t work as well as we think they should. It can feel like they’re out to sabotage us, to stop us from doing what we love, and generally get in our way. I’ve certainly felt that way, often. One minor symptom and I can get up in arms thinking my body is letting me down, throwing me off and betraying me.
But over time, I’ve come to realise that even when our bodies don’t feel good or they don’t do what we want, they are on our side, here to serve our highest good. Hold tight - we’re about to get hippy-dippy…
If we think of symptoms as messages from our deep inner wisdom (can you hear the singing bowls yet?), then they not only become much less scary and stressful, but we can start to extract the lessons and blessings they are trying to help us see. And then, perhaps we can start making changes - nuanced or radical - to how we live.
That’s all good in theory but in practice it can be very difficult to interpret the symptoms, especially if they're inconsistent or stop us doing the things we love.
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy” - Frederick Nietsche.
I believe that our bodies “talk” to us and if we don’t listen, they start to shout, ie, symptoms get worse until we start to do something about them. Or our symptoms are an outward expression of an emotion we’ve suppressed. Sometimes they are our ego trying to keep us “safe” - ie, stick with what’s familiar. Ego wants to hang on to an old identity and avoid taking a scary step towards something our heart wants. The tussle of internal conflict can emerge as symptoms.
It’s not always this, of course. Sometimes a brief illness or relapse following an acute illness is simply an indication that the body needs more time to recuperate before we hammer it again. If it goes on for longer than a few weeks then perhaps deeper investigation is warranted. Sometimes illness is there to humble us, to remind us that we are fallible and need to take care of ourselves.
Each symptom has its own unique message or feeling related to it. For example, a recent elbow tendinopathy that emerged from nowhere turned out to be related to my fears around performing - the pressure I was putting on myself, feelings of inadequacy (comparing myself to others), fear of unreliable and low income, and letting go of an old version of myself - scary!
Once I had identified these “stressors”, I was able to unpack them and process them, my elbow got better by itself in a couple of weeks. It had served its purpose.
Sometimes our bodies talk on our behalf. We may not feel able to say no or speak our minds, so our bodies step in and do the, ahem, leg work, because of what we perceive we may lose or gain if we do. There is something we’re trying to hold onto, that our speaking up threatens to shake up.
Many cancer patients and people who've experienced life-changing injuries or faced death, talk about how it gave them the wake up call they needed to radically re-examine their lives. Many even talk about how their illness gave them the wake up call they needed, or a clear sense of purpose. The more severe the condition, the more desperately our inner wisdom is crying out to be heard.
The more we think of our bodies as beyond our control, hijacked by a malevolent force, or 'born faulty', the more we remain a disempowered victim and fail to see the divine mastery in our situation. We deny ourselves the opportunity to connect with our true self, and live a meaningful and inspired life. (I did say we were getting hippy dippy, right?)
Some symptoms are of, course, mighty mysterious and completely, infuriatingly baffling. There is no clear pattern to flare ups (except there is if you really pay attention). You can be living your best life, as the kids say, and then POOF! from nowhere a symptom arises and you’re completely miffed. Those are the worst… but also the best...
The more wildly erratic and mysterious the symptoms are, usually the more psychological treasure there is to mine. For instance, one client with an autoimmune disease was adamant that her symptoms had no triggers, showing up even when life was wonderful. Yet when I probed, it turned out that “wonderful” was a veneer, a pleasant but inauthentic experience when she wasn’t being totally true to herself, for the sake of keeping the peace with people around her. It sounds so simple but it can be so hard to figure out.
“If you avoid a conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself”. - Cheryl Richardson
Sometimes she expected herself to do things the way her husband wanted, because she was afraid he would judge her for what she wanted. Her pride of being amenable prevented her from asking for what she really wanted, which she had shame around. Sometimes she just didn’t have the energy to fight, so her body put up a physical barrier instead. And, deep down, she knew that their wants would never be aligned, but she wasn’t ready to acknowledge it yet.
Each person and each symptom is unique. But for all of us, they are the voice at the back of our mind telling us that something needs attention.
So, instead of trying to avoid or suppress symptoms, or blaming microorganisms or faulty genes, if we view them with curiosity and an open mind, we may learn something, and hear the message our body is trying to give us and we can take action… or not. Like, maybe the symptom is the least worst option right now, and that's ok. Sometimes even just understanding them is enough to take the stress and worry out of them and make them easier to live with.
The more we show our bodies love, and listen to what they have to say, the better they work for us. The more open we are to the messages from within, the more we can leverage them for our personal growth and improve our lives (plus, it gets easier the more you do it). It’s then that we can experience genuine gratitude for our bodies, and love them as they are. Awww.