Our bodies speak! Did you know that? Sometimes the body sends up a twinge, speaking softly, other times there is a huge signal like a heart attack, and in between there is every strength of signal. If you pay attention to its signals, there is wisdom in your body that will help you in your life—not just in terms of the need for more exercise and a good diet, Entertaining the body signs might hurry you on to a doctor to fix the physical problem and send you musing to a symbolism dictionary to begin the process of discerning what the body is trying to say to you through metaphor and symbolism. If, for example, your hand hurts, you might ask what you’re having trouble grasping; if your foot aches, what is the ground you are standing on? Is it a stance that is helpful to you?
These physical signals are invaluable in the Life of the Spirit—it is our job to keep our psyche—body, mind and spirit—as healthy and clear as possible, so that we can be God’s love and care in the world. Anything that stands between God and us is problematic: too much stress, emotional states, resistances and holding on to the past stop the action of the Spirit in our lives. So we are well-advised to pay attention to any signal that comes our way, whether from the body as I am writing this week or from our dreams, thoughts and emotions next week or from outside of us—the third week’s topic. Do not in anyway use this information as an excuse for not seeking medical care for the symptoms.
In the Life of the Spirit the body partners with our thoughts and emotions in signaling what the Spirit is trying to communicate to our conscious minds. If we take these signals seriously, we can be a more open channel of God’s love in the world. The language of the signals is symbolic, metaphoric, and somewhat hidden. Unpacking what the symbols mean to us is a process of going from the universality of the symbol to the particularity of what it means to just me.
We are all pretty conscious of the reactions in our bodies to gross amounts of stress: we suffer headaches, upsets in the stomach or intestinal tracts, palpitations in some, outbreaks of eczema and other symptoms in other people. Stress and holding on to the past are probably the biggest blocks to God’s providence and action in our lives. When we live the Life of the Spirit we want to take any symptoms as a signal that we actually need to change something. If we can move our recognition of something being wrong to the very first and tiniest symptoms, the pre-headache feelings, the first thought changes as a depressive mood moves in, the way our body adjusts to stress, etc., we can head them off and they never need take hold in our body or mind. These are signals to us, like our dreams are signals to us, in a metaphoric language, the language of poetry. For example, if we’re having trouble with depression, it is helpful to identify exactly how it feels to you—is it like a blanket, a fog, a ______? Once we identify the metaphor we can play with the meaning of that symbol. Especially helpful is a gestalt kind of exercise: imagine each part of the symbol or scenario speaking its wisdom. Then, when you feel you have a handle on its meaning, offer it up to the Lord for him to transform into a healthier attitude. This is not about curing illnesses or conditions, but we can minimize their effect on us, through releasing the underlying pattern of thinking or being in the world, as well as through relaxation, a spiritual practice and living a life that the Lord can transform.
Let’s go back to the aching feet: you might ask: what ground am I standing on? Is this a good place for me to stand? What do I stand for? Think of the function of the feet and meditate on the idea that the feet are having trouble doing their job in your body. If bunions or bone spurs are the source of discomfort, what do those deposits of calcium mean? If the problem is in the arch or ankle, what shading does that add to the meaning? And then offer the wisdom gained up to the Lord.
I think of the body as more truthful than the thoughts or emotions. Our thinking is often wide of the mark, because so often what we are taught as children ends up limiting our thinking as adults. We’ll do more on thinking and emotions next week.
As we practice letting go of the underlying cause of the signal, we get better at reading these signals earlier and earlier. We may be able to head off a headache or a period of depression by catching it very early in the process, or we may mitigate the symptoms and the length of time we suffer them. We might let go of whatever we are holding on to—expectations, the past, etc. As long as we ignore the signals, we are not functioning at our best; we are allowing our relationship with God to be put on hold until we are able to deal with what’s going on. Far better to let go of the old thinking, the old emotional response in favor of a better handle on the truth. After all, God sees us as we really are, as He created us to be; anything less than our best means that we are limited in what we can offer to the world of God’s love and our gifts.
In addition to the methods described above, gestalt and meditating on the metaphor, I have also found it helpful to use Jin Shin Jyutsu, a form of acupressure to release energy that is somehow stuck in the body. My knee, tendonitis in my elbow and now a tenderness in the bottom of my left foot all respond to the self-treatments I found in The Touch of Healing by Alice Burmeister. Like acupuncture, acupressure seeks to allow the chi, the life-force energy, to flow freely.
These ideas may seem far afield of the Life of the Spirit, but this is a huge area that we, with God’s help, can transform. As the Lord transforms our symptoms, he also transforms the thinking that causes them to arise. It is to God’s and our own advantage to take these communications from the body, thinking and emotions seriously. Once we do we will feel God’s transforming love recreating us. What a joy!