Most of us I believe think that we have cognitive ownership and control over our bodies. Our mind may acknowledge and react to something in the body, “oh look my leg is broken, that hurts,” but our body is independent of trauma in the mind – you can not will your leg to be broken, just like you can’t speed up the healing of a wound by imagining it better. Right? Well of course not right, but it can certainly be hard to prove something that it is intangible and in western medicine physical symptoms are not often tied back to a mental or emotional experience.
Certainly I’m a bit of a cynic but my experience with the western style of health care is that identifying symptoms that can be alleviated with a pill is more interesting than finding the cause and solving the problem at the origin, at least when it comes to things that are not as simple as a gaping hole from which you are bleeding. Western medicine is really awesome in dealing with that kind of situation.
About fifteen years ago I had an attack of shingles. Shingles is one of many viruses that sit in your body quietly until you are stressed by something and then is activated causing some physical problems that go along with whatever is also happening emotionally. I had this weird pain that ran from my back around my torso and down my right arm. It was extremely painful and made it hard to grip or lift or really move my arm at all. I thought for the first few weeks that I had pulled a muscle but then a friend offered to look at my back and saw that I also had a rash that followed the same line (the line of the nerve as it turns out) and said, “oh you should go see the doctor, I think that’s shingles.” She was right, I asked the doctor how to get rid of it and avoid it in the future, they said good luck and offered me some pain killers. Years later when the pain came back, after again a few weeks of massages and thinking that I had pulled something, I realized what it was and rather than going to my western doctor I went to an eastern practitioner of acupuncture and herbal medicine. She diagnosed me as, “having too much fire,” used lots of needles, changed my diet, told me to slow down and meditate and gave me horrible herbs to cook and drink. The pain went away, and now when it starts to come back I slow down immediately and can generally manage it pretty quickly.
The thing about shingles for me is that I can ignore the early signs of pain if I want. I have a pretty high pain threshold and I can tough it out for a long time. But when it flares up it isn’t random, something stressful is going on and the illness is how my body is saying, “stop what you are doing, there is a problem and you need to pay attention.” When you fall and arm bone pops through the skin there is a clear indication that you need to pause in what you are doing and address the problem. Our bodies are really good at letting us know what they need even in less dramatic or obvious circumstances. Our minds, our self-will is less good at paying attention and being responsive.
Sometimes we may not even know what is “going on” with ourselves emotionally, but something is clearly going on in our bodies and we have a chance (or are forced) to pause in our normal routine and take a look at what we are doing. Sometimes we just need to slow down, sometimes we need to get quiet with ourselves, maybe we need more rest, more exercise, more food, different food, more sleep, whatever. We need to take the opportunity to listen because our bodies are really smart and can give us a lot of information about what is happening in our mind, in our emotional being.
A week ago I left my daughter two thousand miles away. The week before my son started high school activities. My little ducks are growing up and leaving the nest. I was feeling a little emotional, not bad, just different but I thought I was doing fine. The my head and neck started to hurt, severe pain and stiffness with limited mobility. It was and is debilitating in many ways. At the same time I started having these dreams about my daughter being far away and needing information that I couldn’t get to her. There were all kinds of things I needed to tell her, advice, instructions, guidance that I was no longer able to provide – it was stressful and scary, in my dream my head felt so full of things I wanted to share that I just couldn’t get out. In waking life my head felt like it was going to explode. I think my body might be trying to tell me that there is more going on emotionally than I thought. All of a sudden I seem to have more room in my schedule for just sitting quietly because that seems to be all I can do…