I’m not going to discuss here the quagmire of mind-body relations, that love-hate tandem, our day-to-day dysfunctional marriage, the ultimate duality of human life (I’m this body, I’m more than this body). I just want to make a plea to all of us (myself included) to simply: LET THE BODY SPEAK. Yes, our bodies can speak. You know that. The body uses the language of the senses, illness, discomfort, tingling, heat, cold, wind (of the human variety), aches, twitching, sex… The body is also the conductor of the electricity we call emotions.
This is a huge subject. If we let our emotions course through our body, as they are designed to do, we wouldn’t need the mind doctors so much. This is easy to say. Very hard to do. Because all of us, in the current era of mind dominance, have been taught from a very early age that feelings need to be kept in check, especially the negative ones.
Hold on. There are no negative emotions. All emotions are created equal. All have their use. For instance, anger is a highly useful emotion. It can propel us to fight injustices, to become clear - viscerally clear - about something. What we do with it makes all the difference between feeling with awareness and reacting emotionally.
I have a hard time with anger. Always have done. As a very young girl, I was told I needed to control my anger or (it was implied) I wouldn’t be loved. This wasn’t my parents’ fault, they were just the latest chain in a broken telephone game – not sure when the message got muddled up, but I suspect it was hundreds, probably thousands, of years ago. So, as a little girl of 4 or 5, I made a pact with myself that I would crush any anger that arose in me. This was a very bad decision, but I didn’t know any better then. More often than not, we’re not even conscious of these ‘childhood pacts’, these internalised rules. We don’t see the lens we’re looking through – many of us need professional help to uninstall the software we didn’t even know was there. For years I have struggled to defeat the anger in me, and failed miserably. It keeps rearing up its head, and the worst part is, it now comes to the party with its best friends: guilt, remorse, and self-criticism. Oh joy.
I am uncomfortable when I feel anger. My mind is uncomfortable with it. Because of our neuro-circuitry, sometimes strong sensations like anger or fear almost entirely bypass the brain’s control centre. And the brain ain’t happy about that. Coupled with our inherited conditioning, it’s easy to see why so many people have real trouble managing their emotions with awareness. The idea of becoming intimate with our emotions can sound either unnecessary (I know my feelings well, thank you very much) or else baffling (you want me to connect with my fear, are you mad???).
This is where the body comes in handy. All emotions are manifested in the body. All of them. Your body communicates them first, then your mind kicks in to try to put some order. Become aware of how the emotion feels in your body. Don’t mentalize this. Just feel it. Do you feel a lump in your throat? Fine. Feel it. Don’t try to explain it away by going into a whole mental dialogue with yourself about the last time you felt it, whether it’s anger or sadness, because before you can help it, you will be thinking about what to make for dinner. And the opportunity to be with the lump in your throat will be lost. That lump is trying to tell you something.
You may not know what that is. It may take you a long time to find out what that is all about. Because the answer doesn’t come from the mind, it comes from a deeper level of awareness, an inner wisdom. This surfaces through the mind in the form of sudden insights, that seem to come out of nowhere. It’s like the bubbles trying to reach the surface of the water. And then the air in them is released. Our emotions need to be released through our body, in awareness. Then we can choose to act – the operational word here is choose. Then our emotions don’t drive us to do this or that and we are able to act with awareness. Sometimes, when alone, I scream or punch a pillow because that is what my body needs to do when I am angry. That’s ok. I’m synchronising my needs, at various levels, and acknowledging that I’m angry:
1. I pay attention to my anger – I am mindful of my emotional state
2. I acknowledge it – It is my reality in that moment
3. I accept it – I honour that it’s a response mechanism
4. I act on it…. Or not!
5. It becomes released
Hopefully, I can collect any messages or learning that this episode has offered me, which can then be integrated into my life.
Becoming fluent in “body speak” is the hardest language you will ever re-learn. But it is crucial in our journey of self-discovery and growth. It also is mightily useful, but it takes courage, compassion and a regular practice (like most things in life!). To be aware of and IN our emotions is to be vulnerable. But that is for another time…