What do you do when you have pain or get a cold? Most of us try to get rid of it. Why would anyone want to put up with it? We want to solve it. Fix it. We need it to go away so we can get on with the important things. So we can get on with our lives. ‘I don’t have time to be ill.’ We get up and stagger into work and we’re rewarded for it. We’re praised and thanked. We’re seen as a hero. Get a headache, take a painkiller. The headache goes. Get on with my life. Sorted.
But why do we have the pain in the first place? And is getting rid of it as good a plan as we think it is? Go with me on this analogy, if you will. Imagine a toddler at your ankles, looking up at you with those big eyes and tugging on your clothes. Gently at first. ’Play with me.’ ‘Give me your attention.’ ‘Listen to me.’ But you’re busy, so you ignore them. Or you tell them to go away. But what happens when you ignore them? They get louder. And louder – until they’re in a practically inconsolable tantrum. Toys are thrown. Things are broken. Doors are slammed. Now you have no other choice but to take notice/action. Sounding familiar? Or maybe you shut them up with a distraction. Phew. Good for now. But does that really work in the long run?
Now think of your body as that toddler, and pain or other symptoms as your body’s way of getting your attention. It starts of as a subtle whisper, a gentle tug – maybe you feel a bit tired, a bit low on energy. You ignore it. You’re too busy to stop. So you keep going. The whispers get louder – maybe you get a headache. You ‘shut it up’ by taking a painkiller and you keep going. But the body is still being ignored. It doesn’t want to be shut up. It wants to be listened to. So the messages get louder – you get flu, an aching back, a painful knot in the shoulders. You take more pills to get rid of the symptoms and you keep going. But the messages keep getting louder – you get a serious illness, a slipped disc, IBS, a broken bone, chronic fatigue, arthritis, ME, depression. Now, you have to stop and listen. You have been given no other choice.
At this point, you feel awful and it can involve a lot of suffering. Your body feels like the enemy. It feels like it has turned against you. It feels like this condition is getting in the way of your life. It is stopping you from feeling happy. Well, as a healer, I see this process as the body’s intelligence doing its brilliant thing. I see it as true wisdom. The body is asking us to stop and listen and it’s not going to take no for an answer. It’s saying, ’If you keep ignoring my whispers, I shall scream. Then you’ll HAVE to listen.’
So why are our bodies asking us to listen? Well, our bodies are designed to heal themselves. That’s how they were made. 24 hours a day while you’re busy living your life, your body is killing cancer cells, defending you against viruses and bacteria, rebalancing and regenerating cells and organs. Yes, it is truly magnificent! And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. But this all relies on the systems (like the immune system, lymphatic, nervous etc) running smoothly. And they can only run smoothly if the body is in what we call the ‘relaxation response.’ Unfortunately though, these days most of our bodies spend most (if not all) of the time in the ‘stress response.’ When we are in this state, all the systems that are designed to keep us healthy are unable to work as well as they should. So we get ill.
So when our bodies ask us to stop and relax, it’s a signal that something needs to be dealt with in order to keep us well. Maybe a virus needs to be fought, cancer cells need to be killed, something needs to be rebalanced. The body needs to go into the ‘relaxation response’ so the our internal healthcare system can do its job to keep us well.
So what can we do to help? We need to become our body’s best friend. We need to realise that we are on the same team. We need to respond to our bodies’ signals with love and attention. We need to become a loving parent to that toddler. When it is gently tugging at our clothes, we need to stop what we’re busily doing for a moment – and listen. Listen to my self healing meditation here.
And of course, we don’t have to wait until we get seriously ill or bed bound. We can choose to start listening sooner. To rest and relax when we feel tired. To acknowledge the headache or the niggling pain somewhere. To tune in and listen to what the body needs. Maybe it needs sleep. Or water. A good shake. A cuddle. Play. Laughter. A massage. A dance. A run. A scream in the car with the windows rolled up. Or it may be more than that. We may need a change of job, relationship, surroundings. It may be simple. Or it may take some courage and some difficult choices or sacrifices.
So what value do you put on your health? What if we were to give our bodies the same love and acknowledgement that a toddler needs when it’s asking for our attention? What if we were to listen to the whispers, before they become screams?
‘And I said to my body softly, ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I have been waiting my whole life for this.’ Nayyirah Waheed.
‘It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.’ Brene Brown.