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The secrets the body wants to tell me

May 5, 2010

The last couple of months – what with the surgery, the near loss of my beloved, and the trip to a wisdom-filled conference in Chicago stuck in the middle – have included some deep spiritual growth that surprised me and that I’m just now finding the time to process.  Most of it has taken me on a different journey than I would have expected.

It’s a journey into my own body.

It’s a journey that includes learning to listen to the secrets my body wants to tell me.

Last night, in my art journal, I painted a picture of my body along with the words “my body is my temple where I meet God”. I’m learning, bit by bit, what those words mean.

Whenever you embark on a spiritual journey, it seems that the wisdom you need for that journey shows up just when you need it.

A few weeks ago, I found a book that must have been in my suitcase for several months but I have no memory of putting it there. Writing begins with the Breath, by Laraine Herring. I started reading it when Marcel was in the hospital, thinking it would be a diversion that would help me plunge into much needed sleep when my mind was busy taking me down roads I didn’t want to go. It was a diversion, but it was also much more closely linked to what I was going through than I expected. The wisdom in it, in fact, helped me share, with tender vulnerability, the story in this post.

There is so much in that book that spoke to me, but the passage that drew me in the most was where the author talks about her own personal story of “leaving her body behind and living in her brain”. That was an “a-ha” moment for me, because it speaks so clearly to my own history. I have always lent more credence to my brain than my body and rarely have I treated my body as anything more than a neglected vehicle to get my brain where it needs to be.

Like every other woman I know, there’s a lot of baggage that I carry around when it comes to my body.  I hadn’t really recognized, though (until I read Laraine’s story) how much I was missing in my spiritual journey and my art, writing, and living by not listening to, trusting, and loving my body more.

After that book was done, I picked up Women, Food and God – mostly on a whim on a trip to Costco, never imagining that it was the perfect follow-up book to Writing Begins with the Breath. Wow. Talk about wisdom about the body and the way we interact with it! Reading the book, I felt like Geneen Roth was holding my hand, looking deep into my eyes, and saying “you know this body you’ve been gifted with? Stop treating it like an encumbrance. Start loving it and listening to it like you would a trusted friend. Start believing in it.”

It was like a kick in the pants and a gentle invitation, all at the same time.

Last week, just before we went on our mini-vacation, I started internalizing some of the wisdom those books offered. I am developing new “body practices” that are slowly teaching me what it means to listen to the secrets my body wants to tell me. One of them involves speaking gently to my body – treating it like I would a wise and trusted friend – and saying each morning “dear body – what can I do for you today? What movement do you want? What food do you need to replenish you?” And then before each meal, I say “please, dear body, tell me what you need and when you’ve had enough.”

It’s amazing what your body tells you when you take the time to listen! I’m re-learning how to hear the cues of “hunger” and “fullness” and not simply eat when it’s time to eat or when the food looks good. I’m remarkably satisfied when I’ve eaten what I need.

Geneen Roth talks about how the mind lies to you but the body never does. I’m learning the truth of that statement. My mind tells me silly lies like “if you don’t eat that piece of cake, you’ll never taste sweetness again” or “you really need to finish that plate of food because an empty plate is next to godliness”.  My body, on the other hand, tells me “that’s just enough food to give me energy to get through the day. You can stop now.” I’m practicing shutting down the brain and letting the body speak.

Wouldn’t you know it – a third book showed up to carry me one step further. One wouldn’t expect a book called Life’s Companion – Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice to have anything to do with the body, but… surprise, surprise… it has a whole chapter called “The Guidance of the Body”!

Which brings me back to what I put in my art journal last night – my body as my temple. “You cannot revere the body as a temple at the same time that you despise it. You cannot divide the body between extremes of asceticism or indulgence and expect to understand its role as a spiritual vessel. In this conflicted atmosphere we learn to live in our minds or our bodies, but not to live in the body/mind.” (Christina Baldwin)

What lessons have I learned so far?

  1. This temple needs a little TLC to make it a more welcoming place for the Spirit to reside.
  2. When I listen closely, my body tells me what it needs.
  3. Treating my body with respect is spiritual, not hedonistic.
  4. Some of the voices in my brain are not worth listening to. Careful discernment tells me which ones those are.
  5. My body is much more content and filled with more energy when I listen to the cues of “hungry”, “full”, “move”, and “rest”.
  6. When my body is healthy, I am more able to offer up my giftedness in acts of service.

After painting in my art journal last night, I took it one step further and painted a henna on my stomache. It was truly lovely moment – honouring my body in the presence of its Creator.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jane Kirsch permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:40 pm

    Dear Heather….
    What you have been through in the last several months has been deeply personal, painful and courageous. That you have shared it all with us (a group of strangers you don’t even know) has been a wondrous gift to any woman reading your posts.
    By sharing the decision-making process around your own surgery, the terrifying emotion of Marcel’s crisis and the healing process that you are all experiencing now, you have helped us stop to consider our own private worlds of doubt, fear or hope in new light. Thank you… May all your lives only become brighter.

  2. May 6, 2010 12:24 pm

    Heather!

    You know how I feel about this: Brain stupid; Body smart. 🙂

    Martha Graham, actually, is famous for that quote: The body never lies. And THAT is solid TRUTH right there. The brain, on the other hand, is a tricky little monkey. 🙂

    And you know that I believe these things with my whole being:

    –We were given a body for a specific reason and to elevate mind or soul above it is a GRAVE mistake that is killing many of us.
    –Our bodies are the doorways through which we gain access to spirit.
    –Those doorways must be well tended to; all the parts must work or they can’t open.

    Interestingly, in Catholic theology you cannot separate the body/mind/spirit AT ALL, and thus their disbelief in reincarnation. Hmph…

    🙂

  3. May 6, 2010 12:33 pm

    Heather,

    Your beautiful post reminded me of a poem by Mary Oliver, which I’ve copied here from http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/oliver/online_poems.htm:

    Wild Geese

    You do not have to be good.
    You do not have to walk on your knees
    for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
    Meanwhile the world goes on.
    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
    are moving across the landscapes,
    over the prairies and the deep trees,
    the mountains and the rivers.
    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
    are heading home again.
    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
    the world offers itself to your imagination,
    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
    over and over announcing your place
    in the family of things.

  4. Deb permalink
    May 7, 2010 9:51 am

    Hi Heather: This relationship with the body has been an ongoing conversation for me over the years. I’m starting to feel like I’m actually starting to get it. I’m 52. I’m also reading Geneen’s book. I also just received Kim Rosen’s Saved by A Poem. She writes about embodying poetry, living poetry, attending to poetry through feelings and the body, not through the brain. Since my brain seems to no longer work the way it once did, and since the poetry by brain route never worked for me, I’m realizing that my “recent” attraction (4 years or so) to poetry is very much on a visceral level. I don’t really think much about brain understanding anymore. It’s all about where it sits in my body and how that feels. Check out Kim Rosen if you haven’t already.

  5. May 7, 2010 11:24 am

    love this, heather. i have been working on reclaiming an alive, honoring relationship with my body-soul for years, but really intensely the past two years or so. it’s a beautiful and wonderful feeling to really listen and trust that my body will tell me what she needs and that listening will heal me and bring me closer to Who i really am. it’s an intimate, yummy path, full of surprises, gratitude, and great depth. so good to walk this path with others.

    i’ll share one of my favorite body quotes, too–also from Martha Graham:

    “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium. It will be lost. It is not your business to determine how good it is… You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that activate you. Keep the channel open.”

    in the ongoing exploration, katy

  6. May 7, 2010 2:07 pm

    Dear Heather,

    Thank you so much for the kind words about my book. And even more so for the gift of sharing your story and how you’ve integrated some of the things I wrote about.

    Deepest best wishes and gratitude,
    Laraine

  7. May 10, 2010 5:39 am

    Geneen Roth has been integral to my health and sanity. I am just now reading Women, Food and God. All her other books are dog-eared and worn on my book shelf. I need to sit more closely with this body wisdom. My mind has been a Great Liar and has done a fair bit of shouting recently.
    So glad to hear that things are finding a new rhythm.

  8. May 16, 2010 10:24 pm

    I needed to read this post. excellent.
    I should buy that book (women food and god)

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