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. -- Mary Oliver, "Wild Geese"
When you have worked for any length of time as any sort of healer, whether it's bodywork, psychotherapy, social work, life coaching, energy healing, et. Al, you find that a healing process takes time. This is an old saw, maybe. There is a mostly linear process to physical healing: you get injured, you rest and treat the wound, it closes and it scabs over. The skin regenerates over time, sometimes you scar, sometimes not. And generally all that is left of the wound is your memory of it, your story about it, and a scar.
Libraries of books have been written about trauma, that buzzword we often use for emotional wounds. The etymology of the word trauma is Greek, and it literally means “wound”. The term carries with it the weight of emergency rooms, specialized staff, sirens. We think of serious couch time with the psychotherapist, regressive states of being, of being grievously wounded to the point of disability. Trauma is a serious word, even stigmatized by some. But what does it really mean?
Merriam-Webster defines trauma as:
1 a: an injury (as a wound) to living tissue cause by an extrinsic agent b: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury c: an emotional upset.
In this case, we all experience trauma, and many of us all three definitions. Sometimes simultaneously! Please understand that I'm speaking only as a layperson with a sizeable amount of talk therapy under my belt, and no social work credentials.
I work in a healing profession, as a massage therapist and a Yoga Therapist. I work with bodies, with the outlet that manifests trauma. If you want to know what's really going on with someone, look at their bodies. One can nearly read it, like a map, if one knows where to look. Perhaps that's what we mean by the “body sacred”. Our bodies carry our secrets, our stories, our wounds, our misuse, and our healing. They are written with our stories. And it's a privilege to work with them, and the people that inhabit them, every day.
I once considered working in social work and psychotherapy. Sometimes I still fantasize about it. But the truth is that what I do is no less healing or necessary than those professions. It's just another avenue. The body-mind-spirit connection is integral to all healing, I think. And whether those connections are conscious or not in those who wish to heal, they are still present. Often, I think that part of the healing process is solidifying the connections with our bodies, our thoughts and feelings, and our deeper sense of self. Once the channels are clear, correlations can be made, and the junctures of healing work together to unify you as a person.
Think of my earlier example about physical injuries. You have a story about how you sustain your physical injuries. Perhaps you even have a story about the story of it.
Let's say one day you got out of bed to feed your dog. You start to walk down the stairs, the dog is very excited to see you in the morning and is hungry for breakfast. Perhaps the dog gets underfoot, and you trip and fall down the stairs. Perhaps you break your arm.
The story often isn't: “I broke my arm.” It's usually much longer, you see? And even then, perhaps you have a story about the dog. Perhaps you adopted it from an aunt who had cancer because you felt guilty about not seeing her as much and you knew the dog was more effort to look after than she could afford. And then there are feelings about your aunt and your guilt. Or maybe resentment toward your landlord because of the crooked steps. Or self-blame for being so clumsy and unaware. Or perhaps this is the second time you've broken your arm, and having it broken reminds you of the time before and the circumstances surrounding that time in your life! The list goes on.
Sometimes these stories are conscious, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes we bury these stories deep into the recesses of our subconscious mind, and they only surface after years later, if ever.
And it's a mystery when they do surface, and why they do. Sometimes we even doubt the relevance of these stories. We like to cling to the idea that we are in total control of our bodies. We are in total control of our emotions. We are in total control of our thoughts. And by and large, it's somewhat true. What we are conscious of, we can exercise some control over.
But the human body particularly is the body of an animal. A sophisticated, intelligent, learning animal, but an animal nonetheless. And we are not immune to our base instincts. When we experience trauma, whether it's a broken arm, a challenging childhood, or an unhealthy relationship, our bodies remember.
Our bodies take the work of filing those experiences away in our deep memories in order to protect us against possible future trauma. And our bodies are intelligent. We often miss opportunities to be grateful to our intelligent bodies for keeping us alive and out of harm's way, generally speaking. We rail against our phobias, our scars or restricted movement, and our deep responses to challenging (or all-too-familiar) situations. We like to feel in control of our choices, always. But our bodies remind us because our survival instincts are still intact. When stress begins to feel like it's taking over and we feel so tense we are frozen in place, or physically and emotionally numb to an extreme workload, or like we want to run away to the Caribbean or down the street to the nearest dive bar, or set fire to our boss' desk, it's our bodies saying to us, “Change this situation! My survival instinct is kicking in!”
Often, an effective exercise to find equilibrium and healing is to start a dialogue with our bodies about how it feels generally in any given situation: positive experiences, negative experiences, and neutral experiences. Take a moment to turn down the mental chatter and internally check in with the subtler voice of your body. Don't create a story in your mind about why something feels the way it does. Just observe sensations. Sit back and try it now.
Check your breathing. Is it shallow? Did it deepen a little, once you became conscious of it? When was the last time you were conscious of your breathing? Take a couple of moments just to sense your breath in your body. Is it mostly moving in your throat, your chest, or your abdomen? See if you can quiet your inner chatter enough to sense your own heart beating. Or the heat within your body, and the exothermic energy that is being exuded from your body, just because you are alive.
Next, sense what your body needs. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Tense? Tired? Do you have to use the restroom? Are there any immediate needs you can attend to right now, just to reassure your body that you are listening?
And now, going beyond what it feels like it needs (sleep, massage, stretching, food, water, sex, exercise) and asking your body what it wants (sunshine, wind, swimming, to watch a sunset, chocolate, cuddles, a barefoot walk on grass).
And then asking yourself what you could be desiring emotionally from that physical experience (feeling free, feeling playful, feeling decadent, feeling nurtured, feeling present, feeling grounded and connected to nature and the earth).
Once you recognize the patterns between what your body wants or needs and how that correlates to what you desire or need emotionally, try reversing the flow of information. Perhaps you are feeling really claustrophobic and constricted from sitting at your desk and staring at a computer screen for 6-8 hours a day. What things can you do with your body to help encourage a feeling of expansiveness, connection with the present, with the concrete world of nature? You get my drift.
One of the most effective tools when it comes to healing is coming to our body-mind-spirit connections with a sense of openness, curiosity, and even experimental play. Somewhere along the line when we became grown-ups, “play” began to be narrowly defined by fewer things (sex and drinking are immediately coming to mind). But there is such a wide world out there, rife with amazing and simple experiences that can be so healing, if we just allow ourselves the space and time to be present with them. And allowing ourselves time for “play” is essential to our overall health and healing. It's a basic human need, even if it sounds frivolous.
Our bodies follow our feelings and our thoughts, and if we are constantly considering hard work on all levels more valuable than play (rather than differently valuable) our bodies begin to feel deprived, and they pull us toward habits and experiences that can be unhealthy.
Health and healing doesn't have to be hard work. It doesn't always require a strict regimen. It does take consistency and awareness. And it does take a tremendous amount of self-compassion and self-love.
It takes courage to recognize that you are healing from something (and most people are) and then to give yourself consistent permission to give that process the attention it deserves. And to keep being compassionate, loving and attentive to your health and healing.
So be kind to your body. It carries your stories, your secrets, your wounds, and your scars. And it carries the key to your total well-being and wholeness. All you have to do is listen.