WHAT OUR BODY KNOWS AND OUR MIND ISN’T TELLING US
“What is always speaking silently is the body.” – Norman Brown
Considering that we come into this world with our bodies as the primary and enduring instrument of our beings for as long as we live, it appears reasonable to expect that the more we grow the better we understand its mechanisms. What is surprising though is that more often than not we are barely in touch with our own bodies. As children we think less and experience more fully, intuitively knowing what our body is saying to us… but as we become adults and evolve into more rational beings, thoughts take precedence over physical experience. More importantly, life throws new responsibilities and challenges our way that make us go into an auto-pilot mode wherein we follow our own established patterns, sometimes mindlessly. The fact remains, however, that we perceive and navigate the world through our body, directly or otherwise.
Our body gives us signs about what is happening to it, and our mind’s perception of it shapes the experience of our own reality. This can be demonstrated by the fact that that people experience stress in different ways in different areas of their body. Some people feel it at the base of their neck or sense tension in their shoulders and back, others get persistent headaches, and still others experience difficult bowel movements, or even toothaches. Stress has become so commonplace that people have begun to accept it as a way of life, and sometimes even believe that it is an indicator of productive living, when it may in fact be causing little more than unpleasant emotional and physical strain.
Understanding our body then becomes imperative to understanding what we are going through, as well as battling stress. Mindfulness is a state of being wherein one becomes aware of one’s own experience in the here-and-now. In this practice, one neither exaggerates one’s experience (“I got laid off. My life is over, and there is no way out”) nor trivializes them (“I got laid off, but so what? There are starving children in Nigeria. My worries are nothing in comparison to theirs, so I shouldn’t be stressed.”) Both these situations have two things in common:
- The perception of reality is distorted. When one makes a situation bigger than it is, the obstacles begin to appear progressively more insurmountable, leading to hopelessness. On the other hand, one plays down a situation excessively by comparing it to others’ plights or making it seem insignificant, leading to denial.
- Both are causing stress of the unproductive kind. While in one situation, despair causes stress, in the other situation denial of one’s experience leads to denying part of one’s subjective reality, inducing significant levels of distress or impairment in functioning.
Much like in the field of medicine, before a physician treats an individual for something, the first step requires understanding of what that something is. By applying the concept of mindfulness, or body awareness, one re-learns how to listen to his or her body, to recognize its subtle and not-so-subtle cues, and to address its needs in which – more likely than not – the mind and body are inextricably connected with the overall aim of holistic well-being.
“The mind’s first step to self-awareness must be through the body.” – George Sheehan