Understanding the importance of listening to our body and belly (gut) feelings; recognizing these as messages from our inner being's direct knowing.
Your body and "belly" feelings always tell you exactly what's so for you right now…
Pay attention to these messages about your safety
no matter what your own mind, or anyone else, says to dismiss or to invalidate them!
In my 31st year, at the pinnacle of my career as a consummate super-achiever, I was busily creating a perfect life. (See Pirouettes for more about that.) One morning I woke with a severe backache. I couldn't sit through the length of an ordinary therapy session with any of my clients. Undaunted, for the next several weeks I stood, walked around or lay on the couch while my clients sat and shared their lives.
In those days, like many East Coast Jewish intellectuals, I considered my body (if at all) as a conveyance for carrying my head/brain around in the world. I fed, exercised and tended my body to keep it looking good and in good running order – in much the same way as I tended my car. My mind was the valued center of my identity.
I remember feeling irritated with my body for being unreliable, for creating so much inconvenience in the middle of my intense and busy life. Still, I spent extra time each morning and evening soaking in hot baths and doing gentle stretches to relieve the tightness. (I hadn't yet discovered massage or chiropractic.)
Some weeks later, I began waking each day with a profound sense of dread. Deep in my belly, there was a sense that I would die if I couldn't get away from New York City's dirt and noise, if I didn't get to some place where I could be surrounded by green growing things. That got my attention. I recognized that something about my life had become toxic to me; that I had to make changes, soon. Only years later did I realize that the backache was my body's first attempt to give me that very same message.
I was 42, in the midst of a very fraught year of working on ending a long, difficult relationship, when my body again called emphatically for my attention. During repeated, arduous and devastating conversations with my ex, pains deep in my left shoulder would grow so extreme as to literally take my breath away. I'd shrug, shake and massage my shoulder while we continued to talk, trying to ease the pain. By then I knew about bodywork. I scheduled massage, Rolfing and energy work sessions to help unravel the mess in my shoulder. It never occurred to me to hear the pain as my body's message that something in those conversations was toxic for me.
Some time later in that challenging period, I would – during those conversations – suddenly find my self off in the bathroom, having gone there without a conscious decision right in the middle of my ex's angry diatribe. That got my attention. I understood then that my body was taking care of me, removing me from a bad-for-me place even when I hadn't the conscious sense to know that that was what I needed.
It was a turning point in my journey. I realized that I needed to listen more closely to my body and to start taking my body's messages seriously. I had been overriding or ignoring those body feelings for most of my life. These feelings/messages were my natural animal-being's direct responses to what might be going on around and within me. Heeding my body's messages would, I could see, help me to take better care of my self and keep my self safer.
In my 50s, I had several experiences with body and energy workers during which I became extremely nauseated and agitated as they worked on certain areas of my body. I'd report this and ask them to stop what they were doing just then. Most listened and stopped instantly. Two of the practitioners, however, encouraged me to "stay with the discomfort." One wanted me to stay with it because she said she "was being guided" to do what she was doing and I was "interfering with the guided process." The other wanted me to see that "staying with the discomfort would lead to its dissolving."
It didn't matter to me what these experts thought. I knew that I needed to listen to my inner expert, my own body. And, my body was telling me that the energy being stirred in it was either toxic or just more than it felt safe to let in right then. I honored its message and stopped the work both times, despite the practitioners' considerations. (I actually stopped doing any further sessions with the worker who was irritated by my choice.)
There's an awful lot that pressures us to ignore our bodies' messages. Those of us who have histories of psychic or physical trauma or neglect in our childhoods have learned, early on in our lives, to cope with overwhelming circumstances by disconnecting from our body's responses. The culture in which we live persistently encourages us to override our bodies' natural warning systems. The "no pain, no gain" attitude, the enormous market for over-the-counter and prescription medications to mask pain so we can "get on with life," the widespread use of caffeine, energy drinks and other uppers to allow us to "get over" our body's natural fatigue – all these reflect that encouragement.
Still, our body and gut/belly feelings are always the best barometers of what's so for us in any moment. Our minds can all too often beguile us with stories about why we shouldn't (or don't really) feel those feelings. But, the truth is that we betray or dismiss our body and belly feelings only at great peril to our mental and physical health and well-being.
Developing our capacity to attend to these feelings and our commitment to take them seriously enough to act on their information is essential to our healing. As we develop our practice of respecting our body and belly messages, we become resistant to pressures to override or undermine these signals, whether they come from our own minds or anyone else, no matter their expertise
Consider listening more attentively and carefully to your body and belly feelings.