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PhilosophyCenter | Musings

Posts from — July 2014

Body Language

Body Language

Once I heard a man describing how someone had smashed into his parked Corvette. “The guy just hit me right in my rear end,” he said. And he grimaced in just the correct way for someone who had experienced actually getting hit in his rear end (not the car’s). There was identification with the vehicle; it was an extension of his body. In a similar way, lovers appropriate each other’s mannerisms and style. A person may suffer powerful physical symptoms upon receiving news of a financial catastrophe. Our anger can fill a room or a house, or a life. So can our compassion. The body of our experience is not different in any essential way from the body that demonstrates illness or health, commensurately with our beliefs, assumptions, and expectations. We can experience healthy relationships, healthy finances, sick situations, and so on. Whether the dream-body, the physical body of daily life, or the extended body of our worldly experience, we’re dealing with constructs that express and outpicture the most intimate holdings of our consciousness.

This means that there is potentially great value in looking upon the sick body as a living metaphor. Instead of trying to banish the illness, we can be still with it, sit willingly beside it, and open ourselves to the deeper acceptance of responsibility that will reveal to us what, exactly, is being expressed by the particular set of symptoms we’re presenting. One powerful way to use this technique is to ask yourself where else in your life you’re feeling whatever the main complaint is about the health condition. For example, if you’re suffering from something doctors call “chronic fatigue syndrome,” ask yourself what’s the worst thing about it. It may surprise you to know that different people will give different answers to this. Suppose the main complaint is, “All my energy is gone.” It feels as though somebody pulled your power plug. Now, for the purposes of the exercise, you accept responsibility—at this point this may be theoretical—and consider that somehow, you pulled the power plug on yourself. So, you ask yourself where you’ve been giving away your power. The answer may be so eye-opening, it will leave you feeling like you just woke up from a dream. Within that dream, the sick body was in-formed, and the experience of it was real enough. From the more expanded awareness, however, having awakened from the dream, you may opt to take your power back and discover that that version of you has a different body. You weren’t trying to get rid of the illness; you were listening to the language of the body and hearing what it had to say. Once you heard that, you didn’t need the illness anymore. You outgrew it. This is how healing operates.

Now, we’re not claiming here that all illness is psychogenic (it may be), but there’s no doubt that a contradiction deeply charged and held for many years becomes a weak link in the chain of our health, eventually causing a physical breakdown of one sort or another. The body is phenomenally resilient. It can take decades of abuse of all sorts, and keep right on going. Get on its side even a little, and it will work wonders for you. Getting on the body’s side means moving into deeper release, acceptance, and self-friendship in areas where we’ve been holding on to contradictions. This takes listening and willingness. But it’s essential that, at some point, we move beyond merely wanting to be rid of what’s uncomfortable or painful and take up the work. Discomfort and pain can be powerful teachers, especially when the student has repeatedly refused to learn any other way.

If you’re sick, regardless of the condition or its severity, consider that something important is trying like anything to get your attention, something that, if acknowledged and honored, can lead you to something wonderful. The paradox of healing, its indirectness, is that it occurs as naturally as did the illness, once we listen, accept responsibility, and make the better choice. If you’ve been giving away your power, and you insist on doing this, say, to a lover or a boss year after year, perhaps feeling awful about it but never taking responsibility, you’ll likely get sick eventually, and the illness will, among other things, leave you exhausted. Then, you get to see what you’ve been creating. We can’t heal a health condition directly, because the health condition isn’t about the health condition. It’s a living metaphor, a call to greater selfhood and a doorway to greater life—if we can only sit with it, listen, and accept responsibility. An illness then becomes a rare opportunity to evolve, Expressing this idea, the gifted poet Kahlil Gibran, in his best known work, The Prophet, writes:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding…. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility: For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen, And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

It takes a little gumption to remove our mesmerized gaze from the body’s symptoms, accept things as they are for now, and tune in to the living poetry that in-forms all things. In a way that may sound fantastic, the illness is irrelevant, a by-product, the construct of a contradiction. Identify the chief complaint about the illness, and ask where else this has been true in your life, with the willingness to be a student of your condition. You’re accepting a measure of responsibility here, but there’s no blame in this; on the contrary, it returns you to your natural power as a creative and self-directed being.

Each of us is the authority in this listening. There are spiritual writers and teachers forever ready to tell us what our symptoms mean: “Coronary disease? Ah, then you must not be letting love into your heart.” “A broken leg? Well, why won’t you stand up for yourself?” Such pat “readings” are disrespectful and misleading oversimplifications. The listening that illness calls us to must be deep and original. When we get it, however, we have the sense of waking up from a dream, and may wonder how we could have missed the now obvious truth as long as we did. Keep in mind that the instruction of the illness may be subtle or indirect, as metaphors can be. It may involve a symbolism, memory associations, word play—but the truth of it, even while being metaphoric, will be precise and obvious, and often literal, as well.

I’ve had several serious illnesses in my life. Every one of them was a messenger. As soon as I got the message, accepted it, and lived up to it, the condition vanished—in some cases against all the odds that were being predicted by doctors and specialists. I’m not sharing with you anything that I haven’t proven in my life repeatedly.

Philosophy at its best is ever practical, calling us to do what’s before us to do. That may mean going to the doctor, taking medicine, or having a recommended procedure. We can do all of this in willingness; the doctor, the medicine, the procedure can be part of our story. But we are wise to remember the profound influence exerted by our psyche—by our beliefs, assumptions, values, by the stories in which we’re so immersed it may not occur to us to question them. When we forget the illness and get interested in what the illness is begging to tell us, we can respond at a much deeper level to our situation, bringing about an unexpected and often long overdue healing whether that healing involves the spirit, the body, or both.

July 24, 2014   Comments Off on Body Language