We’re encouraged to think of body ailments as symptoms to be managed, and as a nuisance to fend off. We have a vast array of pain killers, stimulants and tranquilisers available to make our bodies behave in prescribed ways. What we’re not encouraged to do is to assume that if something is awry with our bodies, there may be a perfectly good reason for this. We are not encouraged to seek those reasons out, much less tackle them.
Sleep deprivation is widespread, with many people not getting the 8 hours minimum our bodies need each night. Many of us have stressful, sedentary jobs but don’t have the energy to release that in physical activity. Stress gnaws away at us, creating anxiety symptoms that crop up randomly, to be drugged into submission, or ignored. Exhaustions breeds depression symptoms as our bodies try to reduce energy output. Missed meals, poor diets, lack of food education and the greater availability of poor quality food, all contributes to reducing health.
Then there are the issues of what the body knows. We take in a vast amount of sensory information all the time. We filter out most of it because it is more than we can consciously handle. Sometimes less conscious bits of our brain are still chewing on that input, and eventually respond to it. Our bodies learn to throw up if we eat something we’re allergic to. Sometimes they also learn to throw up in response to people who are emotionally toxic as well.
There are patterns of behaviour that cause me bodily panic. At first I felt uncomfortable about this. It was socially awkward. What panics me is people whose words and actions manifestly don’t fit together. Historically, this has been a danger sign for me. Having taken the time to pin down why I panic, I realise that serious emotional dishonesty is not something to take lightly. People who make grandiose statements they do not mean are not emotionally safe for me to be around. I will be forever mislead, always having to second guess, never able to trust and that’s no kind of relationship. I eventually concluded that my body is right, and where I get those reactions in future, I will quietly step away.
Some of it is less rational. The sound of footsteps on the stair in the flat makes me edgy. Rather than ignoring this, I worked out it stems from a time when the sound of footsteps on the stair really was a thing to be edgy about. A warning of impending unsafety. These days it isn’t, so when I feel that fear I remind myself that things have changed, and my body calms. It is becoming less of an issue. Sometimes we hang onto triggers long after they are relevant, but its only by taking them seriously that we can find out what they mean and then gently unpick them.
If we do not take ourselves, and our bodies seriously, we are easily manipulated. If we are not allowed to trust gut reactions, or to draw breath and figure out why we are uncomfortable, if we have to keep calm and carry on, we are vulnerable to mistreatment. Our bodies know things. Millions of years of evolution have shaped our fight and fight responses to help us stay alive. Those tap into office politics as readily as they do to possible tiger attacks. There is wisdom in our bodies, but only if we take it seriously, and listen to it.