If you watch animals, you can see how closely connected they are to their internal signals showing them how to find food, how much they need to eat, when and where they need to rest, which other animals they can trust and which ones consider them as prey, and every other aspect of their lives.
The difference between animals and humans is in our ability to think at a higher level—to be rational, creative, intellectual, etc. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad. As is indicated in recent report on a Harvard study of implicit bias, our thinking is often unconsciously distorted. In fact, while many types of bias–such as bias against being gay–have decreased, weight prejudice has actually increased.
So, when our thinking mind is involved, we often get distorted messages or we get sidetracked from the constant, important signals our bodies are sending. Many of the body’s messages land on deaf ears, so to speak, because we are spending so much time lost in thought, busy on a project, or outwardly focused in one way or the other.
So, let’s consider our bodies for a moment. Our bodies—every single one of them–are miracles. A body is able to smell, taste, chew, and digest food. It pumps blood with oxygen throughout the body to bring energy to the cells. It breaths all by itself to keep you alive without you needing to worry about whether you’ll take a next breath or not. It removes toxins that you don’t need. It sees and hears. It protects your organs from disease and so many other things in each second of every day. Its intelligence is quite extraordinary.
We can, however, get conflicting messages from the body vs. the mind. This is particularly true when we are eating. The belly might be saying “Please Stop!” as it has had enough to meet its nutritional needs and it is starting to feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, the taste buds and the thoughts in your head might be saying “Oh, this tastes so good I don’t want to stop!”
A conflict can arise in relationship to certain people in our lives. For instance, you might get a gut feeling about something but override it with a story you tell yourself. The body might be saying “NO, I don’t want to be around this particular person” by feeling tight and tense when you are in his or her presence. But your mind might say “You should be nice” and not worry about the signals from the body that are giving you a warning.
Another common area of conflict is when the body is saying “Please let me ______ (fill in the blank with things like “rest,” “move,” “play,” “eat,” “connect with others,” etc.) and the mind keeps telling you to keep working, keep doing, keep accomplishing, keep checking Facebook, or all the other ways that you keep yourself busy and away from a direct connection with your body.
The body registers and sends signals related to body sensations, emotions, and thoughts. The problem is that we tend to over attend to the thoughts. And, when thoughts take precedent, we are often misguided because thoughts are based on opinions, prejudices, ideas, and beliefs. Our thoughts aren’t facts; not even the ones that tell you they are. It is estimated that only 2% of our thoughts are facts but we listen to them constantly as if they are true.
On the other hand, the body (and I include the heart here) is more honest and direct and, therefore, less likely to lie to you. The messages we get directly from the body and heart are there to help us come into alignment with ourselves. As our ability to listen to these messages becomes more refined, what we notice will likely change our behavior for the better.
Many years ago, when I first started practicing mindfulness, I went to a nine-day meditation retreat during which I had no Diet Coke to drink. Before the retreat I was drinking quite a bit of it every day. After not having it for nine days, when I tried it again after this prolonged engagement with mindfulness, I couldn’t believe how bad it tasted. All I could taste was chemicals, and I’ve not wanted it since. I had truly never really tasted it before.
Your body/heart tells you when and what to eat, when to stop eating, when to rest, when to move, when to create, when to leave, when to stay, when to let your guard down, when to put your guard up, when to work, when to pause, when to laugh, when to cry, when to connect, when to stretch, when to listen, when to talk, when to dance, when to learn, and so much more. Don’t miss out on the intelligence that lies below the thinking mind—it is vast.
With that said, a balanced approach to listening is best. The thinking mind is not “bad” and also has important information for us. It’s just that we have overly relied on it to the detriment of the body and heart. Just as I was getting ready to go out on my walk alone, my husband surprised me by saying he would walk with me instead of going to play golf. My body, heart, and mind responded with “yes.” Although I had thought a walk alone would be divine, the opportunity to connect with my husband was definitely more appealing. One must always be present and current with what is happening in the moment to get the best results.
Tips for Learning to Trust the Body.
1. Stop and listen.
In order to trust the body, you need to stop, take a few deep breaths, and inquire within. The body doesn’t speak in a loud voice unless you’ve really ignored it for a long time or it really wants to get your attention fast (as in the case of threat). At least three times a day, do a check in and see if you can feel what the body might be telling you about how you feel emotionally and physically.
2. Respond to the messages you receive.
In order to increase the trust you have in your body, it is important to act on the information that you get from it. Today is a great example for me. The weather is absolutely beautiful and my body and heart are telling me to go out for a walk by myself. I usually like to walk with friends and it is one of the ways I’ve stayed connected with others during the pandemic. But today I am clearly hearing “go alone.” When you feel the benefit of acting on the messages you receive, this will enhance your understanding that the body is on your side—leading you to greater wellbeing.
3. Set the thoughts aside.
Because the thoughts can be so loud, powerful, and often judgmental, it is important to consciously question them and/or set them aside in order to listen more deeply. To question them you might ask yourself, “Is it true? Is it absolutely true? What is another way of looking at this?” Or you might simply hear your thoughts and set them aside to listen to what else might be going on. Take your attention to your heart or your belly. I often feel like the wisdom I hear from the body comes from one of these two places. You might even place your hands over one of these areas and inquire “What is really true for me right now?” Learning to trust what the body is saying, not in words, but in the soft whispering of the heart or belly can guide you in the direction of healing and happiness.
Because we have placed so much of our trust in other people and things outside of us, it might take a while to learn to trust your own body about what is true. But, the journey home to your own body will be a trip that reaps dividends for a lifetime.