Has your body betrayed you or can you trust your body?
I was having dinner with a few friends recently.
We're all middle-aging and were discussing what that is meaning for our bodies.
One friend mentioned how she can't handle spicy food or as much alcohol as she used to, on top of digestive issues that mean she "should" be following a diet she finds unappealing.
And then she said it...words that struck me quite deeply in the moment...in that way that leaves you a little stunned and not sure what direction to respond from...
...she said "As you get older your body really betrays you".
I still feel it in my chest.
It's a sense of shock, and sympathy, and hurt on behalf of her body...and frustration.
This interpretation of what's going on in her body feels a bit like a mini devastation to me. Yes, that's a tad melodramatic, but it's honestly how my spirit reacts to that statement...it's just so untrue, so wrong and SO very much the path to your body's continued decline in health.
Your body has not betrayed you
Here's the bottom line, as I believe it to be - your body doesn't have an inch of betrayal in it. It's quite the opposite.
Your body, like the body of any animal, is perpetually trying to keep you alive and healthy.
Your body has miraculous instincts to keep you safe, vastly more than your conscious mind could ever have.
Your body loves you. It wants what's best for you. It is fighting to keep you safe and happy.
So why does it feel like you can't trust your body?
In my friend's case, her body deserves a medal. This is a woman who has hated her body since she was a child.
She drinks a lot of alcohol.
She has always eaten food that wasn't good for her - I don't necessarily mean junk food, though I think there has been a lot of that. But she hasn't been listening to her body's cue's as to what foods it needs and what foods it struggles to digest.
She doesn't sleep enough - she has had chronic insomnia for decades. While this is a horrible condition and one she says she'd very much like not to have, she also doesn't actively undertake the activities known to assist in lessening the severity of insomnia.
In fact, she does many things that are known to worsen it - like eating later, too much alcohol, tv and other screens till late in the evening etc.
She has not prioritised physical health at any point in her life.
She has had stressful jobs most of her life, which have paid her very well but have cost her dearly in terms of physical and mental well being, proving she has not cared about herself as much as money.
And she has not undertaken any activity, as far as I know, to learn how to better manage and reduce stress. In fact, I think she has an addiction to it, or at the very least, a sense of identify has formed around always being stressed. She gains a sense of self importance and a sense that she matters because so much is always happening that's stressful in her world.
So is it her body that's untrustworthy?
No! Her body has fought hard to remain operational despite this multi-pronged attack on its health and well being.
Her body keeps having medical issues because it's crying out to her to stop this lifestyle, stop this way of being, because it's slowly killing her.
It's not her body that's betrayed her...it's her mind.
Your mind betrays you all the time
My friend has some very set beliefs about herself, her life and her body. These are all based on her thinking.
And thinking, while a very helpful tool (of course!) is a very bad way of finding health and happiness. Not many humans can think their way out of bad habits, addictions, relational patterns etc. We all develop set ways of thinking about things, and from those beliefs we develop ways of acting and choosing.
My friend's thinking says "It doesn't matter how stressful work is, it's the most important thing and I have to keep doing it"
My friend's thinking says "I simply can't sleep so I won't try these silly ideas that clearly won't work, like working with my circadium rhythm, lowering light and reducing screen time in the evenings, meditation....pffttt! I'm above those things."
Her thinking says "I should be able to eat what I want, drink as much as I want, sleep as little as I care to, and still be healthy...how dare my body need something else"
Can you see - her thinking is betraying her, every day.
Her thinking has kept her in stressful jobs, ignoring her body's food preferences, ignoring the natural activity her body needs to sleep better.
Her thinking has kept her believing she's an important person because her job is so stressful.
Her thinking keeps her from humbly trying things like meditation to reduce stress and relax her body.
Her thinking is her enemy. Her body is her most loyal friend.
You can trust your body
Our body knows what it needs. It knows when we do something that's hurting our health. It knows what isn't in alignment with its well being.
And it lets us know. Eat something we shouldn't, and we get a stomach pain. Too much stress and we get tension headaches or pinching muscles or sleeplessness. Stuck in jobs, relationships or situations that are not in alignment with our true spirit's desires, and we get depressed or fatigued or we feel lost.
Our body is always trying to steer us toward a life that serves our truest and deepest yearnings - the yearning of our spirit. This is what it means to live your purpose.
But modern life throws a million distractions and lies at us to convince us otherwise. And we lap those up so easily!
For my friend, her early experiences in life set her up to not enjoy her body, to feel scared of what could happen to it. So she disconnected from it.
And because she's never questioned that disconnection, she's remained cut off from it's messages, desires, needs and signs. She has become the bully that is constantly hurting her own body. And it's her thinking that drives that bullying.
But your body wants what's best for you.
It wants you to feel happy.
It wants you to be healthy.
It wants you to feel fully alive, energised, engaged in the things that truly bring you joy.
Your body loves you.
You can trust your body. It will not lead you astray.
Does this mean you don't need medical or other health treatments?
Not at all. When we ignore, or can't hear the warning signs from, our body, when we push it to keep eating/doing/experiencing things that hurt it, it will do its best to survive, but eventually it can't keep bouncing back and staying healthy. Things breakdown.
The alcoholic who doesn't stop drinking will eventually have liver disease.
The smoker who doesn't quit will very likely develop lung problems, cancers or other smoking-related problems.
The person who only eats fast food will end up obese, diabetic, with heart problems and weight-related bone and joint issues.
The person who doesn't find ways to reduce stress and manage it better will end up with chronic fatigue or migraines or back pain or insomnia or ulcers or a heart attack....so many problems can arise from stress!
Once you develop these conditions, you absolutely need outside intervention. Whether it's serious medical help, medication, or something more ongoing, like therapy, weekly massages, physio or other things of that nature....you need to do whatever will help your body heal.
That is what is loving to your body at that moment.
And loving your body is key!
Trusting your body starts with love
Love truly is the answer when it comes to our body and our health.
It's not just about loving your body - which makes most of us think about having to stop being critical of the parts of our body we don't like the look of. And yes, that's part of it, but not the main part.
Loving your body means being loving toward your body. This is how you begin to trust your body...by loving it.
Think about a small child. Imagine that child is in pain or hurting from an accident. She's crying. How do you respond?
You have compassion, yes? You care for her. You hold her, put her on your knee, say soothing things. And of course, you get her medical attention if she needs it.
This is showing love to her, and it's no different with your body.
It's hurting? Have compassion, care for it, snuggle your body up like a hug, say soothing things to yourself. And of course, get yourself the medical attention you need.
Being loving in this way extends to how your think about and speak to your body all the time. Are you judgemental? Are you cruel? Do you berate yourself over small failures, mistakes or stuff ups? Do you randomly say sweet, encouraging, loving things to yourself?
As you start to do this, you'll befriend your body, and it's easy to trust a friend.
Stop betraying your body with your thinking
Here's my quick 5 tips for beginning the journey out of betrayal of your body and into trusting your body
- Meditation. Just sit quietly for a few minutes each day, no screens or music or podcasts or other people. Just you and your body and a little time to feel into it.
- Expand your meditation. Being consciously feeling through your body, acknowledging each part of your body and how it feels. Start with your feet and work up. To each part, say "Hello feet. I see you. I'm here with you now. Hello ankles, I see you, I'm here with you now.". And so on. I something is hurting, say "Hello knees, I see you, I'm here with you now...I feel that pain. I know you're hurting. Here's some love" and send loving feeling to that body part. As you get better at this, you can send loving feeling flooding through your whole body.
- When you're deciding what to eat for dinner, stop and bring your attention to your stomach. Acknowledge it like you do in the above meditation practice. Then ask it what it feels like eating. Don't limit your thinking to only what's in your house, or what is easy to order in. Give your gut that moment to want whatever it needs. You'll learn what you really need to start making available to your body. Where possible, eat what it asks for. Note that it will be unlikely to ask for things you normally eat, if you've been disconnected and convenience eating most of the time. Also be wary that your tongue and your thinking will have their own preferences and these are unlikely to be the same choices your gut desires.
- Write down the activities you engage in that you know are not good for your body - drinking, smoking, eating crap, watching tv all weekend, staying up too late etc etc. Begin to see how cruel this is, and also acknowledge what you get from doing these things - tv might help you escape feeling tired, bored, sad. Smoking might help you cope with anxiety. Eating sweet things might help pep you up when you're bored or tired or lonely. Become aware of the payoff of these choices, and start to choose the braver, harder road of feeling those feelings (and spoiler alert, it's almost always to avoid feeling a feeling you don't like).
- Slow down. Quieten down. Lay down. These three simple sayings will almost always steer you in the right direction. Being less busy allows for more space, more connection with self, more openness to change. Quietening down means turn off screens, sound or inputs of all kinds. Being on your own and enjoy not cramming more stimulation into your body. Just sit in the quiet and learn to enjoy it. And lay down - rest more, sleep more, stretch out your body more. Most of us are chronically under-slept, and physically in need of rest.