Here’s an item from the list of things you might not know about me: I exist in a state of near-constant physical pain. Some days this pain is worse than others and during the past couple of weeks it’s been particularly bad. But fear not! This post is not going to be a long-winded elaboration of my discomfort — instead, I want to talk about our relationship to our bodies (or at least, my relationship to my body!)
Because here’s what I know about pain: when it gets bad enough it forces me literally, viscerally back into my body. When the pain is bad enough I find I can’t do anything except feel how much I hurt. Pain can force me directly into the present moment.
But when the pain is not so bad, when it is only a little tingling and twinging and soreness, that is when I find I exist outside of my body entirely. When the pain is not so bad, I retreat into the fortress of my mind and busy myself with thinking, with anything really, anything to keep my mind occupied so that I don’t have to feel the discomfort in my body.
This is easy to do because we live in a culture that idolizes the intelligence and value of the mind. We measure our worth not in the ableness of our bodies but in the cleverness of our thoughts — and so my physical pain does not threaten my self worth on the days when it is only a small discomfort. It does not call into question my utility.
And so I divorce myself from my body whenever I can and get on with the business of being human.
But there’s a part of me that wonders if perhaps this course of action is not so wise as it would seem. If you wander around in more woo-woo spiritual circles (as I have done in the past few years) you’ll encounter the idea that symptoms in the body can be messages pointing to where we are out of alignment in our lives.
I do not really believe in this theory. I have a very rational explanation for my pain involving too many hours spent at the computer compounded by bad posture and ergonomics leading to muscle imbalance, tension, and nerve pain.
And yet when I think whether this very rational story might carry a message, I am tempted to conclude that it does. Perhaps my pain carries a message about not caring for myself, about not standing up for and defending my needs, about not asking for help, about keeping my pain and my secrets tucked away safe and hidden where no one can find them and judge me wanting.
Because on the days when the pain is so bad that I can hardly bear to think or sit still, I inevitably pick myself up and get out of bed and go to work (easy, because lying in bed is the most uncomfortable thing I ask my body to do). At work I hurt too much to really think, but I try anyways because I am at work and at work I am supposed to be working. But there is very little that is easy about my job and when I am not at my best I find the work is sometimes too hard. I find myself stuck between bullying myself into working even when I’m aching or feeling guilty for idling away the hours when I hurt too much to think.
Our culture teaches us to value the mind and to set aside the needs of the body. Our entire medical culture is built around this principle — which is why, when I discuss my pain with my doctor, she suggests a low dose muscle relaxant instead of offering to refer me to physical therapy. We treat our bodies like disposable vessels, rented rooms that provide the comfort and safety of the mind.
But our bodies are more than that and we often don’t do enough to give them their due. So, no, I’m really not sure that our bodies hold messages for us about the things in our life that we’re trying to ignore. But I do know that it’s hubris to think that the mind can function when the body is unwell, and as such, we could all do more to take better care of our instrument.
I’d love for this to be a conversation, not a monologue! How do you care for your body? Do you believe your body carries whispers from a deeper, wiser part of you? Let me know in the comments below!