Yesterday, I wrote about a woman whose doubt created indecision and collapse. Once she compassionately examined her doubt, and listened to her body’s inner knowing, she took inspired action.
In positive psychology, freedom of choice without guilt, shame, over-commitment or denial is called self regulation. Self-regulation relies on having a friendly, open and trusting relationship with our body.
When we dismiss our body’s messaging, we have to rely on external regulation – medication, alcohol, constant reassurance, praise, or compulsive compliance with another’s opinions and wishes -- to make decisions. In effect, we use our brain to lead our lives, and as our thoughts spin up or slow down in reaction to our external circumstances, we become disempowered, scared and anxious; now, in self-doubt we avoid taking action -- we collapse in fear.
Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D., a trauma expert and psychologist, reminds us of the cost we pay each time we ignore our body:
We pay a high price when we ignore our embodied sensations and over-relate or over-depend on our brain’s messaging. Each time we repress, deny, or dismiss our emotions and sensations, we disconnect from our body’s inner wisdom.
The Body Compass
Our body is equipped with a sophisticated system of communication from our brain to our visceral organs -- our gut and heart. This whole-body system is designed to be our compass by communicating through subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) sensations.
However, as we begin to experience hardship, and conform to social conditioning, we shut down our emotions and bodily sensations. We do this by going into denial – our body registers the threat (e.g., my partner is raging at me, my peers have rejected me, my supervisor is criticizing me) but we shut down the system, we repress our response.
Meanwhile, our conscious mind is still at work processing contingent explanations in response to the threat (e.g., it’s my fault, I should, I’m responsible, I failed). The more we shut down our body, the louder and more dominate our brain’s confabulations become. Even though our brain may learn to ignore the emotions (e.g., I’m scared, I’m lonely, I feel unsafe) and bodily sensations (e.g., tight chest, knot in throat, rapid heart rate) to cope with our discomfort, our body’s alarm signals don’t stop. What we resist persists.
The problem is that repeated exposure to threats, hardship or social conditioning result in a disconnection from our body compass. When we repress, we shut down important processing systems that are effective for healing, for hearing our true voice, and for making informed decisions. If we continue to repress, we become disempowered and stop navigating toward our authentic life - our true north.
Said simply, we stop hearing answers from our non-verbal language system.
Without our non-verbal language system, we begin making decisions from the first layer of our knowing without going to the source of our knowledge - our bodies.
Like looking at a plant growing from the earth, when we see only the surface, we dismiss the ancient process transforming underground, and we fail to seek what lies deep beneath the surface. Rich, complex, life-giving soil with trillions of microorganisms is waiting to be discovered, cultivated and harnessed. Plants are our oldest teachers, reminding us that we'll be rewarded when we attend to what lies deep within.
Author, poet and philosopher Wendell Berry understood and embodied his ecological roots of consciousness. Here he expresses his affection and admiration for nature's soil
Like the soil, our bodies hold the natural process, complexity and answers to every question. We are barely human. Science tells us that we have around 50 trillion human cells. Our non-human cells, which we are completely dependent on, are composed of 14 quadrillion microorganisms and fungi.
We have rich soil.
When we cultivate our soil -- allow, feel, and experience our body's sensations in wonderment and curiosity -- we develop an intimate, ever-present connection with our inner knowing.
The benefits of intimately knowing our body’s sensations are trust, autonomy and freedom. Our visceral sensations signal what is safe, life sustaining and vital. As we gain greater awareness of our body’s language, we harness our potential to harmonize our life. Knowing what we feel is the first step to knowing why we feel.
The simple truth is that no one, but ourselves, can take away our will. We are always free to choose. When we perceive ourselves as victims, when we operate from fear, when we shut down our emotions, or when we disconnect from our body’s sensations, we make decisions from disempowerment.
Each time we forfeit our sovereignty we claim the potential of that choice to ricochet -- our choice, in any situation, will call to us the next series of events through which we will learn. We will be gifted with another chance to learn freedom and personal empowerment or to learn doubt and disempowerment.
Rich soil is waiting to be cultivated.
Our practice is reuniting with our body and learning to hear and trust our wordless wisdom.