Recently a dear friend asked me a question. She said, “Do you have any tips about how to listen to your body?”
I thought this was a great question and began eagerly to answer.
And answer. And answer. And answer.
Approximately 12 (or 200) minutes into my answer, I realized I might not be so sure how to answer her question after all.
Here is why, and it is something that has always amazed me and likely always will.
Taking care of a human body is an INCREDIBLY complex and time-consuming job. I mean, first of all, you have all these physical components to attend to – the organs, the skin, the bones, the muscles, etc.
Then you have all of the emotions, which are linked to all of the hormones and endocrine system production (a system I can barely spell, let alone understand).
And then there is the mind, or brain, or mind-brain, or brain-mind, and how that all works together with (or against) the physical body.
Of course, there is also the spirit, the presence of which, which depending on whom you ask, is either a myth, a fact, or a matter for intense debate.
Put all of this together and I’m shocked I have time to make rent each month, let alone take care of three other beings, each of whom has completely different physical-emotional-mental-spiritual systems from my own.
It is just a tremendous amount of work. To make matters worse, each system is affected by the others.
So, for instance, what I put in my body can change how balanced or healthy I am feeling in my mind. The thoughts I permit my mind to entertain can mess with or help my digestion. How I’m feeling emotionally can determine whether I make good or not-so-good food choices. And whether I’m following my spiritual practices (meditation, yoga, contemplation, reading, et al) has a direct impact on all the rest.
What this adds up to is a whole lot of listening. A LOT. “Listening to your body” is listening on multiple levels to multiple entities all at the same time. The body might be saying “I’m hungry!” while the mind is saying “I’m confused!” and the emotions are saying “I’m depressed” and the spirit is giving the rest of them the silent treatment.
Since my mind happens to love complexities of exactly this sort but the rest of me really hates them, my go-to strategy these days is to simplify and only listen to one voice. This one voice is my inner intuition, my gut instinct, my spirit, whatever you might want to call it (I like “intuition” best).
So for me personally, listening to my body means listening to my intuition. This works for me because I’ve realized my intuition is kind of like a trained mediator who can do lots of detailed ongoing listening for me and then just give me the action item highlights in bullet point format.
To do this, of course, I have to really be able to trust my intuition. And I have to be able to recognize its voice in and amidst or above or beneath all the others. Here is where trust and that ever-pesky issue of faith comes into play.
Over the years, I have learned more about how to tell the difference between intuition’s voice and other voices, such as the voice of guilt or shame, the voice of boredom or impatience, the voice of physical hunger or emotional hunger.
For example, my intuition, unlike those other voices, doesn’t usually give up easily. It keeps trying until at least part of the message gets through.
My intuition also speaks reasonably and rationally. If there are lots of voices going on, its voice will be the small, still, sane-sounding one.
Plus, if my intuition can’t get through to me when I’m awake, it will just wait until I’m asleep and try again.
And if I misunderstand what it wants to tell me (for instance if it said it wanted a “banana” for my breakfast fruit but I hear “apple” instead) it will quickly let me know….in this case, with an upset stomach.
Also, as I become more eager to hear my intuition’s insights, it becomes more eager to share them with me. Two decades ago, maybe I only consulted my intuition once a week. One decade ago, maybe that had increased to once a day. Today, it is like once every 10 minutes.
So with practice comes progress.
What I mean is, when I say I “ask my intuition,” what I mean is literally that. I ask it. I go inside and (as kindly as possible given how I may be feeling in that moment) inquire, “Would you like a banana this morning?”
Then I wait for the reply. If I feel enthusiastic – if a banana sounds very good indeed – that I take as a “yes.” If I feel so-so – like I’m not sure or I “should” want it because of whatever reason – then I take that as a “no” and continue on until I find something that sounds better and I get the “yes” I’m looking for.
For me, it has been important to learn that my intuition doesn’t speak in “maybes.” So until it is “yes”, it is always no. I guess I could say that in my intuition’s world, “maybe” and “no” are the same thing.
I have also learned that my intuition isn’t good at hiding its opinions. It won’t yell them out or push to the front of the line or throw a tantrum if I don’t listen. But if I ask, I generally get an answer.
And I’ve learned that no question is off-limits. Like the world’s most compassionate and available mentor, my intuition is happy to talk about anything and everything. Intuition doesn’t only work for certain topics or under certain conditions. It doesn’t take days off or ask for overtime pay. It’s always there, patient and placid, and equally happy to do its own thing or pitch in and help when its help is requested.
So I guess the short, succinct answer to my friend’s question is simply this: “Learn to listen to your intuition.”
Learn to tune in to the inner you – the gut – the instinct – the knowing – the soul – whatever you call it – that is always listening and synthesizing and summarizing on your behalf.
Also, remember to ask. “Learn to ask your intuition and learn how its voice sounds and feels and learn to wait for its answer before you act.”
In this way, you will begin to know whether to choose the apple or the banana; a night out with friends or a date on the couch with your furry bestie; a nap or a jog; this new job or that one; a house by the sea or a house in the mountains, and so much more.
Today’s Takeaway: How do you know you are listening to your body? What does the word “intuition” mean to you? Do you sometimes or always feel a link between your intuitive “gut” and your real physical gut? What works best for you to discern what is truly in your best interests and what you truly want when faced with several options?