Body Wisdom: Taking the Reins of Your Health and Happiness, 2 of 2
You and your body are one vast interconnected communication system that operates nonstop.
Both you (thoughts and beliefs) and your body (physio-emotion responses) are sending signals to each other around the clock.
You’re at a slight disadvantage, however, as discussed in Part 1. Unlike you, your body’s mind or subconscious, comes pre-wired with the knowledge of how to interpret your thoughts (akin to your computer’s operating system).
In contrast, unless your caregivers in early childhood were tuned into their inner world enough so that they could be tuned into you, you’ll need to “work” at understanding how to interpret your body’s signals (emotion signals), as well as discovering the rules your body follows to to interpret your signals (thoughts).
Dr. Candace Pert, in her book “Molecules of Emotion” says that there are receptors (sensing molecules that exist throughout our system) and ligands (substances that bind to the receptors and help to create all of the chemical reactions necessary to run our system) that together can be considered to be “information molecules.” She refers to these molecules as the basic units of a language used by cells throughout the organism to communicate.Neurotransmitters, in this body language, are the “words” that nerve cells use to communicate with one another. The “language” that Dr. Pert refers to, is what can be called the language of the body-self, subconscious or body-mind. In short, your body’s cells monitor your thoughts 24/7, both random ones or thoughts about what is going on in and around, and accordingly activate the language of the body – which is emotional response.
This knowledge, you may say, is vital to your health and happiness.
Naturally it’s easier said than done. The problem? Your self-talk may be giving your subconscious misleading information that, unwittingly, limit you and your possibility thinking. (A common problem by the way, so not just you!)
Your body may “know” how to interpret your thoughts, but what if you’re sending thoughts unbeknownst to you that are blocking your highest health interest and personal aspirations?
Self-talk that elevates fear limits health and happiness
In this vast and sophisticated communication network of mind and body, your emotions are the chemical messengers.
Language makes it possible for us to share and to get to know our self and one another, through the meaning-making exchanges of our stories. We are wired to create and communicate our stories verbally and nonverbally.Studies show language shapes the way we think, to include what we think about and also sets limits to what possibilities we can think about or imagine.
Emotions are what give meaning to the experience of stories, and stories are inherently emotionally charged. This means that even the simplest logic cannot be separated from our emotions. Without emotion, the simplest decision would be a trial.
Emotions are molecules of energy that move the dynamic processes of the body in one of two overall directions: safety and love, or anxiety and fear.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, our stories create emotionally charged images in our minds that in turn shape the emotional energies inside us, and can even alter the very structure of our brain.
Our stories have life shaping power that can take us in different directions, either enhance clarity and enrich our connections with one another – or limit and disempower them.
Many of our stories leave much to be desired; paradoxically, we are the creators of these running commentaries, and at the same time, the stories we fashion turn around to shape us and our lives in profound ways.
This is especially true when our stories operate subconsciously, hidden from our awareness. Not all stories that we have learned to tell ourselves inspire the best within our human nature.
Some are disempowering at best, and yet others can turn the mind into a prison of doors locked by fear. In her studies of difficult emotions, fear and shame, outlined in a book titled I Thought It Was Just Me(But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power, Brene Brown challenges long held notions of emotions of vulnerability as weaknesses, and concludes that the value of vulnerability is priceless in human connection. In her words:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ~ BRENE BROWN
As children, this ongoing stream of thoughts, or protective neural patterns, helped us survive. How? It supported the image of who we thought we “should” or “had to” be, and that helped us “get the love” of our parents in the form of approval; literally, we needed at the time – to survive. Babies and small children are so emotionally vulnerable, they cannot survive without love.
Unknowingly, we can spend a lifetime with stories we conceived that avoid parts of ourselves, certain emotions, sensations, experiences, past and present.
In the words of Albert Einstein:
“The single most important decision any of us will ever to make is whether or not to believe that the universe is friendly.” ALBERT EINSTEIN
Cultural stories that elevate fears limit health and happiness
Why do so many hold limiting stories replete with toxic thinking patterns? Why is being caring and compassionate toward ourselves so difficult? Why are addiction rates so high, that is, why do so many cope with stress by avoiding or numbing painful feelings?
While complex, the answers may may have less to do with genes, and more to do with familial patterns that are highly influenced by the larger culture, wittingly or unwittingly, and how these cultural forces have shaped our personal stories.
In large part, identifying and breaking free of the power of certain lies and illusions in these stories is key. For centuries, in unique yet similar ways, we have been immersed in beliefs about our human nature that have not helped us grow in healthy ways. Political forces that promote oligarchic rule, and other rule of few power structures, for example, elevate the value of force and violence and dominance as desirable traits.
In contrast, empathy is a prosocial trait that is undesirable and even problematic to promoting war as a solution and the training of soldiers to fight, and on. Research consistently shows high physical aggression in the brain is associated with low rates of empathy, and vise versa, high rates of empathy are associated with low rates of violence. We are wired for empathy and compassion. It is our nature.
By elevating core intimacy fears, i.e., fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment, etc., the beliefs we’ve been conditioned with block us from connecting to our nature. As a result, the solutions we apply, based on the thinking that stems from these limiting beliefs, tend to be equally problematic, in that:
- We blame our human nature, our genes, our mothers, and so on, for our suffering.
- We learn to disdain painful feelings as defects or weakness in our self or others, or both.
- We use our ingenuity to devise ‘quick-fix’ methods that help us numb or distract us from feeling pain or discomfort.
- We focus on finding ways to eliminate pain altogether – or anything that hints of weakness or vulnerability.
These solutions merely exacerbate problems.
- They keep us focused on fixing others as a way to feel valued or needed in key relationships (codependency/narcissism).
- They turn ‘naturally’ painful events that can otherwise promote our growth into long periods of personal suffering, i.e., addictions, phobias, etc.
- They form addictive relating patterns, such as narcissism and codependency, which are prevalent in intimate relationships.
- They result in a host of social ills, i.e., war, poverty, genocide, slavery, crime, homelessness, etc.
As an advocate for social change, Einstein put it this way:
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Dehumanizing personal stories limit health and happiness
There’s something wrong with the images these cultural stories portray: they are dehumanizing. It’s not good science nor healthy religion, and more closer to politically expedient mythology and science fiction, or a combination thereof.
As a byproduct of Western thought, we’ve adapted to more easily ‘seeing’ the value of staying busy to get things done or to prove our worth, and finding little or no value in staying connected to inner resources, which are there to help us get to intimately know and trust ourself as a way of getting to know others and our world.
We’ve learned to relate to our self and one another, mostly, like human doings, and to think about our inner life in ways that scare us out of connecting. Make no mistake, science and religion have made brilliant contributions. It’s the bathwater beliefs, not the baby that may need tossing en masse.
Bathwater beliefs are ones that cripple the critical thinking capacity of our brains. They instill us with fear by teaching us to measure our worth as human beings on the basis of our performance and meeting external standards of approval; and to deny our capacity to think and to feel, and the miracle-making resources inside we are equipped with as human beings. In short they teach us to throw away the baby and keep the bathwater – a topsy-turvey system of beliefs.
Bathwater beliefs are lies about our human nature. They control our thinking because they lead us to think in ways that block our mind from working with our heart. Our mental health system is broken, and it’s not because we do not have capable, talent, dedicated and hard-working professionals.
- It’s broken because it is designed to maintain the status quo, and, at the same time, to keep people spinning their wheels trying to make improvements.
- It’s broken because it’s not designed to serve people; it’s geared to be a competition between giant industries to keep profits and political power in the hands of a ruling few.
- It’s broken because there are no incentives to promote a healthy (or educated) public. The sicker, more fearful and less educated people are, the more profits and fewer threats to the status quo.
These stories have led us to hold disempowering views of our nature, such as:
- Human pain is viewed as weakness.
- Human suffering is diagnosed as a disorder.
- Solutions are centered on medicating clients (quick-fixes).
- Prevention is given only token consideration.
- Treatment rarely takes a holistic approach to health or healing.
Drawing on decades of research on human motivation, Dr. Daniel Pink in Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, reports what drives human behavior is inner driven quest for meaning and purpose, personal agency and mastery in life.
We are simply not wired, however, for others to dominate us, to do our thinking or to tell us what we feel.
Studies show, force is no substitute for leadership. It negatively affects the health of the bossy and bossed alike. Those who seek to dominate, control or humiliate others are themselves living in fear. A narcissistic leader, male or female, cannot be a good leader. Those leaders with narcissistic self-interest are not good leaders. They have low self-worth, and the same fears as all other human beings, fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment. The desperate methods they use to cope with their fears cause them more suffering, even as they cause suffering for others.
In other words, there is a huge 180 degrees difference between leaders and tyrants. Leaders are visionary, inspire, and use their power to create environments that empower others, bringing out (liberating) the best in talents and abilities. In contrast, tyrants use their power to diminish, limit the power of others to think independently, through the use of punitive tactics of shame, guilt, intimidation, force and violence etc., that demand obedience without question, instill self-doubts, helplessness, low self-worth, and overall foster dependency and idolizing those in power.
Studies in the fields of neuroscience, intimate relationships as well as leadership show unequivocally that human beings are not wired to dominate or be dominated (apart from real survival situations) for the sake of dominating. This makes sense if you think of the directives of your body and subconscious to survive and thrive. A belief that dominating another proves self-worth can said to be toxic to both surviving and thriving in that fear-inducing beliefs produce unhealthy levels of cortisol in our bodies that, literally, block the flow of oxygen in our brain and body, and even stop the regeneration of new cells.
It is harsh judgmental thinking patterns as these that disfigure our relationships with our self, mind and body. They can cause us to waist our creative energies to craft enemy images of our self or others in our heads, even of the people we know at conscious levels that we love and love us.
These thoughts do not allow us to fully be present inside of our own skin, to regulate our own breath, to process our emotion in healthy ways.
To realize our potential and cultivate these inner capacities, we must get to know and fully accept our self, warts and graces. We have a built-in ability to make conscious and informed choices, and, increasingly, to learn from and to account for our own choices and actions, in order to produce optimal results.
Our connection is through our personal story. The retelling of our story can be an opportunity to express our struggle to free ourselves from the prison of limiting personal or cultural stories, choose to make self-directed changes to toxic thinking patterns, and to fulfill inborn strivings to be ourselves and live in meaningful connection.
As you learn to explore how to listen and to understand your self and life through your body, you may discover how little you really know about this part of yourself.
You may also discover how seriously the mind or wisdom of your body takes its relationship with you and its role as a messenger communication system.
At every moment your subconscious mind, the part of the brain that manages the autonomic processes, talks to you through your body, in a nonverbal style that is every bit as expressive, complete, systematic as the language of words. This body wisdom speaks from a rich pool of intelligence ever present to serve you, as a guide of sorts.
Since it is also in charge of processing your emotions, it uses these as action signals and information on how you can improve some situation or invigorate your life with meaning.
Painful emotions of anger, fear, shame, jealousy and disappointment course through life, daily, signaling how we are experiencing the world from within. Protective emotions of anger and rage, at best, enable us to adapt rapidly to our environment in order to survive. At worst, however, they hide and block us from feeling emotional processes that are essential in the formation of emotional intimacy and closeness.
Taking the reins
A key aspect of optimizing your ability to be better informed and make more creative or optimal choices is learning this language. Understanding the language of your body is like having inside information on how you — and your life — are wired to work together as one.
The purpose of developing your sensory acuity, your ability to understand your body’s language is to more fully connect to the experience of your self and life from the inside out.
And if you believe that realizing happiness and fulfillment is a universal purpose every human being shares … then you may be open to the idea that every challenge you encounter has multiple high quality solutions and opportunities for personal growth and awareness.
- Connecting to your body is like have your own personal consultant, a guide you consult with for more insight. This vibrant yet subtle language can assist you to transform your health and vitality, to energize your life with purpose, and to reveal deeper levels of expressing your authentic voice, creativity, talents and capabilities—ones you may or may not know you have.
- Understanding the language of your body liberates you to do less automatic thinking and more conscious thinking in some situations (i.e., triggering situations), and in other situations (i.e., playing an instrument or a sport), to rely more on your subconscious than conscious thinking.
- By lessening reactive thinking, which is associated with some preconditioned behaviors that are protective or defensive in nature, you replace this with a balance of conscious awareness, knowing, feeling, thinking, action and so on.
The more you access this amazing communication system and become aware of how your body uses it to successfully perform countless life sustaining tasks every second, 24/7, the more you realize how vital communication is to the body.
This language of life, which can be described as body wisdom or body intelligence, is so much more than just physical processes. It involves thinking processes, perception and imagination, as well as physical and emotional sensations.
And, since positive emotions such as compassion, gratefulness, connection are what deepen our sense of purpose and meaning, this body wisdom may also be thought of as an inner spiritual connection to a wondrous source of life, love, creativity and abundance, and so on.
In this state of mind and body, you “know” more because you are free to learn without activating your body’s defenses, free to make choices out of compassion versus fear in the highest interest of your personal health and happiness.
Staik, A. (2014). Body Wisdom: Taking the Reins of Your Health and Happiness, 2 of 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationships/2014/06/body-wisdom-taking-the-reins-of-your-health-and-happiness-2-of-2/