One thing that really gets me is not knowing what’s going on with my body. I know I’m not alone in this. I spoke to a brave soul in a consult last week who is on a serious mission to get to the root of her chronic pain. She’s getting all the tests done, and seeing all the practitioners she can, including unconventional ones. All she wants in the world right now is the answer.
I feel her. I know what it’s like to be a medical mystery and nevertheless determined to find a root cause. That’s been most of my experience for the last 17 years. It takes a lot of energy and emotional fortitude. While I’m now more okay with not knowing what’s going on, I still get panicky, or impatient sometimes, and frantically search for people who can help me. It happens when I get depressed too. I think, “I NEED to get support. Who can I call?”
What I’m learning though, through my experience, and that of so many people in my community, is that a huge part of the answer to what ails us lies within. But, when we are frantically searching for answers outside ourselves, we can’t be present to the answers inside. That perpetual outward gaze sets us up in a cycle that keeps us sick. We spend a ton of energy going to the doctor. We don’t get answers, or the meds don’t work, and then we’re sad and frustrated. A lot of us know intuitively that the outward gaze isn’t working and there is information inside us, but because we’re so conditioned to look outward, we keep doing it, even when it’s not working for us.
Here’s an alternative approach: Create space to talk to yourself and listen to what you hear. If you do it a few times and feel stuck, or aren’t sure what to do with the information you get, call in the support of people who can help you interpret what you’re hearing. I’m not saying don’t go to the doctor. Do! But just as you go to the doctor for support with your body, you’ll want to find folks who can support you with the mind and soul side of healing too. You can learn so much on your own though, simply by creating some space to be with your body’s signals, a.k.a. symptoms and emotions.
I’ll share a recent example from my own life.
Since January I’ve been having intermittent one-sided pain in the middle of my back after I eat. I did my due diligence and got an ultrasound to rule out gallstones. I didn’t have any stones and everything looked normal. I saw a gastroenterologist who said it could be an acid issue or nerve pain. To explore the acid issue, I started taking HCL and it did go away. Then it came back, starting slowly and then getting much more persistent. I also began waking up every morning between 4-5am. One of my practitioners said something about waking up at “lung time” and I wanted to explore that further.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, consistent late night/early morning waking times (and midday sleepiness) are associated with different meridians, or energy channels in the body.
Each meridian is paired with an element – earth, water, metal, wood, and fire – and each element is associated with certain emotions. My 4-5am slot is metal, which corresponds to grief and loss.
When I saw that, my first reaction was frustration, “I haven’t had any losses. There’s nothing to grieve.” My herbalist and others have told me that the right side headaches I’ve had for years are associated with anger and my reaction to that has been similar, “My life is pretty great, What is there to be angry about?” But, since I was sick of my back hurting every single time I ate, no matter what I ate, and even sometimes when I didn’t eat, I decided to give myself some space to ask these questions and listen to the answers. I sat down on my back porch with some herbal tea one morning and wrote down the words “grief and loss.” Then I wrote the questions, “What might I be grieving? What have I lost?” And I started writing. It turned out to be a long, emotional list. I had a good long cry about it and it was a pretty cathartic experience overall. My back hurt a lot less afterwards and I stopped waking up at 4am.
In general in my life, I like to focus on what I’m grateful for and how to move forward. Lately, I’ve been so focused on getting treatment and growing my business that, outside of the yoga studio and a couple neat workshops, I haven’t given myself much space to just be with what’s coming up for me. I certainly haven’t allowed myself to acknowledge that living with a chronic illness is actually pretty hard. Sometimes I forget that.
It’s just true that I have to spend a lot of time doing things for my health that other people don’t have to do. It’s true that I don’t have as much money as a lot of my peers because I’ve spent a lot of time not working and spend all my money on treatment. It’s also true that I can’t just decide tomorrow to take a sweet management job at my favorite solar company, or launch a healthcare revolution, or pursue my dream of being a U.S. Senator. It could be a long time before I’m able to do any of those things. I may not get to do them at all. And, I’m seeing again that it’s okay to be bummed about that. Allowing myself to feel that loss and sadness doesn’t mean I’m going to get mired in it and lose everything I’ve achieved so far. (I have that fear sometimes.)
I often tell my clients that positive thinking is for suckers and I really do believe that. We can’t just think our way out of our suffering. We do get to decide how we want to be with whatever is happening in our lives – pain, loss, an annoying coworker – but first we have to see clearly what the truth about that is for us. Even though most of us in America aren’t taught how to see our truth, there are a lot of ways to do it. It could look like meditation, sitting in quiet reflection, journaling, shamanic journeying, getting hypnotized, getting your butt coached by someone like me, or something else that resonates with you.
When we lose sight of the truth, which everyone does, we can choose to be compassionate with ourselves and simply turn our attention back towards it. All the above tools are there to support us in seeing it again, honoring it, and choosing again how we want to be with it. It’s kind of like getting to have a recommitment ceremony with yourself again and again for the rest of your life. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, right?
If you’re thinking, “That sounds nice, you crazy hippy…” I hear you. I would have said the same thing five years ago. And, if all you’ve ever known is science-based medicine, this may sound very foreign and quacky. Just know that we have a lot of wisdom in our bodies and there are many ways to access it. It’s not something you learn overnight. It takes dedication and an open mind.