On Listening To Your Body And Yourself

A note on listening to your body and yourself. This is something I’m learning. After years of chronic stress, my body just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to take more drastic measures. I got very very sick. I’ve come a long way from where I was, but still have days that are not so good, as is the case with a chronic illness. I wrote Part 1 of this post as an account to myself on one of those days.

We are all a work in progress. Each of us have experiences that magnify and bring into focus particular lessons. Part 2 of this post is what I’ve learned. And I think we can all relate. This is more about speaking your truth and following your own path that’s right for you, about how to deal with the cacophony of 'shoulds' that echo through your mind and drive your choices, than about how to deal with chronic illness. And a bit of a cautionary tale about what can happen if you let pushing and striving and stress take over your life. The body is not going to let you get away with it.

Part 1: What's happening

My husband and I are on a trip. I’m sitting in a cafe on the other side of town from my hotel, 2 hours before I'm supposed to meet a friend for tea. On my third black coffee of the day. Feeling so very tired today after consecutive days of pushing myself with activities. I had anxiety about being too tired to make it across town so wanted to frontload the effort. Now, I feel even more exhausted from the journey over here. I'm feeling panic, fear, and overwhelm from the fatigue. Wish I could lay down. Elevated heart rate, breathing requires effort. I feel like crying. I lose my center when I'm tired and the world gets heavy.  

When I meet my friend I think I'll be too tired to even interact. I'll try my best to fake it and get some adrenaline going to present normally, but it's going to be a push. Especially since she is high energy. I feel like even my brain gets tired and my thoughts are slowing down. Maybe I’ll just let her do the talking.

Do I turn around and go back to the hotel? I'm too tired to even do that now though. And I want to see my friend and don't think she will really understand my illness. It's one thing to tell someone you're sick, it's another to have them see it in you and have it inconvenience them/impact your friendship.

I just asked my husband to meet me over here when I'm done with my friend because I'm scared I’ll be too tired to make the journey back on public transit alone. I feel like I need to be escorted like an elderly. I can understand old people. Everything is so demanding and I just want to rest. I love benches. Earlier today I was in a museum and so tired I just moved through the place from bench to bench, feeling panicked if I couldn’t find one with an open spot. The fatigue makes you all of a sudden acutely aware of people who get to go through the world sitting. Children in strollers, people in wheelchairs or with walkers.

People say I should listen to my body and my illness and don't do things when I don't have the energy. I know this, but it’s so hard and tricky to actually do that. It requires impeccable self care and shameless authenticity and speaking up for your needs. Those are skills I’m working on, but haven't developed enough yet. I try, but I also want to do things, have friends, "be normal" and ultimately (and this is the central motivator) avoid judgements - from others, but also myself. This doesn't help me though and just makes things worse. And so I end up in situations like this today.

Part 2: What's really happening / the lesson

It’s now a few days later. I’m feeling better and looking back. What should I have done to avoid that whole ordeal? Well, my mind is a bit like training a puppy. I remind myself that my health and listening to my body is the most important thing. Then I find myself forgetting and taking the path of least resistance in the moment - going along with plans my body doesn’t agree with because speaking up is hard and/or stopping the inertia of activity that pushes us all forward is hard. Then after learning my lesson again (enduring a flare up and feeling sick for awhile), I reset and remind myself again of my true priorities. Oh, right. I remember now. Ok, yes, will never let that happen again…

But it does. And you know why? My mind would like to tell me all sorts of terrible things that will happen or what it means if I speak up for my body. If I cancel on a friend, will she want to be friends anymore? If I don’t do that piece of work today, how will I ever reach my goals? If I don’t go out for dinner with my husband’s friends will he be disappointed and find me not fun anymore? These are the fears and judgments that spring me into action and keep me from rest.

The thing is that these questions are, well,...garbage. Total garbage. They’re not helpful. And the answers my mind provides are 100% conjecture. I have no evidence to prove anything. I have no evidence that my friend won’t understand or even suggest to come to me on my side of town. I have no evidence that if I put off that work product to another day it will actually come out much better because I had a spark of inspiration between now and then. And maybe my husband is actually exhausted from the work week and doesn’t even feel up to going out either. All totally possible. I have no idea what will happen when I speak up for my body and for what I need in that moment until I do.

And you know what? When I do take the path of ease - the action, choice or step that feels right for me and what I authentically want - things tend to go pretty darn good. And I feel good, maybe even energized (or at least not depleted). Things seem to unfold and it all works out - even if in the moment I make the choice I don’t understand how it possibly will. And even if when I start to honor myself some of the fears I have come true, then let the chips fall where they will and it’s all for the best. Really.  

Maybe you’ve tried this and noticed this too? Or intuitively this sounds true? And maybe you’ve noticed that when we don't listen to what we need and take the path of effort instead - listening to the "shoulds" - and force ourselves to do what we think we have to, things don't go as well as we'd like. We end up pushing ourselves and the outcomes of our interactions/activities are not ideal and maybe we’ve just made things even harder now.

Why? Because ease is met with ease; efforting is met with more efforting.

I know this is the opposite of what we’ve been taught. We’ve been told we have to push, make plans and stick to them and we won’t be successful without force and tons of effort. Discipline and follow through. We’ve also been taught that with enough vigilance and effort we can control life and we can know how things will go before it even happens.

This is why I struggle and end up deliriously exhausted and sick. This programming in my mind is so strong I easily revert back to old thinking and think it’s not ok to give my body what it needs and speak up for what I want. Almost all of us have this programming. But, maybe it’s not really true. No, I know it’s not true. But I’d just like for you to consider for yourself that maybe it’s not. Just as Michael Singer says in his NYT Bestseller The Surrender Experiment,  “Is it really reasonable for us to assume that nothing good will happen unless we force it to?” The answer, obviously, is no. Although somehow our mind still likes to believe this is the case. But, actually, many many good things come when we let go of the grip of control and allow our voice to speak up for what we need and want moment to moment. Because ease is met with ease.

Just like training a puppy, with patience and persistence we can change our minds to see the truth. This is my path not only back to health and creating the space for me to heal my body, but to a life of flow instead of resistance and control, authenticity instead of pushing and “shoulds”, and where I get to be me and am even rewarded for it. Because ease is met with ease. I’m obviously still learning to put this consistently into practice, but step by step I will get there. And it's so worth the effort.

Wanna try for yourself? When tempted by a "should", or a choice that feels out of alignment, try taking the path of ease instead. You can try a “low risk” choice to start. Your mind may still not like it and serve you up all its objections and stories, but just see what happens. I think you’ll find some pretty interesting results.