Paying attention is love in action, and paying attention is also how we get to know ourselves and take responsibility (the ability to respond) for our lives and who we are in this world. Am I living the life I want to live? Paying attention to the wisdom of your thoughts and the wisdom of your body may bring you the answer to that question.
I was watching a documentary about animals and was fascinated to see all the ways animals instinctively respond to the energy around them. It is how they survive. Our bodies have the same natural wisdom, but we have stopped paying attention.
I was curious, so I started paying attention to answer the question, “What is my body trying to tell me?” At first I just noticed the big things, like when I get angry, my heart rate spikes like I’m running a race, then I started to notice that sometimes it doesn’t necessarily speed up, but it bangs really hard against my chest. I have come to know that the different responses of my body represent different feelings.
Thoughts are the language of the brain and feelings are the language of the body. –Dr. Joe Dispenza
Over the course of several months, I learned a few things.
When I am frustrated, I clamp down the back of my jaw, and then I get busy.
When I am confused, my brain goes into overdrive calculating risk, making sure I have my facts straight, and rehearsing how I want to respond, and then I get busy.
When I am scared, my throat closes up and my fingers move, like wanting to do something with my hands. This is when I step outside and smoke at people.
When I am shocked, my mind screams at me to “GET UP AND DO SOMETHING. ANYTHING.” I can clean the whole house in a single day, and if you look in my cabinets and drawers, everything will be lined up nicely.
My default response to any discomfort is moving, and usually moving fast, both physically and mentally. I can be extremely productive and accomplish a lot, and yet underneath all the activity is a driving need to create safety. If I can get all my outsides organized, figure out a plan, line up all the details, and get everyone on board (coercion may be involved), then I will be safe. Tara Brach calls this a “false refuge,” a fear management strategy.
It’s okay to respond to the built up energy in my body and vacuum or pay bills or scrub toilets, but if this is all I do, then I am missing the opportunity to know my own heart. It’s like my body is telling me “Danger, danger Will Robinson” and I jump into fix-it mode to get rid of the discomfort with out even stopping to see just what it is I’m resisting. And inevitably it comes back looking for me again.
Witnessing the feelings in my own body is like riding a wave, there are hard and scary parts, there are slippery parts, and then ultimately they pass. If I ride them out with curiosity, asking “What am I wanting here?” I often find what I am wanting has nothing to do with the situation at hand, or with anyone other than me for that matter. I get to hear what my heart wants me to know, it is usually something as simple as “you are safe and have everything you need,” or “This is not personally yours to fix or control.” I find that the calm that passes over me helps me make better choices–choices that are much more likely to meet my needs.
Jill Bolte Taylor, a Neuroanatomist who studied her own stroke, explains that the greatest lesson she learned “was how to feel the physical component of emotion,” and that she “had the power to choose whether or not to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in her body, or just let it quickly flow right out.” (I highly recommend her Ted Talk and her book, My Stroke of Insight.)
Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds.
This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.
As a mediator, I see the physical and emotional responses to conflict (perceived danger) on a regular basis. Reflective listening, deep listening for the feelings and needs underneath the words, can help parties ride out the wave and move from hard line positions, like “I want the house,” to what really matters underneath such as “I want the home I have created to matter–to be honored and valued.” And when we see and honor ourselves, our contribution to our family, then we stop looking at others to do it for us. Such self-connection lives side by side with creativity and inspiration, and when we can get there, lots of options for resolution present themselves.
Getting to know ourselves from the inside out will bring the peace and freedom we all seek. It will diminish or mitigate so many little blocks that keep us trudging along the path of least resistance and propel us forward on the path we were born to walk. I promise.
Deborah Denson is a Mediator and Conflict Coach in Nashville, TN. She shares her personal journey learning to manage conflict and life in general on her blog, where she combines original art and wit into a daily dose of insight and humor for readers.