When The Brain Has No Answers, Ask The Body
Have you ever noticed what you do when you feel bad; fearful, angry, resentful, worried – anything that you might describe as ‘emotional pain’. Do you groan, wince, sigh? Perhaps all of the above, or variations thereof? And, then what do you do?
Perhaps you try to get out of that uncomfortable space as quickly as you can by diverting your attention and thinking either about what has caused this feeling or about something else entirely. Do you ever think to yourself; “Hmmm this is interesting! I’ll think I’ll stay in this place and continue to feel this feeling for a bit longer.” Probably not.
Perhaps you do though. If so you will doubtless have experienced the great Healer that abides that space and the gentle, powerful transformations that can occur there. Amazing and unlikely as it sounds, healing happens right in the centre of pain. Remember the yin yang symbol which means that everything contains the seed of its opposite?
As human beings our innate conditioning is always to move away from pain and towards pleasure and we do this instinctively in all painful situations just as we would instantly withdraw our hands from the burning stove. It’s an instinct that works well for physical danger but does not serve us well either for the physical pain that results or for emotional pain.
Let’s look at the physical pain first. When we’re in the grip of any kind of physical pain our natural tendency is to resist it in a variety of physical and mental ways such as writhing, tensing our muscles, clenching our teeth, grimacing, screwing up our eyes, holding our breathe, asking ‘why me?” or wishing it would go away. But can you remember an occasion when you momentarily ceased this resistance and just ‘went into the pain’ and felt the sensation of it, almost as if you were observing it rather than being the victim of it? If you can remember a time like this then you will probably remember that the pain seemed to lessen during those moments when your attention was focused on the experience of the pain rather than reacting to it. The nerve cells were almost certainly functioning as before, but instead of resisting, your attention was fixed on the physical sensation; following the rhythm of the throbbing feeling or watching to see how far the shooting pain travelled up your limb and this was kind of interesting to observe.
You might think that it helped because you had taken your mind off the pain but actually it was the opposite – you had consciously put your mind onto it. And from a physiological point of view this act of directing your attention towards the pain like an interested observer of it, automatically relaxed the muscles of your body and slowed your breathing which aided in the pain relief.
So we can see that going into the pain can help to ease physical discomfort. How about emotional pain? Well it works in very much the same way. When you are fully and mindfully experiencing the sensation of pain you are in the present. Not in some unhappy past memory when you experienced a similar pain or in a wishful, future pain-free place but sitting peacefully in the present moment. And this is where the healing and relief is to be found. Emotional pain is exactly the same. When we resist it by remembering a past time that we felt something similar or projecting forward into the future when we anxiously wonder if it will persist or hope that it will have disappeared, we are ensuring that it will persist. When we move towards the pain and choose to sit with it, in the transforming, restorative present moment we are imbuing it with the power to dissolve it.
What I have just described is a process that can work as a stand-alone method for dealing with physical or emotional pain. But in the coaching process I use which I draw from some of the findings emerging from quantum physics we can apply this idea a little differently. When we direct the mind-that-is-in-the-brain into the body in this way we are connecting with the mind present in the whole of the body, which operates very differently from the mind-in-the-brain. The body-mind doesn’t try to label, interpret or attribute meaning to its experiences – it just experiences them, fully in the present moment as we have just seen. It is the mind-in-the-brain which with its habitual drive to describe, summarise and tell a story about what is happening to it, is responsible for most of our human suffering. The body-mind has a different kind of story to tell, one that doesn’t refer back to the past but just tells it how it is. And if we let our body ‘speak its mind’ we can hear the story, usually expressed in metaphor but very direct and simple. And when we witness this unfolding of the story, somehow the magic happens and the body just ‘gets it’. It just understands the source of the pain and in doing so, the pain dissolves.
We are mysteriously and wonderfully made and it is when we connect with our innate, inner abilty to heal our emotional wounds that we are free indeed!