The year 2019, thus far, has been an incredibly stressful one for me personally. Not all bad things, but changes nonetheless, which are inherently taxing. At the beginning of the year, in fact just before the dawning of 2019, my heart started to go crazy. Literally. Missing beats, beating in rapid spurts, totally arrhythmic. As it got worse and worse, I could feel the effects. I got dizzy every time I stood up, was out of breath coming up the stairs, and couldn’t exercise with the ease that I had felt before. After 10 months and a failed heart surgery, to try to burn the rogue sections of muscle off, it’s calmed down. Why now? Because much of the stress that was looming and then raging around me all of this year has calmed down. Holy cow – our bodies are so sensitive and attuned!
I like to think I’m pretty good at dealing with stress. I can focus well during a crisis and can isolate areas of stress so that (I think) they don’t infect other areas of my life. I’ve worked hard over the years, primarily using meditation and my own psychotherapy, to cultivate a broader and more secure perspective of the world and myself. But alas, I am a mere mortal like everyone else. I am in a body. My existence is inextricable from this body, and sometimes my body responds “despite me.” I cannot think my way out of my sympathetic nervous system (the stress mobilization responses of the body, like heart rate, for example). Even though last winter there was nothing obviously “wrong”, my body knew. My heart knew that there were tumultuous changes on the horizon, and like some old folks’ knees before a storm, started mobilizing and reacting even before the thunder and lightning.
Our staff at CMP recently finished up reading a book together: “Polyvagal Theory in Therapy.” This book explains in clear terms the normality of everyone’s bodies moving between states of calm and connection, states of fear and threat, and states of giving up or “playing dead.” In fact, we move between varying gradations of these states many times a day! Most of us are unaware of what state we’re in, much less know what to do about it. I knew my heart was reacting to something, but what? And what to do? I couldn’t predict or plan or think through more than I was doing. I could, however, meditate more, surround myself with loving others, and take care of my body. The ability to listen to our body, correctly interpret its messages, and take care of yourself – these are skills. These skills can be learned.
With the advent of the yoga movement here in the US, I think we began to become a little more aware of how our quality of life is inextricable from our bodies. Our bodies are not, as in the industrial age, machines that we can control and exert at will. We are humble in the face of our body’s wisdom and connection with millennia of events and circumstances, environment, and ancestors. Our molecules are literally the same as those that make up the Himalayas and the deepest sea. I love one line in a mediation retreat I attended: “Try to follow your breath, from when it is air outside you, moving into your lungs, then your blood, then your cells. Where is the air? Where are you? Where is the divide?” There is none.
There is no divide between how we think of “ourselves,” our physical bodies, our environments, the interactions we have with others. It’s all the same. And our bodies know this.
Take the time to honor your body, to listen to it, to learn its ways and to embrace it. “You” really have no choice.