“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophies.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
I really wanted to share this quote from Nietzsche because it sums up the one of the most important ways in which chronic pain has changed my way of thinking; Namely, that instead of relating to my body as a mere vessel which carries me through my daily activities, a tool for getting from A to B, or a vehicle which serves me in my quest to enjoy life, achieve personal or professional goals and seek pleasure and joy, I have started to contemplate it as a source of wisdom and guidance too. Medical professionals will attest that pain is a warning sign (most of the time.. thought not always, as chronic pain sufferers will know!), but I’ve begun to wonder how much more our bodies can tell us when we really learn to listen to them.
This is, of course, no easy skill to master! Even after a year or so of trying to learn to listen to my body, I still get caught up in the excitement of the moment, or the hectic whirl of endless to-do lists and before I know it, I am multitasking before breakfast. I can get far too engaged in making plans for potential fun, without even consulting the very tool which will make them possible, without even checking in to see how it might be doing today… And when awareness is lost, my mind has disconnected from it’s vessel. It’s as if the driver has forgotten about the very vehicle he is maneuvering!
Of course our bodies are wonderful things. Our nervous system is so sophisticated that, once we have learnt how to do a task, we don’t have to think about it. This leaves the mind free to busy itself with other things. While we tie our shoelaces we can be planning our day, while we brush our teeth we can be rehearsing a conversation soon to be had in our minds. It’s quite incredible really! But the mind can get so busy, that it assumes that the body will run on auto-pilot and fulfill all the tasks it demands of it without much guidance. And that’s when accidents can happen and body parts move wrongly. No-one would leave an aeroplane flying on autopilot without checking its parts were working they way they should quite regularly.
Fortunately, and cleverly, pain or tiredness or some other warning signal pops up to alert the mind when something is wrong. But I began to learn what other, more subtle things we can learn from our bodies, from their groans and complaints, from their energy spurts and their deeper channels. As I become more interested in the phrase, the ‘Mind-Body connection’, which I’d heard before and not really understood, superficial exploration revealed that, aside from the obvious practices developing and utilising such a connection, like yoga and meditation, there were many others. Knowledge systems used in acupuncture and shiatsu massage also recognise the wisdom held in the body, in the form of its meridians or energy channels, while the Western movement theories of Alexander Technique link mental states with postural habits.
While I have not yet completely bought into the affirmations of Louise Hay, I have begun to believe that our mental states affect our bodies a lot more than we realise, and to see sense in the thought patterns she diagnoses behind our various ailments (i.e. the physical manifestations of these thoughts). So over the last year, I have attempted to become more aware of my own life rhythms, energy patterns and mind states, and their effect on my physical well-being, as well as vice-verse. I’ll try to share some of it here, in case others out there are wondering if there is more to their pain than the physical malfunctions and flaws. Despite this, I am definitely not ignoring the musculoskeletal causes of my injury, or advocating that anyone stop doing those core exercises which the physiotherapist instructs!