What Your Body Needs To Hear
One day, when I was in the midst of Lyme disease, I experienced a shamanic journey that changed my life. I had gone into the journey to understand more about my illness but ended up meeting a part of myself I never knew existed. I still remember the moment when the drumming began. I found myself on a vast empty plain, facing a creature who shocked me to my core. Clad in bedraggled scraps with a haunting emptiness to her eyes, a frightful-looking woman crouched as if ready to fight. At first, I was terrified – until I realized that this woman was me. Still with her hackles up, she explained that she was the part of me that I continually pushed to the brink. The part whose needs I silenced every time I overworked. The part that felt forgotten, fear-steeped and ignored. In that moment I realized that this woman wasn’t angry with me, she was just deeply frightened. At first I didn’t know how to help her. Then, it was as if I was given the magic words. I looked deep into her eyes and said, “I love you and I will protect you until the end of time.” I embraced her and we both melted into tears.
I’m not always the best at comforting my body. I’m much more liable to worry, push or ignore it instead. Through this journey, however, I realized that no matter how illness or exhaustion might manifest for me, my body is not my antagonist— but my ultimate companion. I would take care of her until the end of time, because we would be together until the end of my time. My body wasn’t something I had to push or control or fix, but a preciously innocent being who just needed to know that I was here for her.
As I once heard the spiritual teacher Matt Khan put it— we are the spirit guides for our bodies. Our bodies are the ones who are on the journey and we are here to help them along the way. Many of our bodies are going through a lot right now. Living in a landscape where the words “pandemic” have become a part of our daily language, it’s natural to feel afraid. There is nothing wrong with whatever you are feeling. Just like there is nothing wrong with the scared part of me I discovered on that windswept plain. But there is something our bodies are asking to hear and thankfully, it’s something that feels so very good to say.
The invocation is simple, yet profound. Wrap your arms around yourself and tell your body today— “I love you. And I will keep you safe.”
I recently saw A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the new Mr. Roger’s movie with Tom Hanks. As to be expected, the film was deeply moving— there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Later, I read an article where Hanks described how he implemented one of Mr. Roger’s teachings while babysitting his granddaughter. On this particular day, the girl’s mother had to leave before she woke up. Normally, this would provoke a lot of challenging behavior from his granddaughter, but as soon as the little girl asked where her mom was, Hanks simply said, “Your mom has gone off to see some friends. And she’s left you with me to take care of. So I am going to keep you safe until your mom comes back. Wanna help me make some pancakes?” To Hank’s amazement, his granddaughter was as placid as a pond for the rest of the day.
Mr. Rogers often talks about how children need to feel safe. When kids act out, he explains, it is often because they feel insecure about whether or not they will be taken care of. Our bodies are exactly the same— that maelstrom of anxiety we feel inside of us is our bodies way of asking if they are safe. Of course, just like parents, we cannot control every factor in life. But we can say to our bodies, to our hearts, to the scared child within us— I love you and I will protect you until the end of time. Because sometimes all our body needs to hear is that we have not forgotten about them.
When I say this to myself, I can feel a physical cascade of relaxation and stress-relief in my whole nervous system. It also changes how I act towards my body. When I move from a place of being a parent, a protector, a spirit guide for my body, I push myself less. I honor myself more. I remember to do things that comfort her. I feel less burdened by things like having to rest when I’m sick and can access a deep reservoir of gratitude for the privilege of having a body in the first place.
It’s normal, when we feel unsafe, to leave our body. But the amazing thing is, the moment we come home again, we begin to heal. Many people are dealing with a lot of very real worries right now— about viral illness, and canceled plans, vulnerable loved ones and their ability to go to work. All of this worry is valid. And, you can do so much to help your body today by simply saying— I’m here dear one. I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.
So if you are feeling lost in worry, try these simple grounding exercises to let your body know you are here: Take ten deep breaths. Bring your attention to neutral parts of your body— like your elbow or the tip of your nose. Cuddle your dog. Sit down and drink a whole cup of water without doing anything else. Massage your feet. The world may be complex, but the way we come home can be simple.
As I write this, the moon is peering through my window. My dog is asleep on the couch next to me, curled up into the softness of a cloud blanket, and I am finishing a warm cup of tea. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But I do know that before I fall asleep I will put two hands on my heart and say— I’m here, and I love you. And when I wake up tomorrow morning, instead of checking the news right away, I might just say— Good morning Asia. Everything isn’t fixed today. But I am here for you, and I will keep you safe. Now…do you want to go make some pancakes?