For nearly the last month I’ve been blogging about how to tune in to your body. There are three levels of doing this: physical, emotional, and symbolic. Today is the last post in this series and we’ll be exploring skills and tools for listening to your body symbolically. Here we go!
Listening to your body at a symbolic level is built on the skills from listening to your body physically and emotionally. You need to be able to feel the sensations on your skin and within your body (physical listening) and feel and label the emotions that happen within your body (emotional listening). If you can do both these things – and feel a reasonable amount of comfort with them- then you’re ready to tune in to symbolic listening.Keep an ear open…
As described in the previous post (Part 5), listening symbolically is about moving away from or breaking the attachment to the story of what’s happening in your body, or what your body wants. Stories are something our brain makes up in order to help us cope- and to help us find order and meaning- in our world. But just like any great literature or movie, stories are a limited way of getting to a greater meaning. In the movie, Like Water for Chocolate, the underlying themes of the movie center around love, companionship, and sensual pleasure. These are not stories, these are greater truths and meaningful symbols.
So, when we listen to our bodies symbolically, we must let go of the story that our mind is telling us (for instance, “you want a hamburger”) and see what is happening at a deeper level. Here are some ways to do that.
- Asking “what do I want?”This can be a dangerous question, because if you aren’t listening closely to your body, it can take you all over the place- like to the nearest candy bar. When used with the intention of self-care and self-discovery, it can help a lot. I would suggest taking a good amount of time to ask this question if you want to listen symbolically.Start with a quiet spot that you find soothing, breathe deeply a few times, and focus inward. Ask the question slowly and listen deeply without any self judgment. Based on my own experience, I suggest you ask several times and see what comes up (pictures, words, experiences…). Listen to the small voice or the internal feeling that says, “there’s more here” or “keep going”. You’ll know you’ve hit on the answer when something deep within you (usually in your chest or abdomen) gives a little.
- If you’re dealing with a particular issue, a handy question to listen symbolically is “why now?” Why is this craving for wine coming up now? Why is this UTI happening now? Give yourself some time to answer; you may want to write it down, as if in conversation with your body. You can follow it up with “what does this mean to me?” I discovered that “what have I not given myself lately?” can also help get to a symbolic need.As an example, I have a friend who wanted to be intimate with her partner more frequently. Her health issue and mismatched schedules on both their parts made this nigh on impossible. When we talked about why this was happening (both the health issue and her desire) her need for more creativity became clear. Time for creativity was what her body wanted- and it could be fulfilled, at least on some level, without intimacy with her partner. She took up crocheting at night until their schedules meshed again.
- When I need a cheat sheet of symbolic listening, or when I haven’t been listening and my body has turned up the volume (into, say, a health issue), I turn to Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. I don’t know that I take everything she has to say as gospel truth- I don’t take most things as gospel truth (which is why I’m an interfaithminister). But what this book provides is one way of looking at a health problem and it’s underlying, symbolic message or need. It’s one type of guide.What she provides, between pages 145-212 of this book, is the symbolic need associated with a given health issue. The symbolic needs she describes include: peace, joy, safety, love, self-kindness, simplicity, acceptance, self-expression, beauty, balance, gratitude. You can take just one of these, right now, and sit with it- where do you feel peace in your body? in your life? See if you can feel peace radiating from a certain place in your body. That’s another way to connect and listen symbolically.
Listening for symbolic needs is a skill. Practicing this type of listening provides you with not only a faster connection between the body and the spirit (because that’s where symbolic stuff comes from), but also a greater awareness of what your body is asking for- really, what your life is asking for.
In the course of writing this post, I’ve alternately craved chocolate and white sugar, a nap, and to quit altogether. Now, while I probably need a nap (I’ve got a cold), the rest of the cravings are really about symbolic things: adequate nourishment (the candy)- both in whole foods and spiritual nourishment (I read poetry); rest (the nap); and support (the feeling of quitting). With the ability to listen symbolically, I didn’t add the extra calories from chocolate or candy, and I can go take a nap to rejuvenate myself on several levels. My body is clearly communicating what it needs and what my life needs. I just had to listen.