I’ve been thinking recently about what my body can tell me, and the power that can come with paying attention to it.
Since having kids, I’ve been on a journey of working to understand how to help them understand their own bodies and their experience of having a body. One of the things I didn’t know was the many ways that our feelings affect our bodies. And in that way, I realise that I have been very out of touch with my body for my whole life. I didn’t have a developed sense of body awareness, and I didn’t have a wide vocabulary for describing my physical experiences. I’ve been learning as I work to understand these things for my kids as to the power just having the correct words can bring.
As I’ve learned to identify muscles and physical experiences more accurately I’ve been able to understand what is happening inside my body. For example, you can pay attention to how to engage your stomach muscles when you’ve had it all explained carefully in terms of how to feel those different muscles and how to get them to engage.
Moreover, on an emotional level I know I’ve been having physical sensations as a result of my feelings my whole life, but it’s only been in the process of learning how to talk about it to my kids that I’ve realised the extent to which I DIDN’T know how much of my physical experiences was being affected by my emotions.
But I’ve been learning to pay attention with more detail, and on deeper levels than ever before. My body gets cold and shivery when my anxiety is high. Those things build, and the more I can notice it earlier, the better prepared I can be to stop and evaluate what is going on for me. Anxiety hasn’t just decided its time to make another appearance in my life. There are always underlying feelings, interactions and experiences that cause my anxiety to build.
Previously I didn’t know how to pay attention and accurately name either of those physical and emotional feelings. I was very good at tuning them out. But I’ve been trying to pay attention to the early physical feelings as a way of trying to gain awareness of the emotional feelings before things get too bad. It feels like an example of “our spiritual world within our natural world”, as described in this passage from Heaven and Hell 91:
“We can see in the human face what correspondence is like. In a face that has not been taught to dissimulate, all the affections of the mind manifest themselves visibly in a natural form, as though in their very imprint, which is why we refer to the face as “the index of the mind.” This is our spiritual world within our natural world. Similarly, elements of our understanding are manifest in our speech, and matters of our volition in our physical behavior. So things that occur in the body, whether in our faces or in our speech or in our behavior, are called correspondences.”
I think the passage is talking about other people seeing our face, speech, and behavior or the ways we see observe those in others. But I like the ways it also applies to our self observation.
I like thinking of my body as one big walking natural correspondence to my spiritual self. There is so much strength that comes for me in paying attention to interplay between natural and spiritual things. The natural things that feel overwhelming can be easier when I think about the spiritual things behind them. And the natural things that feel happy are so much more deeply meaningful when I connect to the spiritual reasons they are significant. In that same way I am gaining strength through my growing body awareness while working to hold my bodily experiences as correspondences to my deeper spiritual life.