The body is in charge, and won’t let you forget it for long

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My body gave me a lecture last night. I deserved it.

I’d been feeling run down for the last two weeks, and not without reason. I’ve taken on more social and personal commitments and haven’t managed them well. Daily exercised stopped. Food choices got lazier. I drank more and slept less.

The body is wonderful. It moves you around, keeps you sharp, manipulates the world for you. It does your job. It gives affection to your loved ones. It carries your life for you. We tend to notice its generosity only once it begins to withdraw it.

It’s also forgiving, maybe a little too much. It will take a lot of shit before it gets mad. It gives poilte hints all the time — the 3 o’clock wall, crankiness, digestive stubbornness, weird aches, dry mouth.

Normally we’re very mind-focused and the noise of an overactive mind can distract you from your body’s subtle advice. The body wants to serve, to please, to let you be yourself. It may let you drink five or six drinks now and then, but it will punish you if you drink nine or ten.

If you miss the subtler hints, it will eventually grab you by the collar and make itself understood. I didn’t uphold my end of the deal. I didn’t take care of my body, and was punished.

So for the last two days my body gave me a vicious sore throat. Swallowing was painful. It gave me headaches, nausea and shivers. Suffering in the fetal position is always a humbling experience. It leaves no doubt who’s boss.

It was hard to mount the intention to write, to clean up, to prepare for work tomorrow. I am writing this through fading nausea and Neo-Citron dullness. Everything gets put on hold when the body is fed up.

The body is well aware of its own executive position. It’s the boss but it’s usually a pretty cool boss. It offers many freedoms, for you to use as you please, but it is always in charge ultimately. To remind you, it will take you down at some point every day, right to the ground or some other horizontal surface. It will make you groggy and slow and you’ll lose interest in almost everything else. It will pull your consciousness from you. It will revoke the freedoms it normally lends you during the day.

It’s easy to put the body last, because it’s so forgiving and dependable. Normally, it feels like the mind is the boss. But the mind really takes orders from the body. When the body gets run down, thoughts drift into self-defense mode: resentment, victim mentality, self-absorption. The body is suppressing your higher mental qualities, to turn your attention to what is urgent.

The mind then loses its insight and wisdom, and starts grasping at creature comforts. A lot of these — more coffee, another movie on Netflix, a cigarette, a beer, a donut — don’t do the body any favors. So it ramps up the pressure until it has your attention and can deliver its unmistakable message: you are preventing me from doing my job.

The body is the absolute bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. If you don’t take care of it, it will undermine everything until you address the crisis. You won’t be able to focus on your work, you won’t be very sensitive in your relationships, dreams go on hold, and self-confidence shrinks accordingly.

Lifestyles vary a lot. Some people only have the occasional slip. They eat and sleep resonably well, stay active, and get sick once a year when they’re stressed at Christmas. Other people eat junk food all day for years on end. They become used to feeling sluggish or sick, so the body has to go a step further. It delivers its message by way of heart attack, diabetes or stroke.

Whoever you are, your body is doing a lot for you, and if you don’t pay its dues, you will be notified.

 

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Photo by J thorn explains them all


Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm August 20, 2012 at 7:20 am

So, so true. I laugh because now that I’m nearly 50, the wall is much harder & less forgiving; it’s one or two drinks and a hangover takes 2 or three days.

And the Christmas stress sickness – like clockwork. Add to that anytime spent on an airplane.

Take care & be well : )

Jamie August 20, 2012 at 8:23 am

It’s easy to forget that the mind is part of the body too. We think of it as something separate but like everything else it is flesh, blood, chemicals and energy. If the body is being neglected then in turn the mind will be neglected also.

That’s why balance is so important. The mind is like the guard dog for the rest of the body, deciding what is allowed to pass and in turn the body is like the house in which the dog resides in.

Jenni August 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Well stated.

David August 21, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I like that mental image. The guard dog for the body.

Emmet O' Sullivan August 20, 2012 at 11:41 am

Great article. I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety most of my life and only realised the full extent of it a couple of years ago when I got alopecia and my hair started turning white -only then did I truly realize what a frantic state my mind was constantly in and begin taking steps to get over it. Starting to eat better and excercise definitely helped on that score.

A line in the article that really struck me and made me question my current beliefs was “It will pull your consciousness from you.” Pretty interesting looking from a mainly buddhist perspective as I usually do, where the idea is of the self as consciousness and the body as an illusory form -a “skin bag” as I believe some zen masters call it :) It would seem to me that although you’re not ultimately your body, you still need your body to be you -to be conscious or aware. It’s a very interesting area (and very confusing!)

David August 21, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Yes, the relationship between consciousness and the body is mysterious. In that phrase I wasn’t really referring to consciousness in the buddhist sense (as in awareness) but whether you’re awake or asleep. The body will knock you out (“pull your consciousness from you”) once a day by making you find a place to sleep once it gets late enough.

David Ashton August 20, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Well said. It’s sad, the suffering we inflict on the poor creature wearing our clothes.

Erin August 21, 2012 at 7:47 am

How true. Being a hypersensitive type whose body tends to freak out at the slightest misdemeanor, I’ve had to pay very close attention to what I eat, how I exercise and the way that I live my life since my early 20’s. Living cleanly is more a necessity than an option for me, as my body seems much less tolerant of stimulation, abuse and gluttony than most. Although I often lament this lowered threshold (and have been labeled “grandma” by more than a few friends), I’m also thankful for it as it’s given me a body-awareness and level of perception that most others don’t have, simply because they don’t need it. My friends often marvel at how cleanly I live, but when it comes down to it, I do it because I have to…or else my body and mind would both be partaking in a constant bitch-fest. What can you do.

Rob August 26, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I can relate to this too! My whole body doesn’t exactly freak out, but there are certain things that I’ve come to realise my body just hates! I kinda became used to feeling ill all the time, until I realised I shouldn’t be eating bread and wheat products. Likewise, my body isn’t so good with sugar- but I had become used to the negative effects of too much.

I guess that’s the danger with these things: your body will keep adapting and wont complain until you’ve really gone too far! We shouldn’t be ignoring these little signs that we’re not working so effectively. I think of the body as running on a “fair use” policy, which we sometimes treat as “unlimited use”. We can do truly amazing things given the right conditions, but there are still limits.

I’m also thankful of these “problems” because they’ve enabled me to be aware of what my body is saying. I hate that I can’t eat a pizza, but I’m very grateful that I have been given the opportunity to “tune in” on what my body is saying!

Thanks, David, for the article! :-)

andrew August 21, 2012 at 4:05 pm

there is a book about this way of thinking that you have touched upon. Way of the Peacful Warrior by Dan Millman dives into the topics of Zen Buddhism and what he calls “body wisdom”, or what you would describe as your body lecturing you. its quite worth the 3 or 4 days you’ll take to read it

Nitya August 21, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Great article! Could this be termed ‘personification of the body’? Not sure. An interesting way of expressing yourself, anyway.

David August 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Yes, it is personification. It’s a poetic take on it, not so much a physiological one.

Emmanuel van der Meulen August 22, 2012 at 5:49 am

We’re not being ourselves when neglecting our body!

michael platania August 22, 2012 at 8:01 am

I had a few drinks last night. I went home wondering how I was every able to party as hard as I did in my thirties. It’s been a long time since I had three drinks in one night, and it will be an even longer time until I have that many drinks again. Ugh!

Angel August 22, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Sometimes I wonder if you spy on me remotely because your posts always hit home when I need them most. I have recently been having a variety of mental and physical health issues and this article left me feeling a little less self-pity. A big struggle is still the mixed messages that the body/mind sends when you are on psychiatric medicatioons, especially Ambien, which I was prescribed after a year of insomnia. It is a daily struggle to fight with doctors who feel the mind and body can both be fixed with a chemical introduction which seems to further distress our systems.

Billy Flynn August 22, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Great piece! It made me think about being comfortable in our own skin; I wonder if that comes from looking after your body and mind? You know, when you run on 4 hours sleep every night, eat junk ’cause you’re always two steps behind, forget about water and start pounding the Americanos after dinner nothing seems to work right. It’s like you put on someone else’s body that doesn’t quite fit, never mind the fact, that the someone else didn’t look after it – “whose lungs are these anyways!”

Found your site searching for kettle bell info, glad I went further!

Timothy Zhu August 23, 2012 at 9:22 pm

Nice post, but what’s with the unnecessary jabs at donuts and coffee? They’re looking out for your good. Just don’t over-over-do-it! :)

corollabayobx August 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

nice article, good to read it. and thanks for posting.

Marilyn September 8, 2012 at 6:53 pm

This post provoked a very wry smile–it’s so true! And while I’m sorry for David’s intense sore throat and the ailments everyone else experienced, I really loved the wisdom in this post. I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms before. I customarily think of my body as betraying me with migraines–despite the fact that I abuse it daily by sitting and writing for hours on end (after working 9-5), sleeping far too little, forgetting to eat–or eating too much. I bargained with myself–after pushing myself mercilessly to finish a writing project while working for months–that I’d take a break on Labor Day weekend. My body took a break–I had a migraine that incapacitated me for 3 full days. Withered from pain, angry and filled with self-pity, I had a dim realization that I brought it on myself…but this post articulates that feeling so much more eloquently. Thank you.

Mia November 27, 2012 at 11:58 am

Our body is our most precious vessel, therefore we must treat it as so.

Mia, Denver Car Accident Lawyer

Vanessa December 16, 2012 at 2:33 pm

This post hit home for me. Living with diabetes (the autoimmune kind) I used to believe this idea that my body had turned on me, didn’t do me any favours and I had a right to ignore it. That was a mistake! The interesting thing about it now is just how much my body can tell me about what is going on when I just pause and pay attention to it. Luckily, I’m forced to do that more often then is normal. And I have a nifty little machine to confirm what’s going on inside :)
I also get to watch as my body and brain do battle. My body telling my brain I need sugar now! And my brain telling my body that getting sugar requires too much effort. Never fun in the moment, but interesting to think about how they interact. Thankfully, it benefits me, that the body always wins

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