The old adages, “I can feel it in my gut” or ” I know it in my heart of hearts” express just how much we trust in the body’s messages and accurately describes the visceral sensation of those messages. Yet, when we ignore them they inevitably build up and then show up in other ways as extreme sensations of discomfort, pressure or pain.
In order to handle the stress of every day living, it’s important to make friends with your body. Like everyone else, I’ve learned this lesson first hand-when I stayed up trying to finish a project, even though I knew I needed to get up early the next day, I dragged myself, tired and cranky through my day’s work or when I tried to be everything to a person in need and instead felt drained and exhausted. Or when I pretended that I was okay with the way I was presenting myself in my business even though it didn’t feel like the “real me” and made me agitated and impatient with the littlest things.
There’s a reason we have these internal warning signs. They are there to make us aware when there is any shift in our internal and external world. The horses know this warning system very well. Nature has given them the largest amygdala—a group of gray matter in the central part of the brain that plays a primary role in our memory and especially in our emotions—of all domestic animals. This is the reactive brain that allows the horse to assess the situation through a FEEL of discomfort or danger and then physically respond, usually with movement-fleeing from the danger. The brain sets in motion a sequence of events including secretion of stress hormones, necessary for bringing more blood to the heart, lungs and limbs and shutting off the non-essential organs like the gut.
Horses have this “sixth sense” that allows them to determine when they are safe and when they are not. They can learn to accept many things in their environment and adapt their response thereby “controlling their emotions”. But it is virtually impossible for a horse to continue suppressing it’s body’s messages of fear, discomfort and pain with it’s elevated stress hormones without it leading to damaging effects. Anyone who’s had a horse with an ulcer knows that the horse has been put in a situation that does not allow him to express his body’s message to flee-to remove himself from the environment that is causing the stress. This does not happen in a natural setting, only in man made circumstances.
Humans are especially adept at overriding the body’s messages because we have a large cognitive or thinking brain that can come up with all kinds of rational explanations for why we are feeling a headache, nausea, neck pain, back pain and all number of symptoms related to stress. Chronic impatience, irritability and anger are also a sign that our emotions and their physical signs are being ignored. The extreme of this process is the long term effects seen when the mind tries to forget trauma that then leads to aggression or withdrawl, numbing and appeasement.
When I finally realized that my own irritability was caused by the deception (okay, lies) I was crafting for myself, I knew I had to do something if I wanted to feel better and stop yelling at my dogs or swearing at inanimate objects, blaming them for causing my distress. It seemed like a small thing at the time but it was building up in my body and creating tension in my neck and then affecting my sleep.
I’ve found that practicing mindfulness and meditation is a perfect way to tap into the body’s messages. If I sit for even a few moments and notice where in my body I’m drawn, I discover a tension that, if I’m honest, I know has been there for a while. When I’m not mindful, I push through it and pretend it’s not a problem like most humans. Or take an over the counter med to relieve the pain. When I am mindful, I notice the tension, listen to the thoughts that go with it and accept that I am resisting something in my life-making a decision, confronting a difficult situation, facing my own limitations, taking time to be loving and compassionate with myself.
With just 5 minutes of stillness and focused breathing, I’m in my body and I’m having an honest conversation. It reminds me of my interactions with the horses. HORSES CAN’T LIE! They don’t make up stories and rationalizations to keep from listening to the messages, even when they’re scary and difficult, UNLESS, humans intervene. A horse would never be able to fool a lie detector test.
A human on the other hand can train their body to react with calm, lower their heart rate and respiration-consciously with effort and practice! SO why not just learn to deceive ourselves AND our body into thinking that all is well and get back to living a life of overwhelming pressure, increasing demands and outright falsehoods. Because, eventually our life with its personal deceptions overlap with the lives of others. What I say and do to keep up the “smoke and mirrors” of my life will trigger events out of my control-other people’s reactions or decisions and their relationships with me. It all comes back to bite you eventually.
The horses, as usual, have it right! Your body tells on you when you’re not being authentic, true to yourself and aware of your reactions to even the most subtle changes in your life-inside and out. I’m learning to accept and address the difficult ones and embrace and celebrate the amazing, enriching and beautiful ones, with gratitude! I’ve noticed that the difficult ones are easier to catch when they first show up and now their effects are short lived. The amazing changes get more of my attention and show up more often! And that’s the way it should be. Honesty really is the best policy.