We get all kinds of mixed messages from society and religion. My tradition taught that my body was a temple, but it also stressed that it was some sort of evil machine that just thought about sex all the time and could not really control itself. Sometimes they stressed it was like a tent to carry around the more spiritual or soulful part of me, but it was also the “flesh” that was the source of all my sin. The body was considered something that was dying and would not last into eternity—and eternity was what mattered.
In junior high, when I would have had sex education, we attended a Christian school that was of the mindset that we did not talk about things like that. This sexual nature of my body I discovered soon enough on my own. I did not have any reference points for good information, and we did not have google at that time, so I mostly got bad information. But what I was discovering did not seemed bad. It was good—it was incredibly good. Occasionally, I would ponder the complexity of the bodies systems when I would learn about them in a science class or in a documentary on television. Even a simple erection, points to a complex system of nerves and blood flow that boggles the mind to consider. But I was not really thinking about that at the time, if you know what I mean. Eventually, I just stopped thinking about how the body is designed because it did not seem relevant or useful at the time.
But, later as I was participating in a spiritual formation experience with a group of Sisters in Atchison, KS, I came across something unusual. As we would sit in groups, we would take turns listening to each other. Sometimes it is called group spiritual direction. They taught us to listen deeply and try to experience how the Divine was interacting with all of us. This was like when I took Spiritual Leadership Coaching classes and they taught us to listen for the Spirit. This made sense to me and was a part of my basic beliefs. But then the Sisters and group leaders began to teach us something else that I later learned was discovered in the 70’s (the 1970’s).
When someone would tell a story about how they were feeling or what they wanted to examine, the director (or companion) would ask them to describe the emotion they were feeling. Recently, I have learned to help people express this examination of emotion as “A part of me feels…” But, then they did something I did not understand. They would say, “where in your body do you feel that.” It would be much later that I would learn the significance of that simple statement. Without writing another book to explain this, please allow me to simply state that our bodies store much of our trauma. We like to think of it as a mind thing, but to me it seems like a much more organic thing. When we can be with that part of us that hold the trauma, we can begin to heal and remove the stuck places in our experience.
This is what happened in the recliner at the hermitage. I did not really understand what I was doing (and I still do not totally). But, when I “focused” on the feeling that was stored there, it took me back to a current sense of what I experienced in the past. My friend, Dr. Paul, is teaching me to be with that part of me that was once wounded and have compassion for my inner child and my inner critic as well. I have had multiple experience of being with those parts of me and even helped some others to focus and learn from our bodies.
I wish I would have payed more attention in science class because now I am learning that a body awareness can vastly improve our experience as humans. Eugene Gendlin talks about a physical experience we can have of bodily awareness that not only informs us but can change our lives. When this “felt sense” of a situation changes, then our lives can change for the better. I would encourage people to consult a spiritual director or counselor that has experience with this type of therapy. It is one of the most exciting trends I see on the horizon.
I have learned to care for my body and to listen to it. Ignoring anything hardly never makes it better. Our bodies have messages for us. When we feel anxiety in our gut, it is not always the pizza we had the night before. Often, it is past experiences and trauma that need our attention. We do not have to exorcise or remove the things that trouble us necessarily. Most often we probably just need to take the role of the observer and be compassionate. We do not need to belittle or bypass the issue, but we also do not need to beat it into submission. We need to be with it and understand it; and then, most often, when we can be sympathetic to it, the felt sense of it shifts and our lives improve.
Right now, we are caring for Winston, our dog. He has a hotspot on his torso that could be from skin irritation or maybe even anxiety. He constantly licks the inflamed area and it just continues to get worse and worse. We had to put a neck pillow on him so he would not mess with it and we spray it with something we got from the vet. This is obvious because we can see it, but much our trauma lies stored in our bodies. Occasionally, it itches, and we scratch it too hard or we just try to ignore it, but maybe what it needs is some fresh air. The analogy breaks down and it does not always make sense. But we certainly cannot ignore it. The things we store inside do not go away, and often they come back with a vengeance and behave in unpredictable ways. Just like heart disease can be a silent killer, emotional trauma that is unaddressed can ruin us if we do not address it.
I hope modern advances in science will help me even better understand body awareness like I understand other ailments. I hope I can learn to be with my self and learn to observe with compassion what I see there. I want to practice self-care and not feel selfish. I want to appreciate and honor the complex, wonderful and amazing body that I have as I also nurture and care for it. Just like I eat a plant-based diet and exercise for my health, I hope to engage in practices that help me be present and observe disruption in my body’s emotions.
With that, I wish to issue you a final challenge!
 Gendlin, E.T., (2007). Focussing, New York: Bantam Dell, 27