As a culture, we are encouraged to have only a distant relationship to our bodies, and sometimes to have an actively adversarial relationship with them. We are taught to relate to the world around us primarily through our rational brains, allowing them to dictate what our bodies should or shouldn’t do, and frequently denying, or at least controlling, the natural expression of our body’s responses and needs. This is a recipe for exactly what we see happening around us: an awful lot of people who are completely alienated from their bodies, failing to listen to them, and forcing them to do what the rational brain (fed by the culture) tells us they ought to be doing, which is frequently to our detriment.
Since we’re all individuals with our own bodies and our own needs, blanket shoulds and should nots don’t work. We all need to learn to relate to our own bodies and listen to the specifics of what they are telling us. Most of us rarely listen unless the message comes in the form of extreme pain – and even then the first thing we usually do is dose ourselves with painkillers so we don’t have to listen.
How can we learn to listen to our bodies, and what does that really mean? The first step is understanding that your body is a sentient organism with its own intelligence: it knows what its purpose is—to make you happy—and it knows what it needs in order to do that. It’s always trying to please you and do what you ask of it. But it’s a finite physical form that needs regular care and feeding In fact different bodies need very specific kinds of care and feeding, and you can tell if you are giving it what it needs because it will feel good if you are, and it won’t feel good if you are not. Of course it’s not quite that simple, because sometimes there is just one thing missing, and your rational brain isn’t getting what that one thing is. That’s when you really do have to listen to your body. It can tell you in many different ways: maybe you feel drawn to a particular food, maybe you wake up one day thinking about it, maybe three different people tell you about it in one day although you’ve never even heard about it before, and so on. (I realize you may think that is not your body speaking—but consciousness works in strange and wonderful ways). The most important ingredient here is simply your intention. Set the intention to listen to your body, and then pay attention.
The bottom line is that you need to see your body as your friend. Many people see it more as their enemy: an unfortunately vulnerable machine on which they are dependent but determined to deny that dependence. It is not a machine. It is an incredible organism, a miracle of life, and it needs to be appreciated in the same way that all life needs to be appreciated. When it feels loved, it glows with delight. It will heal faster and last longer. Make friends with your body. Sit with it a little every day, simply feeling it. Stroke the back of your hand and be amazed at the tiny hairs. Feel your feet on the ground as you walk, lifting you up and setting you down in a constant rhythm. What parts of your body are involved in that movement? How wonderful that you can do this without ever having think about it.
Scratch your head. Think about all the cells that are stimulated when you do that, and all the nerve endings that are firing off. And your hair – how does it grow the way it grows? Why does it sometimes not grow? What makes that happen? It’s a natural physical change as we get older, you think. Hmmm. Something doesn’t quite gel about that. Why does it happen for some and not others? Perhaps our bodies have their own ideas about what should be what.
Feel that little niggling pain in your foot / arm / chest, wherever. You’ve been carefully ignoring that for a long time. Go right into it now. Go inside it. What is it saying to you?
The question behind all this contemplation of the body is this: who is in charge of this body? Is it in charge of itself? Are you in charge of it? What part of the you that you are is in charge? One might say that we each have several “bodies:”at least an emotional body and a mental body as well as the physical body. These days plenty of people would agree that what we are feeling (which is our emotional body) affects our physical body, and so does what we are thinking, which is our mental body. And I would argue that there is a certain self, which some might call the ego, or the character, which is yet another kind of body. It doesn’t really matter how many bodies one decides to define. What matters, since we are discussing the need to appreciate and love the physical body, is simply understanding that there are many aspects of self that can affect its well being or otherwise. If you want to be well, and are willing to be present in and for the physical body, then give it love. Allow yourself to feel love for it. Think loving thoughts towards it. Be grateful for what it does for you. Apologize to it if you push it to do something it finds hard. Set the intention of being gentle with it. Feed it what it needs and let it rest when it needs.
A body that has just had a delightful sexual experience is a happy body. If you really want to give it a loving gift, then allow it to respond to sexual touch and desire exactly as it wants, which may be not at all, or may be much faster or slower than your rational mind considers appropriate. Never force it to go anywhere or do anything when it is saying no. Let it be the one to make up its own mind. Yes – our bodies have minds of their own, and they are often much smarter, in an animal-like way, than the minds we use most of the time to make our way through our world.
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” Wild Geese, Mary Oliver.
Mikaya Heart (mikayaheart.org) is an award-winning author and a teacher, using shamanic methods to help people how to operate from a place of trust instead of fear. Her last book was The Ultimate Guide to Orgasm for Women; her next book is Life, Lies, and Sex: A User’s Guide to Being in a Body.
- Sex and Relationships with Mikaya Heart: Why tell the truth? (dangerouslee.biz)