Before I was diagnosed, I thought I listened to my body. The reality was that I actively ignored my body. I was so disconnected from my body that I existed in a state of disassociation; living on auto-pilot to ignore pent-up trauma and physical pain. This chronic distress, ignoring my body’s signals, manifested as shingles – a giant red flag that I could no longer ignore my pain.
Cancer taught me that I need to be in my body and listen to it. I needed to work on myself and make serious lifestyle changes. After my diagnosis I started to turn the wrenches and grease the gears and give myself routine maintenance, so to speak.
The lesson still has not sunk in, to trust my body and I still find myself disconnecting, disassociating, and ignoring the physical signals, but that is the point – I find myself in those moments, open to bodily awareness – actively listening with gentle curiosity, rather than judgment and harsh inner criticism. I speak out loud or write down the physical sensations of triggers and I label them, so my body knows what it is feeling. By acknowledging what I am feeling and thinking, I validate the positive feedback loop that informs my biochemistry.
We have an incredible opportunity to reclaim our bodies. With our increased awareness, we can listen to the lessons our body is teaching us and learn to trust our bodies. “We are a body full of mind”, as Dr. Rick Hanson suggests in his most recent book Resilient. Even though the mind is the main driver of our functions, it is our body’s awareness that informs the mind, thereby informing and shaping our reactions to the outer world and our inner world. We can solidify these lessons by taking time to reflect on them, enriching and absorbing the experience of connecting with our body’s awareness.
Prompt 1: How do you see yourself? Describe or illustrate your body any way you want it – be realistic or symbolic. Visualize yourself – are you whole or do you see parts? What do you see? Is it a clearly defined picture or is your vision fuzzy around the edges?
Prompt 2: What have you learned about your body through your experience with cancer? Do you trust what your body is teaching you? What signals do you listen to? What signals do you ignore? What lesson(s) is/are your body trying to teach you? What lesson(s) is/are priceless?