This morning I awoke to some very similar physical symptoms. My eyes and face are swollen, dull headache, and my muscles are sore. I had ten hours of sleep, and I am still very tired. These are all the markers of my particular brand of the “TIMBo hangover.” I have finished another four intense days at a TIMBo Facilitator training, and while it is difficult work, it is always rewarding. I’ve done seven of these over a year and a half, and at the end of my first one, the trainers informed the group that we might experience these physiological symptoms after this emotionally rigorous training. I have to admit that it scared me. You mean this emotional work might show up in my body later? And I laugh a little as I write this because emotions showing up in the body is really what the program is built on. Noticing the connection between physiological sensation, emotion, thoughts, and behaviors is actually where the healing power of this program is.
I believed I was this brain that contained my thoughts, personality, behaviors who had this big dumb sack of flesh called a body that I had to carry around. God, I really resented that sack of flesh. It wasn’t coordinated. It didn’t look right. It constantly was hurting me all of the time. It definitely didn’t do what I wanted. After my father’s death, I began getting these bouts of nausea and stomach pain. My body would retain water (about seven to ten pounds) over night. While yoga practice helped my symptoms, I continually struggled with them until I began training in TIMBo. Before, this nausea was an inconvenience, a weakness, and a flaw that needed to be shut down. Yet, I learned that all of these physical sensations were actually my body trying to tell me something: that I wasn’t safe.
And I know there’s a lot of hub-bub and inspirational quotes about how we can’t life a full life if we play it safe, that we need to leave the shore of security to explore that ocean of wonder (which I still think is true). Yet, all of that doesn’t take into consideration, that your body is designed to keep you alive, surviving, and safe. It’s job is to perceive threats to safety and remove that danger so that it can go on living, whether it is by fighting or running away. And the very ingenious part of all of this, is that it doesn’t even need you to think about it. Your body doesn’t have time for that. If you see a bear in the woods, you don’t have time to sit and analyze what type of bear it is, if it’s in a bad mood, or if we can run fast enough. You just need to get out of there.
The good news for us is that many of us don’t live in that actual threat to life state (in the woods with predatory animals); however, we feel these physiological symptoms as IF our life is actually being threatened. If you step in front of a crowded room to speak, you may feel sweaty palms and a racing heart. Your body has assessed danger and is pumping you full of adrenaline because you may need to fight or run. And while, it’s unlikely you are in actual physical danger (it’s just a work presentation), there are still very REAL threats: social rejection or loss of income.
When I think about my grief-induced nausea, I know it was multi-layered. While, I felt a huge resistance and rejection to the actual death, I was also feeling resistance and rejection to the feeling the grief in my body. I was treating grief like some bad gas station breakfast burrito: just get it out. I also notice how this illness would keep me so still, lying on the couch, unable to move, or do anything but sleep. It’s highly possible that my body was putting on the brakes as if to say, “You are going to sit here and feel loss and death whether you like it or not.” I could analyze it several ways, but the important thing is that once I learned to notice my physiological symptoms without judgment they began to change.
Over the past year and a half, my body has done some pretty wild things in response to perceived threats. It has trembled, frozen, had panic attacks, cramped, ran away, convulsed, sweat, tremored, and fought back. Over time all of these lessened, and brought about within me this very keen awareness that my system wasn’t flawed. It was doing it’s job very well. As I sit sipping my coffee this morning with a dull, aching pulse between my temples, I feel gratitude. I am grateful that I am no longer this dysfunctional meat sack being dragged around by a brain. I’m one whole system designed to stay alive.
To feel is a very precious thing. It’s a wordless language with multi-layered interpretations that are all simultaneously true. I have moments where I still resist my own embodiment. With practice I’ve learned that those moments are a cue for me to stop and notice this whole system including the body sensations, the thoughts and beliefs informed by the body, and the behaviors in response to the body and the mind. Parts of the system may feel like they want different things, but the system has one goal: to keep living, perfectly, in it’s own unique way, until it can’t anymore.