The body has its own wisdom and ways of knowing, separate and distinct from that of the mind. The mind thinks while the body feels. From each of these ways of knowing we get valuable information. Just as seeing and hearing are two totally distinct senses which supply us with discrete sensations, so too the body gives us different feedback than the mind. Our bodies have a special and unique relationship with the vibrating matrix of our reality, one which we can learn to tap into and be informed from.
Unfortunately our western culture has a history of misunderstanding this relationship. Instead of seeing our body as special, unique and a valuable part of who we are, the body is often dismissed as something less than the mind or soul. We have divorced ourselves from our body wisdom; the body’s feelings are now ignored and dismissed as unimportant or irrelevant. How have we let this happen?
Our religions are partly to be blamed; they mostly have been distrustful of the body, dismissing it as a temporary vehicle whose instincts and desires are to be ignored and overcome. There are countless stories of mystics and saints who flogged the body in order to keep it under control, so frightened were they of its powerful instincts and urges. But this seems illogical. From a spiritual point of view, if God has put us in a body, it is probably not for the purpose of fleeing or transcending it, but rather to learn from its mysteries, absorb its great wisdom and be nourished by it. But forget spirituality for a moment; just from a very practical point of view, if the body has access to wisdom and knowledge beyond what the mind can access, would it not be prudent to tap into this source of knowledge? If the body does have these capabilities and we are not listening to it, we are undoubtedly missing out on a lot. But does it?
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has done extensive research on the body’s ability to feel and process information. “The body contributes more than life support,” he writes. “It contributes content that is part and parcel of the workings of the normal mind.”
One of Damasio’s most startling discoveries is how the feelings of the body influence rational thought without us even being aware of the process. Damasio devised an experiment that he called “the gambling task.” It worked like this: Each subject was given four decks of special cards and with each card the player either won or lost money. The subjects were told to turn over the cards one by one from any of the four decks. What they didn’t know was that the decks were rigged. Two of the decks had higher payouts but more severe penalties. Choosing these decks eventually resulted in losses for the participant. The other two had lower payouts but much less chance of losing, so subjects ended up ahead by choosing from these decks. On average it took most participants fifty to eighty cards to figure out which decks had the greater chance of coming out ahead. And here is where it gets interesting. Damasio attached electrodes to subjects’ palms and measured the electrical conductance of their skin. What he found is that after drawing only ten cards, their bodies understood which decks were the most advantageous to draw from and got “nervous” whenever they were about to draw from one of the negative decks. He knew this because the body registered increased levels of electrical conductance. The body figured it out much more quickly than the mind.
This extraordinary finding matches our own personal experiences. How many times in the past have each of us had strong feelings to either do or not do something that later proved to be accurate? For most of us the answer will be many times. Intuitively we have always known that trusting our feelings usually leads us in the right direction, even if we don’t always act upon it. But trusting our feelings takes on a whole new level of acceptability now that it has been scientifically proven to be accurate. The signals coming to us directly from the body are messages from our environment. Our body picks up this information and translates it to us as feelings. Learning the language of the body is simply a matter of being sensitive and in tune with our feelings. The more we learn to discern these unique body messages and act upon them, the more effective we become as human beings.
A friend of mine, a very successful psychologist, used to make all of his decisions logically. He thought his feelings were unreliable, mostly because he didn’t understand them. In a discussion with his wife one evening he shared with her how he distrusted feelings because, “They distort the facts.” His wife, an intuitive woman in touch with her feelings, looked at him incredulously and replied so simply and clearly that he understood for the first time what she had been trying to tell him for years. “David” she said, “Your feelings are the facts.”
Brilliant. Said so clearly and eloquently. Our feelings are the facts! Of course they are the facts. What else could they be? They have no hidden agenda. We feel what we feel. Never doubt the authenticity of your feelings. You may question your interpretation of what these feelings are telling you, but never the feelings themselves. They are as true a source of information as you can receive.
I am the poet of the body
And I am the poet of the soul
Walt Whitman knew from the depth of his being the wonder of the body. “The human body and the soul must remain an entirety,” he insisted, “This is what I feel in my inmost brain and heart.” Notice this isn’t a logical argument Whitman is presenting; he is “feeling” it. “I will not make poems with reference to parts/ but I will make poems with reference to ensemble.” Ensemble. What a beautiful descriptive word, for it says it all. Mind, body, subconscious and soul; you cannot take them apart, listening to some parts and not others. To do so is to miss something, for each is a part of who we are and each draws from its own source of wisdom, each touching and perceiving the universe in its own way.
Body wisdom is a wisdom that can only be felt. It bypasses reason and brings us feelings. Feelings are to be listened to and respected. If you cannot feel, you cannot access this knowledge. The more you feel, the more you can access this domain.
The heart, which is a dimension of body wisdom, possesses its own intelligence. “Have thy not hearts to understand,” the Koran calls out to us, pointing out that the intellect is not enough. And it is not enough. We cannot function effectively listening only to the mind. We become emotionally crippled, cut off from primal wisdom, one-dimensional, a distorted aberration of what a human being should be. Understanding this we take up the task to feel deeply. To feel the pain and frustration of others, to feel the loneliness of the elderly, to feel grief and disappointment and joy and gratitude. To feel it all and to feel it deeply, to let it all in, feeling ourselves and others and the human condition. We will never know the body’s wisdom without learning to feel our own innermost feelings, however frightening this may be at first. The path of body wisdom is the awakened heart, and the awakened heart feels deeply.
We patiently teach the mind these truths of body wisdom, and the mind, ever curious, listens and eventually (for we present it many times to the mind) understands. The mind needs to know and understand everything, so we use this as a carrot, approaching the mind with the concept of listening to the body and using this source of information, a source whose wisdom is unavailable any other way. Once the mind understands this and accepts the truth of body wisdom—and it will—it becomes receptive, even excited about learning the secrets of this new dimension. Feelings now are to be felt and heard and listened to. Suddenly the body is more than just a vehicle to host the mind. No longer just a mortal carcass or a mass of molecules and chemicals, the body becomes an exquisite living being unto itself, filled with mystery and wonder, something to be wooed and explored, much like one would with a new lover. The mind accepts that there is more than itself, and to know the world fully it must know and trust the body. When this happens the body and mind become friends, companions, fellow travelers in space and time, each with their own strengths, each complementing the other. At least this is the way it has unfolded for me, as I have explored my own body wisdom.