I lean towards a belief that, generally speaking, when a body gets sick, a body is communicating something we need to pay attention to. The communication isn’t necessarily in the symptom, i.e. stomach issues literally meaning food / digestion problems, but more the symbolism of the communication, i.e., Are you having difficulty “digesting” something, processing information, or feeding yourself well (physically, spiritually, emotionally)?
Sometimes, though, this work has shown me that symptoms aren’t speaking to problems, literally or symbolically, but are an invitation into a deeper relationship with self-care, self-acceptance and permission to exist as a flawed, unwell being.
There are a multitude of layers when it comes to a body experiencing unwellness. This is something I care a lot about de-stigmatizing, because, when we approach physical pain (illness, discomfort, or anything in between) from a transpersonal perspective, we are approaching it through a lens of meaning-making. We’re asking:
What deeper meaning is this experience reminding me of, in this moment, and what is its invitation into deeper relationship with myself?
I’m learning this real-time, because I’m currently sick for the 9984th time this year, and part of me is still trying to figure out what the “lesson” is in getting sick. It wasn’t until I heard myself say out loud to someone today, “I’m so pissed at my body for being sick right now,” that I realized two things:
1) Bodies sometimes get sick for no deep “spiritual” lesson.
2) Sometimes the “spiritual” lesson is to slow down, honor the body’s needs, and learn in a new way what true, deep self-care looks like.
I could actually feel my body recoil in response to my words, I’m so pissed at my body for being sick right now. (Ouch.) But it was also there, in that moment recognizing I was shaming my body for responding totally reasonably to weeks of not enough sleep, less than stellar nutrition, and deep emotional processing — that I decided to respond differently. I asked myself:
How would I respond to the worn-down, exhausted, sick body of a dear friend if she showed up at my front door?
With this question in mind, here are a few things I’m doing to help support my body in real-time, literally as I write this for you, foggy-brained and all. I understand that this is a simple approach to something that feels (and is) much more complex if you are experiencing chronic pain or illness; these suggestions may offer support in those circumstances, too, but are meant to support some of the more simple, shorter-lived experiences of an unwell body. I hope this helps, should you ever find yourself sick-shaming your own body…
1. Accept defeat.
I’ve decided to stop wishing my body weren’t sick by fantasizing all the stuff I could be getting done if she (my body) were well. For instance, I have a friend visiting in a few days, and an amazing weekend planned that I want so badly to be well for. I remember that my friend loves me, and won’t care if my house is messy. She won’t care if I don’t give her a perfectly-curated experience. She’ll encourage me to be gentle with myself and honor my body’s needs.
This reminds me that I should also prioritize these things, and be kind to the part of me that defaults to trying to control uncontrollable things. If my body is sick right now, then it’s sick — and I need to support my body while she’s sick, rather than trying to force my body to be something other than what she is in the moment. My life will adjust around my body’s needs — not the other way around.
2. Permission to be “weak.”
I value physical wellness. I like being in a strong body. But y’know what I really need right now? Sleep and a quiet brain. Permission to be the equivalent of a flat, ugly pancake that’s burnt around the edges and soggy in the middle. Full-range human experience — and no one to explain myself to (which includes the inner me, who quietly judges me for being sick).
3. Listen, then follow instructions.
It’s not enough to just know I need sleep — I need to literally, actually sleep (as soon as I’m done writing this). I need soup (already consumed). A big exhale (just now, it felt good). Surrender (working on it). To trust that even though my brain is full of ideas and my spirit is enthusiastic, my physical self needs rejuvenation, and my physical self is no less wise / important / necessary than the part of me that’s still operating at full capacity.
When one part of us has a need, all the other parts of us have to come online to try to meet that need, which might mean we’re only able to move as fast as the slowest-moving piece for now. Or however long. The most important thing is that we are responsive — tuning into our bodies means we not not only listen, but we enter into agreement to give our bodies what they are asking for.
In conclusion: I can think of 12 other things I could do from the comfort of my sickbed, all in the name of appearing to “rest,” but this isn’t what I know I need right now. In the end, I’m the only one who’ll truly suffer if I don’t dial it back, give it a rest and just let go of controlling my body’s unruliness right now.
And so, I’m gonna sleep.