I just spent a week and a half in Florida, where it was colder than I wanted it to be. I say this as I sit here watching it snow outside my window, so believe me, I know just how relative “cold” can be. But still, when you’re in Florida, you expect a certain degree of warmth! And I was disappointed because I really wanted to go in the pool, and I’d been there for more than a week before it was warm enough to consider it.
I grew up pretty much ignoring, if not outright neglecting, my body. My body was a handy transport system for my brain, but in all other respects it was just more trouble than it was worth. It constantly caused me grief, in the form of doctor’s visits, clothes shopping, and as I got older, fashion magazines and the other associated ordeals of the female teenager. It was never going to be what everyone else wanted it to be, so I did my damnedest to disconnect from it as much as I could while still having to live in it. My brain didn’t cause me this much trouble—in fact, it could do little wrong, especially by comparison—so I hung out there instead.
Listening to My Body
Over the past few years, I’ve become more aware of the fact that my brain is not actually my only source of intelligence. You may have heard about studies saying that we have so many nerve endings in our guts that “gut feeling” or “gut instinct” really is not a misnomer. Our nerves extend to every part of our bodies, so should it be a surprise that our bodies are smart? Jill Badonsky reminds her Kaizen-Muse coaches frequently about how important it is to consult the body when making a tough decision, and for good reason. Martha Beck talks about the “body compass,” which is the way our bodies give us signs about what choices will and won’t take us in the right direction. As much as it initially pained me to realize it, my body is often much smarter than my brain.
It wasn’t my brain that wanted to go in the pool. It was absolutely my body. I adore being in the water not because of its intellectual properties but because I just love how it feels. I love the way the water feels when you push against it to swim. I love floating. And I love the power that I feel when I swim some laps (even though that tends to anger my shoulder—there’s a bit of internal body conflict on that one!).
Body Before Brain
I noticed this time, when I finally did get in, how much my body knows and does without any real consultation with my brain. Sure, I had to learn to swim. But most people can figure out how to tread water without much thought; in fact, if you think about treading water, and try to figure out how to do it, you interfere with all the processes that are keeping your head above water. It’s counterproductive. If you let your body do its thing, you’re fine. (This reminds me of hearing Scott Hamilton say once, as an Olympic commentator, that his words of wisdom to skaters in competition were, “Skate stupid!” Thinking about what they were supposed to be doing would only get in the body’s way, and the body already knew what to do. I think of this advice a lot when I find myself up on stage.)
My experience, and I’m still a work in progress, says that it’s not just muscle memory, and it’s not just instinct. There’s actual wisdom in those cells, whether we want to admit it or not. (Let’s face it: my unconscious choice to run away from my body at a young age wasn’t something I did in a vacuum; our culture has long put the mind before the body.) I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever to back it up, but my suspicion is that intuition comes as much from body wisdom as anything that fires in the brain. Maybe more. And I say that because when I pay attention to what’s going on in my body, it calms me down, brings me back to my center, and shines a light on what’s really important not just to me, but to life in general. It puts me back in touch with my true self, in what little way I know how.
If you haven’t ever let your body in on the decision-making process, or just noticed where/how it might be guiding you, I suggest you give it a try. If this is nothing new to you, I’d love to hear your experiences with body wisdom!