Befriending your self starts with making small talk with your body
My father was a pharmacist, my mother a nurse. In my household, we took stale-dated medicine (because it was still good even if it was illegal for him to sell so why waste it) and we were never indulged a day off school unless we had a serious fever. Feeling bad had to be evidentially supported, symptomatically verified. Feelings themselves were irrelevant, and should be willed away, in order to remain productive and on-task. (My mother’s stoicism was so extreme she’d even once managed to ignore her own abdominal pain throughout a nursing shift, until her appendix burst and she had to be rushed into emergency surgery. A high pain threshold was one of our family’s bragging points.)
So the idea of energy medicine, or being attuned to the subtle vibrations of the body, were, shall we say, not part of my native language. Picking up Ellen Meredith’s new book, “The Language Your Body Speaks: Self-Healing with Energy Medicine”, was akin to grabbing Russian for Dummies, as my COVID-19 self-improvement project.
But the question intrigued: what language does my body speak? It had not taken me long to register that my go-to coping strategies (still trailing extreme stoicism, especially when removed from a support network of friends and community) really didn’t serve. Chin-up and wine-down might work for muscling through a tough week, but long-term, I was going to need to develop some fluency in other coping mechanisms – I downloaded podcasts about polyvagal theory, skimmed workbooks on building tolerance for uncertainty and the feelings wheel, signed on to every meditation class offered through Whistler Library, began to experiment with sobriety. With the prospect of travel or human interaction looking slim for the near-future, why not get to know what was in my immediate vicinity, maybe even invest some time in the most overlooked relationship I’ve ever had. With my own body.
Ellen Meredith is a language lover, and a writer, by training. As a kid, she’d turn the radio dial until it caught foreign broadcasts, listening to the rise and swell of strange languages, feeling a kind of understanding almost within reach. She worked as a creative writing teacher. She stumbled into healing work in her 20s, and tries to explain it as a kind of language – a dialogue or conversation you can enter with yourself, using metaphor, symbols, touch, music, spidey-senses, and a naïve kind of curiosity. She explains that the body has two main systems of communication – chemistry and energy. Energy is the way the body, mind and spirit communicate, a language we’re born fluent in, but something we are socialised to lose contact with. “We are trained to move beyond our physical/energetic focus to live a more abstract, mental existence in this culture,” Meredith explained to me via email. “It is part of our socialization. It shuts off at different ages in different families.”
Reclaiming it, Meredith writes, can start simply with an exercise she calls “Healing Hands.” Rub your hands together and place one hand on a part of your body. Any part. Pay attention. Place the other hand on another part of your body. Pay attention. Move your hands as you feel compelled to.
I read this exercise, as I read most of Meredith’s book, with one eye-brow arched. Really? How can healing be so simple that a child could do it? I saw my University roommate’s biochemistry notes – there’s nothing simple about that language. How could the other language of the body be so intuitive and accessible, that even a chemistry drop-out like me could master it, by humming to myself, or drawing love hearts on my boo-boos?
Meredith says that our bodies speak their truth through symptoms, trying to get our attention through sensations, interruptions of functions, energetic blockages, and physical signals. If we miss those communiqués, the body and mind shout louder and discomfort snowballs into illness. She has worked as an energy healer and medical intuitive for over 40 years, often with people who successfully ignored things until they could no longer be ignored, seeking her out after years of enduring such chronic pain that conventional medicine rarely helped. She herself had spent thousands of dollars trying to treat chronic migraines and digestive problems. “Many of the wonderful practitioners I saw did help me,” she said. “But in other ways, they kept me dependent on their help, rather than teaching me what I could do to help myself.” Her belief that healing belongs in everyone’s hands, prompted her to write this book, to make the teachings she’s received available to anyone.
What if managing anxiety, moving ourselves to a state of balance and wellness, is as simple as drawing a figure eight on your skin, putting your hand on your heart and inquiring “how are you today? What colour are you? Do you have anything you need me to know?” What if everything comes back to the quality of relationship we have – with our body, with our environment, with our community? As radical a departure as this was from my programming, I was intrigued by the question: What if?
So, on the last day of October, when the chores were finally done, the family out of the house, the temperatures finally back above zero after a cold plunge, and the ground somewhat dry, I had my window, to try Meredith’s earth-docking exercise – “a great exercise to do if you are feeling overwhelmed, overloaded or pent up, or if you are confused about what energy medicine is needed. It can give you a whole-system reset. Lie facedown on the earth. Give it all over to mother earth. A whole-body plant on the earth allows you to ground with every cell of your body.” I’d had the page tabbed for weeks.
I looked for a quiet place in my yard, out of the sightlines of any neighbours. I pushed my face into the humus, inhaled, and lay still. The world around me began to make itself known. I could feel my heart thumping away in my chest, my belly pushing into the ground with each breath. It was gentle, strange, comfortable, calming. I flipped over and looked up, gazing up at the tree canopy, and the way the branches and leaves reach toward each other, but stop short of touching – giving each other breathing room. An hour passed. I was in no hurry to be anywhere else.
Did it do anything? Energetically? To be scientifically rigorous, I probably would have had to hook up to electrodes and a portable EEG, log brainwave and blood pressure before and after. Did it have a quantitative impact on my well-being, longevity, resilience to influenza or cancer? Meredith says that’s a line of thinking worth reconsidering. We need to ask better questions than “what is wrong and how do I fix it?”
“If your intention is to delve deeper into ‘what’s wrong and why am I in pain?’, your body produces more information about that.” Instead, she invites us to begin asking: what’s needed? how can I support that? What needs to be cultivated? Can you show me? How do I come home to my body and participate in my wholeness and well-being?
It starts, like any homecoming does, by opening the door, and stepping across the threshold, taking a breath, and realizing where you are. Or, enjoying a full face-plant out in the woods. Which, for the record, I highly recommend.