Your body holds onto all the stress of your life unless you become aware and consciously let go of it. I’ve known this for quite a while, and on some level, I’d bet you know it too. For me, the trouble spot is between my shoulder blades, extending to my trapezius muscle and up into my neck. It’s an area that sustained a physical injury when I was young, and it’s never been quite right since, and now it tends to be the focus point for all my stress.
If I’m having a particularly difficult time, that area will tense up, and sometimes go into a very painful spasm, necessitating rest, heat, and conscious relaxation to un-clench. When I feel it start to tense, it’s become a signal for me to pause and reflect on the level of stress in my life, and adjust accordingly.
For you, stress may show up as migraines, digestive issues, shallow breathing, or tensed up areas similar to my upper back. If ignored, it may show up in more serious physical issues. Sometimes, it’s unconscious. You don’t even realize the connection between what you’re feeling and what’s happening in your body.
This past week, I had an experience that really drove home to me the importance of listening to the wisdom of the body-mind-spirit, tuning into what issues are floating around at the edge of my consciousness.
I had a dream, and in my dream, I had signed some sort of documents to adopt a person as my child. This person is an adult, but an irrational child in terms of behavior. Very irresponsible. Prone to chaos and trouble. My dream-self was very upset at the prospect of now being obligated to him in any way, and aghast at the thought that he was now my child and legally no different than my own children. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I understand what I was signing?? Now I’m stuck. My dream-self was in full panic mode.
I woke up, and immediately was distracted by the familiar spasm in my upper back. Damn. Must’ve slept on it wrong, I thought. I popped a couple ibuprofin, and went on with the day. Later that afternoon, I recalled the dream, and suddenly it all made sense.
The spasm wasn’t because I had slept in a bad position. It was my usual response to a stressful situation!! The only difference was, it wasn’t real. The dream had just floated up from my subconscious, playing as dreams do with various aspects of memory, along with the random flotsam and jetsam of my days. Obviously, it had (literally) struck a nerve…or a muscle as the case may be.
So what was it exactly that my subconscious was trying to say? Boundary issues, perhaps. Learning to distinguish between what is “my problem” and “not my problem.” In my dream, I had somehow taken on a responsibility that was not really mine. This person was an adult, legally responsible for himself. So, what in my life mirrors this?
I mentally scanned my personal relationships. Not much there, really. But then I thought about the wider world, the endless parade of bad news that crosses my computer screen (and the TV, and the radio) every day. The Middle East is in full meltdown. Undocumented children flood the borders of the U.S. Climate change. A thousand global injustices. I care about them all, but in the big scheme of things I am relatively powerless to effect major change. Could that be it?
Perhaps it is. Yes. I think so. Caring and doing what I can do within my own sphere of influence is one thing. But personally taking on the burden of global issues? It’s too much.
And in the end, I think this is what my body was trying to tell me.
It’s become a cliche, but it’s true that the body, mind, and spirit are one. So I leave you with a few questions. What is your body trying to tell you? Are you listening?
Rebecca Hecking writes from her home in northwest Pennsylvania.