About a month ago I badly sprained my left ankle. An ankle that was very badly sprained in the past, so I knew I was in for a long, slow recovery. Today while playing Frisbee with a friend, their throw was off the mark and I had to run to catch it. My mind said run, but as I pushed off with my left leg and foot, the sharp pain from the body superseded that intention.
The mind is empty. It takes on the flavor or color of whatever thought, mind state, or emotion happens to be in it at the moment. It also gets habituated to thoughts, mind states, and emotions that pass through it frequently. So, basically, anything can enter the mind at any given moment. When we are not mindful of the contents of our mind, then we automatically believe that they are true. If desire is in the mind, we actually think it would be a good idea to have a second bowl of ice cream. We don’t connect with the fact that we are full. When aversion is in the mind, we don’t see all the good qualities about someone, we just notice what we don’t like about them. These are just two of countless examples of how the mind (actually the contents of the mind) can deceive us into believing that what it’s saying to us is true.
The body does not have this capacity. It simply doesn’t work that way. The body emits sensations. That’s the information it gives us. And, they are most always* truthful. The body doesn’t tell stories, therefore, it can't deceive us. My mind thought it would be a good idea to run and catch the Frisbee. Eye-hand coordination, exercise, mastery, were all good reasons to run. But the truth was, I wasn’t yet healed enough to run, and the body spoke that truth with the painful sensations.
So we can almost always trust the information the body is giving us. The question is, are we feeling our bodies and noticing what messages they are giving us? This is one reason why the body based meditation objects are so helpful. They train us to be aware of our bodies. There are two caveats to always trusting the message we are getting from our bodies that I think are important to mention:
First is in the case of activation of past trauma. If someone is having a trauma response, the body is activated as though the past experience was actually happening, even if there is no danger in the present moment. What’s happening is that the body is responding to the fight/flight/freeze response from areas in the brain including the amygdala, which is a set of neurons that is activated during a trauma response. So, in a way, the body is being truthful, it’s responding to what the mind is telling it. It’s just that, in this case, it’s not helpful to believe it. Acknowledge it, tend to it, care for it. But don't believe it.
Another example where one may need to question what their body is telling them is when there’s strong sexual attraction. A person can have a sexual attraction to someone, that if one thought about it for a moment, would be seen as not a good person for them to get involved with. Similar to the trauma response, the body is responding to the chemicals and hormones that are coursing through it. In this case, in an evolutionary attempt to keep the species going. So, the body is not lying. It’s responding very truthfully to the information it’s getting from the brain, which is saying, have sex with this person. Yet, in this case, one doesn’t necessarily want to follow the impulses and sensations of the body when the other person isn’t appropriate and/or safe.
Practicing With Body As Truth Teller
Any practice that gets us consciously feeling our bodies, aka, getting into our bodies will be a prerequisite for any work with the body. Yoga, meditation on breath or body, Tai Chi, Qi Kung, etc.
Train yourself to start to recognize your emotions as they manifest in the body. When any emotion is strong enough to get your attention, name it, and then see if you can feel where it is manifesting in your body.
The next time you have a decision to make and you are vacillating between two avenues of going forward, try using this template. Ask yourself where Decision A is coming from: the head (intellect) or the body (intuition, gut)? Then ask the same question for Decision B. Not always, but very often, one will be from the head and one from the body. Generally, we want to give the decision coming from the body more weight.