We are teaching workshops and traveling a lot at the moment, eating wherever we are and whenever we can. This easily upsets our daily digestive rhythm. Which got us thinking about how we normally digest our world.
The digestive process is not just about taking in food, it is also about swallowing and assimilating our reality -- here we absorb everything that is happening to us along with our feelings, sensations and experiences. Digestive difficulties can be connected to having to swallow distasteful emotions, such as someone's anger, or because our own adverse feelings are rotting inside. In fact the digestive system is a wonderful monitor of our emotional balance: If we are happy with what is happening in our lives then our digestion will be reasonably maintenance free, but if we are experiencing conflicts, stress or difficulties, then these often show up as indigestion or constipation.
This is where our inner and outer worlds meet: a reception area where reality is vetted to see if it may pass through, and a departure lounge for emotions, thoughts, ideas and feelings. We break down incoming food and information into usable parts. How we do this is indicative of our attitude to life: taking small or large bites, chewing quickly or lingering over each mouthful. Do you relish biting into life? Do you sometimes "bite off more than you can chew?" Do you take a long time "chewing things over" and perhaps get so involved with the details that you lose sight of the overall picture?
This is a two-way bridge, connecting our head and body, or mind and heart. It takes in air, food, liquid and reality; and expresses our thoughts and feelings. In exactly the same way as we swallow food, we swallow our reality. This may also include swallowing our feelings, doubts, fears, or anger. To "swallow" something is to accept and believe it -- when we swallow our reality we are accepting it into our being. Are you swallowing hurt feelings, such as failure, shame, guilt or disappointment? Do you swallow food without really chewing or breaking it down, do you also tend to leap into things without paying attention to the details?
Digestion is absorbing what we need and eliminating what we do not need, both physically and psycho/emotionally. Having a healthy digestion means being able to receive nourishment, and to let ourselves be nurtured; without this nourishment, whether physical or emotional, there can be a constant craving, a longing to fill hidden needs, or a strong denial and rejection of those needs.
Indigestion is caused by worry and stress as much as it is by upsetting food. The stomach is where we harbor worry -- the digestive enzymes churning with anxiety -- until we can "no longer stomach" what is happening. Indigestion can also be caused when the reality we are digesting is too bitter or sour, or is proving too much to bear, and we literally cannot stomach it any more. What issues or feelings are you swallowing that are so bitter or upsetting? Is your heart burning up about something or someone?
The intestines are not only where we complete absorption of nutrients and prepare the unwanted for departure, but also where we assimilate and absorb the details of our reality. It is here that we process our "stuff," where we digest what we have taken in. The belly is the feeling center where we have intuitive "gut feelings", or can get emotionally wounded, as when we are "hit in the guts." Feelings can get locked in here, unable to find expression or release. In the large intestine the matter is finished with, ready to be excreted. This area is about releasing, so difficulties here are connected to clinging to that which has already served its purpose. There may be grief or sadness, or a fear of letting go.
The anus is the final exit point from the body. It is a private, hidden part of our being, tucked away out of sight. Here we find unacknowledged fear and anger. Is someone being "a pain in the backside"? Are they getting too close, invading your privacy?
More laxatives are sold across the counter than any other remedy -- constipation is so common that we have come to think of it as being completely normal. There is no doubt that the increased consumption of processed foods is a major cause, as is a decrease in physical exercise, but they are not the only reasons.
Many issues to do with elimination are connected to childhood. A young child has two major ways of controlling his or her parents: through refusing or accepting food, or by defecating or not. Having a bowel movement is an act of surrender; constipation is an act of holding on to power.
Lessons learnt at this time will stay with us into adulthood. Constipation is linked to issues of feeling powerless, particularly at times of financial problems, relationship conflicts, or when we are traveling, as these are times when we want to hold on to everything as it is because we do not know what will come next. What feelings might arise if you were to let go? What might happen to your relationships or work if you released control and let things happen spontaneously?
Learning how to be more playful and spontaneous can go a long way toward relieving the situation. Most important, though, is learning how to express our feelings and, once expressed, to let them go. The deeper issue is trust: trust that everything will be OK, trust in the people around us, and trust that events will flow as they are meant to even without our control.
You can read more about understanding your body-mind relationship in Deb's book: Your Body Speaks Your Mind.
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Ed and Deb Shapiro's new book, BE THE CHANGE, How Meditation Can Transform You And The World, Forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors such as Marianne Williamson, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, Michael Beckwith, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jane Fonda, Jack Kornfield, Byron Katie, Ed Begley, Ellen Burstyn, Dean Ornish, Russell Bishop, and others, will be published November 3rd 2009 by Sterling Ethos. Deb is the author of the award-winning book YOUR BODY SPEAKS YOUR MIND. Ed and Deb are the authors of over 15 books, and lead meditation retreats and workshops. They are corporate consultants, and the creators of Chillout daily inspirational text messages on Sprint cell phones. See: www.EdandDebShapiro.com
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