Saturday, 14 March 2009

Body Talk

I awoke and felt a slight twinge in my lower back. There was no obvious reason for it so I concluded that I must have slept awkwardly. I got up gingerly and made two cups of tea - one for myself and one for David, an old friend who was sleeping on a futon I had rolled out on the living room floor of my small flat.

David was sick. He had arrived from the States a couple of days earlier and had immediately come down with a heavy cold. He groaned his thanks for the tea and said that he needed to spend the day in bed. He wanted to make sure that he recovered in time for a seminar he was teaching at the weekend. I looked around the room at his stuff - his clothes spewing out of his open suitcase, his papers and laptop covering my dining table, and his used tissues strewn over the floor.

It was not the best time for him to be visiting. I had recently bought the rights to the loft space and was having it converted. It was going to transform my flat and enhance the value but right now it was chaos. Even though the builders had tried their best to be considerate, it had been going on for a week already and the dust and noise had become horribly intrusive. Today they were putting in a new staircase and I had been forced to stack a lot of stuff in my bedroom to make space for them. Clearly, I was not going to be able to relax at home. I decided to go out.

I left the flat to David and the workmen and took the train into central London to do some shopping. As the day wore on, the pain in my back got steadily worse. I tried to ignore it but it didn’t want to go away. I told myself that it would be better after a good night’s sleep. When I got home that evening I found David feeling a little better and the staircase up to the loft half completed. He was moving to his seminar hotel the next day but asked if he could leave most of his stuff with me over the weekend. Of course I said yes.

When I woke up the next morning the pain was worse and I had difficulty getting out of bed. David left for the seminar hotel and I pottered around and made tea for the workmen. The dust was everywhere. It had filtered under every cupboard door and into every nook and cranny of my flat. As the day wore on the noise of banging and sawing seemed to get louder and louder. It was a great relief when the workmen left, but by then my lower back was hurting so much that it was a struggle to stand up. It felt like a cramp extending down into my right buttock. I feared that if I sat in my low armchair to watch TV I might get completely stuck!

The next morning, with the pain no better, I was getting desperate. I considered taking painkillers or making an appointment to see my doctor. But then my mind wandered to the Voice Dialogue sessions in which I had worked with people’s aches and pains to help them find out what might lie behind their symptoms. “Surely you should be trying this with your own pain,” said a voice in my head, “Isn’t it time for you to walk the walk!”

I got a pen and paper and gently sat myself down at the table. I drew a rough outline of a body and then made a mark where my pain was located and focused on it. Next I took a clean sheet of paper and with my right hand - my dominant hand - acting as facilitator, I wrote down a question addressed directly to the pain. “Hello, do you have something you want to say to John?” I then took the pen in my left hand and waited for an answer to come. It is not easy writing with your non-dominant hand, but slowly the answer took shape. “I feel cramped,” it wrote.

Using my right hand again I asked, “Please tell me more about that feeling.” My left hand responded: “There’s no space for me. I feel pushed out. Richard was here and now he’s left all his stuff. The workmen walk all over the place every day with their big boots. It’s noisy and dusty and I can’t relax!” The dialogue continued for about 30 minutes during which time I found out that this was a five year old part of me that felt overwhelmed and upset. How appropriate that the pain in my back felt like cramp! Finally I asked this Child self what it needed to help it feel better and it replied, “A walk in the park, a long bath and a hot chocolate.”

That afternoon I took a leisurely walk along by the river. I took time to notice the plants, the trees and the birds. I sat in a café and drank a large hot chocolate. In the evening I ran a hot bath and had a long soak. To my great relief, when I awoke the next morning the pain had lessened and was now a dull ache.

At the end of the weekend David came back for a few days before flying home. Once again I had to put up with his stuff lying scattered over my living room floor - as well as the continuing noise and dust from the workmen. But now I found that if I took time to tune in to my Child, to listen to what it wanted, and where possible and appropriate, to act on its demands, the pain continued to ease. After a couple of days it was completely gone.

Since then, whenever I feel that slight twinge in my lower back I take note. I stop what I’m doing and ask myself how I might be ignoring or overriding the needs of my Child within. I have learnt to listen better when my body talks and to respect the feedback that it gives me about the current state of my physical and emotional wellbeing.

I still keep some painkillers in my cupboard and do have cause to visit my doctor sometimes. But by paying attention to the psychosomatic clues that my body presents and opening up a dialogue with the voice that lies behind my symptoms, I have been able to heal myself in ways that no amount of pills or the most astute doctor could have done.

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