Updated: Apr 15
Listening compassionately to our body is the primary skill in healing chronic, degenerative diseases. I am not against using conventional medicines, though they come at a high price. What I maintain is that, the very basis of our health lies in the ways we live and care for ourselves. We heal serious illness by healing such seemingly ordinary actions as our overeating, aversion to vegetables, self-criticism, stressors, shallow breathing, and staying up too late. And we do this by learning to listen compassionately to what our body is trying to convey through its apparent dysfunction.
Listening to our body is the core skill that enables us to develop skillful behavior and free ourselves from self-harming habits. Compassionate listening brings about such rapid, effective, lasting healing that I think of it as the very power that heals.
When we take the time to listen, we recognize what our body is asking of us. It asks to be nourished, exercised, and rested. Our mental body and emotional bodies also require to be fed, worked, and rested. All three of our bodies are one inseparable, functional whole - each affecting the other. Any apparent separation is only verbal.
We are capable of Self-Healing
The good news is that we are fully capable of doing what our body needs. We, just like every human being, can have the health we desire. To believe ourselves incapable of doing what is beneficial and necessary is patently false, and an impediment to our healing process. It is time for us to trust our body and her innate self-healing capabilities.
It is not true that we cannot get ourselves to eat or avoid certain foods, or that we are incapable of performing the ordinary human actions that our body requires for health. Of course, we have real challenges to face, and we may be frightened and doubt our capability. However, we all have the ability to master our own actions, not by sheer willpower and force, but by listening with care to our own body. Our body is our guide. It is self-healing. It has powers, we don’t. We are made to live in intimate relationship with it. Learn to trust it more.
For example, if you have an aversion to eating vegetables, have the courage and the patience to actually tune in to your bodily experience of “not liking” a certain vegetable. What does “not liking” feel like in your body? Can you be with your bodily experience? Surely the taste is not so revolting that you want to spit it out.
Talk to your body. Tell it you won’t force it if it really doesn’t like this. See if it is instinctively rejecting this food (unlikely) or simply unaccustomed to it. Coax it to try a little bit more, like you would a child.
Conversing with your body is powerful medicine
So why don’t most people have such conversations? Talking to our body does not make sense in a paradigm that holds it as a machine incapable of communicating with us. But perhaps our body is not a machine. Perhaps it is as intelligent and loving as we are, with feelings and desires and needs.
In naturopathic medicine, healing is a process of healing relationships; re-building our timeless, eternal connections with our body, our mind, the earth, air and sun; with hunger, cold and fear; with all and everything that life has given us.
Our body is a living community ceaselessly communicating what she needs to heal, to remain vital and strong. By coming into harmony with her natural rhythms, she heals. You will discover that both you and your body are innately endowed with a burning desire for health and happiness and an indomitable will to perform the actions that unfailingly produce health, beauty, and aliveness. We have not only the desire, but the intelligence and power to heal and rejuvenate our body.
Take the example of compulsively overeating.
What impels us to do this? Likely it is that we feel a sensation in our body. It feels almost unbearable. What is it? Can we allow ourselves to explore this sensation, to listen to it, feel it; to genuinely try to understand what our body is saying? Does our body really want more ice cream? Is this what she truly craves? Or does she want us to listen? You know the answer to this. Do not deny that you know the answer. She does not want ice cream. She wants us to pay attention.
Ask her, ‘what do you need?’ What might we have that she wants? Does she want our breath, our touch, real food, stretching, a run, a bath, deep relaxation?
The above example of craving sweets is an acute, urgent crisis. We will not be able to respond to our body in times of crisis if we are not attentive to her in times of calm. By our caring attention in times of calm she becomes more responsive to us. She begins to trust us and starts talking to us. She grows fond of us and she demonstrates her fondness.
We must literally take her hand with love. Take her hand and caress it or touch it in a manner that feels good. Rub her shoulders, thighs, or abdomen with appreciation. Give her cool water when she is hot and feel her gratitude. Stretch her when she’s stiff and sore. Lay her down when she is tired. Treat your body like a beloved animal, a most human animal. Awaken to her as a living being with needs and desires and fears and emotions. This is a real relationship, perhaps the most important relationship in your life.
We must build a loving relationship with our body
As you build and nurture this relationship, you will discover your kindness being returned … guaranteed. In your heart of hearts, you want this to be true. And so it is. This is the way we heal our body and our body heals us. Together with our body, we can overcome deeply entrenched, sick habits.
The caring, benevolent purpose of our dis-ease and discomfort is to alert us to the Healer within—not to afflict us, but to awaken and guide us to care for ourselves. By practicing compassionate listening it will dawn on you, that your most ordinary actions are living sacraments through which healing flows into your body. Our actions matter supremely. This understanding gives unprecedented meaning to life. Mastering our own behavior becomes our hero’s journey.
We must overcome our own insatiable desires for what harms us, our callous indifference to our own suffering, our lack of faith in our own capabilities, the harshness of our self-criticism and cold-hearted refusal to forgive ourselves. We are indeed a formidable enemy to our own health and happiness.
However we are well-equipped for victory. We are innately endowed with two weapons; compassion and wisdom.
Compassionate listening is the medicine that heals our body.
Caring attention enables us to understand what she is asking of us through her language of affliction and suffering. As we learn to express our love for her in our most ordinary actions: eating, movement, touch etc. our body will transform from a cruel tyrant into our beloved friend and servant.
The wisdom of naturopathic medicine lies in listening to our body rather than medicating it. We find that the healing power we have been seeking is within us. We are the Medicine. If you are faced with cancer, MS or any serious illness, consider that compassionate action may be your most powerful of all therapies. At first such action can appear trivial, inconsequential in the face of life threatening illnesses.
However, let's consider this more closely. First, what hope do conventional medicines offer us in these diseases? Answer: it varies. In a small number of cases they make a great difference and can be life saving. More often they damage our quality of life, often greatly. So this leads us to ask, what is the most powerful thing we can possibly do for ourselves? And the answer is always to be found in eating better, beneficial workouts, strengthening our happiness and reducing our anxiety, and bringing healing into our family and friendships. Healing these actions is exactly how we heal serious chronic disease. This is it!
If we want to make significant changes in our behavior, the most powerful way to do that is by listening compassionately to our body and mind.