In Woody Allen’s movie, Annie Hall, Diane Keaton is breaking up with Woody and wants to know why he isn’t angry. “I don’t get angry,” Allen replies, “I grow a tumor instead.”
We tend to think of our bodies and minds as separate systems and believe they function independently. Yet can you remember the last time went on a first date with someone you were really trying to impress or had an interview for a job? In either case, no doubt you wanted to appear calm and collected but at the same time you were feeling self-conscious and nervous. Can you recall how your body felt? Self-consciousness will tighten your buttock muscles (so you are literally sitting on your tension), you will sweat more than usual, may feel slightly nauseous, and you will probably fluff your words, just when you want to appear suave and confident.
So can we really separate the mind and body?
“A basic emotion such as fear can be described as an abstract feeling or as a tangible molecule ” of the hormone adrenaline,” writes Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. “Without the feeling there is no hormone; without the hormone there is no feeling . . . The revolution we call mind-body medicine was based on this simple discovery: wherever thought goes, a chemical goes with it.”
Not just fear but all our thoughts and feelings get translated into chemicals that fire off throughout the body, affecting the chemical composition and behavior of our cells (see Deb’s book Your Body Speaks Your Mind). Hence a sad feeling influences our tear ducts so they produce tears when we feel sadness, while a scary feeling gives us goose bumps or makes our hair stand on end.
Is there actually any real difference between one part of our being and another or is the only difference the means of expression? H2O exists as water, steam, rain, sea, cloud or ice, yet is still H2O.
“The skin is not separate from the emotions, or the emotions separate from the back, or the back separate from the kidneys, or the kidneys separate from will and ambition, or will and ambition separate from the spleen, or the spleen separate from sexual confidence,” writes Dianne Connelly in Traditional Acupuncture: The Law of the Five Elements.
When we can’t or don’t express emotions or psychological states then that energy get expressed through the physical body. The emotions most often repressed are rage, as it can be the most inappropriate or difficult to articulate, and grief. The two are often connected through a loss of control.
For instance, when Deb was eight years old she was sent to boarding school, an experience she was not too thrilled about. “A few weeks after I got there I had tonsillitis. In those days having your tonsils out meant staying in hospital for a week followed by another week at home eating nothing but mashed potatoes and ice cream—good comfort foods! What those two weeks really did was reconnect me with security and a sense of belonging. I can see that the nature of the illness—inflamed and sore throat—indicated that I was having a very hard time swallowing my reality. Boarding school was not where I wanted to be! Yet I had no choice. The time at home was the healing I needed to accept what was happening.”
To apply this to yourself, try looking back over times of illness and see if the sickness followed a time of crisis, stress, or emotional difficulty. If it did, then see if there are any issues, such as anger or grief, that need to be known and released. Take some time to be quiet and reflective, acknowledge what was happening at that time and gently healing.