Our body is a gift from God. It is our most reliable barometer of how we feel in the present moment. This is because our body is always in the present! We cannot feel yesterday’s toothache any more than we can feel tomorrow’s heart attack. Our body tells us when we have been burning the candle at both ends and we cannot bear to work for even one more minute. It works for us on more serious occasions when aches and pains are telling us that something deeper needs to be addressed. Our barrier to acting on this first principle is the possibility that we do not want to know the meaning of what our body is telling us. We are resisting change and its ill-effects show up in the temple that is our body.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1Cor 6:19-20)
We risk serious illness when we ignore our bodies. There was a time when I saw my body as a mere carrying device for my brain. I ignored my aches and pains and drove myself hard, working long and punishing hours in pursuit of my career goals. It was only when I collapsed on the family room floor at the youthful age of thirty-four that I began to accept that I was living a life that had lost all meaning and was leading me to an early grave.
The key to this first principle of mindful living is to notice and learn from what our body is telling us. This can be as simple as sweaty palms when facing the boss, or as devastating as being diagnosed with cancer. One is in-the-moment; the other may be the sum-total of years of neglect.
Much of the work in listening to our body is anchored in coping skills. These are the many ways in which we can get ourselves temporarily back into the present – exercising, proper diet, relaxation techniques like meditation and breathing techniques. Most importantly, we need our sleep! Coping is the most common way we choose to feel good about our self. Unfortunately, it is only a temporary solution because as soon as we stop coping, the inner peace benefits go away. The lasting well-being of being mindful and present comes when we resolve the underlying reasons that we feel bad inside ourselves in the first place.
These bad feelings are rooted in the ego. Paul calls this the flesh in Romans 8:5-6,
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
Does this mean our bodies are inherently sinful? Not at all. Our bodies are a reflection of our inner choices, beliefs and desires. For this reason, our bodies tell us our own truth. The body never lies. Sweaty palms tell us we are nervous, as do butterflies in our stomach. Rapid and shallow breathing are also powerful warning signs of our inner state of being. The Holy Spirit resides within us and God uses our body as one way to get our attention when something is unsafe or wrong for us to be doing. Naturally, we can feel scared when God wants us to do something brave, just as we can feel scared when our own ego wants to do something we know is spiritually foolish.
For those of us who are serious about inner peace and communion with God, we are on an inner peace mission as I like to call our spiritual journey. We must learn to discern between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the spirit. However, my experience is that most of us only take the journey seriously once we face a serious threat to our health and well-being.
Will you wait until your body sends you a frightening message? Why wait? Why not begin the journey now by noticing what your body is telling you and acting on it, rather than pushing past your limits.