“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
This principle is one of my favorites, and in fact I sometimes think it should be the first principle of Rubenfeld Synergy. All of the principles, I think, are equally important, but this one just has so much juice in it. Why? Because all the bodywork and all the therapy in the world won’t help you to make a change if you don’t know there is a problem.
Self-awareness is absolutely essential when it comes to transforming your life, even in small ways. To begin in the body – as RSM practitioners so frequently do – we can look at pain. Pain is a phenomenon that most people don’t enjoy, though many have a complex relationship with it: the athletic slogan “no pain, no gain” comes to mind, as does the thin line between pain and pleasure. However, the main function of pain in the body is to alert us to a problem. This can be anything from “Hey, you’re working to capacity and your muscles are filling with lactic acid,” to “Excuse me, but I believe you just broke your toe.” The first is a minor pain, soon alleviated by water, protein and rest; the latter is something that requires immediate attention.
Sometimes, though, these signals aren’t as clear cut as that. Our natural self-regulatory systems, our alert systems, our fight or flight responses – all of these things can be damaged by trauma, or even by habituation. One of the things that sometimes occurs in PTSD is that a person dissociates during anything that reminds them of the original trauma; fight or flight, having been betrayed or circumvented, becomes hypersensitized and ceases to work reliably. Physically, if we work ourselves to exhaustion often enough, the body becomes habituated to it: if there’s one thing human beings are great at, it’s adaptation. So our bodies decide that this is the way it’s going to be, because it doesn’t know any other possibility. Eventually, such a body will fall into collapse, and the person will have no choice but to rest. But part of the goal of RSM is to help people not to have to take their bodies to such extremes in order to give them what they need.
“Listen to the whispers of the body, so that it does not have to scream,” is a quotation Noel Wight frequently shared with us in our training. So many of us go through our lives ignoring our bodies’ subtle messages until suddenly we’re felled by illness, or exhaustion, or injury. I sometimes think of the body as a toddler, first calling softly, “Mom?” Then, receiving no response, calling louder, “Mom?!” Then tugging on Mom’s arm and yelling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” The response to such a child is generally annoyance, even anger, which deepens the distancing effect of not listening. The more a child learns that she won’t be responded to, the more she will act out, until a hard shell of indifference forms around her, or she retreats into a silent corner, or she becomes violent.
Our bodies, similarly, want to be heard. They are our closest friends, our best allies, and they will work with us if we listen to them. Continuing to push yourself at the gym when you can already feel your knees whispering to you is a sure way to a severe knee injury, where resting or doing alternative exercises when you first feel the pain can avoid it.
Giving your mind a chance to focus on something deeply and without distractions can lead to more productive time at work, rather than finding at the day’s end that you’ve accomplished little other than reading other people’s Facebook statuses.
Telling someone they hurt your feelings, rather than sitting on it and letting it fester until you explode at them later on, helps to clear the emotional air between you, and allows relationships to deepen.
Giving your spirit time to heal from grief or wounding can make it more resilient, while having a “stiff upper lip” and telling yourself to “get over it” can result in a broken spirit.
All of these things, at all levels of our being, begin with awareness. We must know that something is going on. Even if we don’t know what it is yet. A man who doesn’t know that his ADD behaviors are making his friends and lovers think that he doesn’t care about them can do nothing until he recognizes those behaviors. A woman who doesn’t know how her poor self-image drives people away from her can’t change anything until she sees that she hates herself. Change of the behaviors, or of the self-image, cannot begin until a person can see them.
And this is where we return to the body, because the body, as I’ll explicate in a later principle, always tells the truth. Even if it has to scream, the body is the first line of defense for awareness. If you’re pushing it too hard physically, eventually it will tell you. If you are really stressed out but don’t register it mentally, your body will respond with physical ailments that can’t be ignored for long. Even in PTSD, where the body’s defenses are so heightened that they overreact, knowing that that is the case can begin to heal the fight or flight system. Rubenfeld Synergy’s first aim is toward increasing somatic awareness – awareness of the body – so that its whispers can be heard, and your truths can come to light.
Once they do, change becomes possible.