The Wisdom Voice: Learning to Listen to Ourselves with Acupuncture
Our bodies are marvelous, innocent, very honest mechanisms. I am always moved by the way many of us fight our bodies. Pain is a drag. But it can also be a blessing. Our bodies tell us when something is out of balance. I’m often amazed by how many ailments can be eliminated through sleeping or eating: the essentials. When we are working too hard, or worrying too much, our bodies will let us know. Listening to our body’s messages, or not, can be another story altogether.
It’s easy to feel disheartened when our muscles ache, or our skin is breaking out in rash, or our menstrual cycle is out of whack. For most of us, we don’t know how to address these imbalances. We haven’t been introduced to a system that teaches us how to interpret our body’s messages. Before I learned about acupuncture, I thought the only options for treating my body’s ailments were pharmaceuticals that made my stomach hurt, gave me nausea, or seemed to weaken me.
Working with my first acupuncturist was like a formal introduction to my body. She said, “Nick: this is your body; Body: this is Nick. I think you two could be very good friends if you get to know one another.” And so we did. The chronic asthma which was the bane of my existence, I learned was a reaction to wheat and dairy in my diet. My body wasn’t a faulty machine that hated me. It was just trying to tell me that certain foods weren’t good for me. When I would get restless, obsessive, bored and moody at night, it was my body telling me “Go to bed!” I frequently complained, “Well, everyone else gets to stay up past 10pm!” My body replied, much as my mother might: “I don’t care what everyone else is doing. You need to go to bed!” We eventually worked it out.
Obviously I needed a guide as I learned to decode the messages being sent by my body. This is what acupuncture did for me. Today, I feel very connected to my body. When it speaks to me, I listen. I don’t fight it nearly as much as I used to. Sometimes I complain like a five-year old child when my toes ache, but only for a minute; and then I do the Tai Ji my body is asking for and get on with my life.
I frequently converse with patients about the different voices within our heads. This isn’t crazy talk, believe me. Ekhart Tolle talks about this in his books; the Buddhists do as well. When we listen closely, the voices sound differently. They are telling us many things: criticism, desires and fantasies, worry. Some are voices from the past; some are other people’s voices, some are our own. Underneath these chattering voices, often called “discursive thought” by the Buddhists, is a calm voice that sounds very different from all the others. I think of this voice as “the wisdom voice.” It relates to the essence of our being: our spirit.
The wisdom voice, I’ve found, cares about our best interest. It knows the truth of who we are; it knows what is best for us. However, it can be drowned out by the critical voice, or the victim voice, or the fantasy-desire voice, or the singing-dancing-bright color voice. Practices to work with our minds can be very helpful: meditation practice, martial arts such as tai ji, body therapies such as acupuncture and talk therapy. All of these practices require time and focus into the different voices within the mind. We are constantly being given messages from within: some are helpful and some are harmful. The voice that is always telling us we are not good enough can obviously cause us damage. The voice that is full of desire, constantly grasping at the world can lead us to do things we might later regret. The voice that tell us who we should be can lead us away from our truth. I think it is important to get to know all of these voices, so we know who is telling us what. Then we can choose.
And if we can’t figure out who is saying what, we can always listen to our bodies. A headache for example is often a message that we need to stop; that we are overdoing it. Back pain can be a similar message. It can also be a message of fear. Alternating body temperature can be an indication we are confused about something; unable to make a decision. Insomnia can indicate we’ve fallen out of touch with ourselves. There are numerous messages. Chinese Medicine is helpful in providing insight from very wise medical and spiritual sages who observed many people, decoded psycho-somatic messages, and recorded them for our benefit.
Beyond anything anyone else can tell us however, the most powerful experience can be sitting quietly with ourselves. The quiet time spent on the massage table, after the acupuncture needles have been inserted, often leads to very powerful internal results. The wisdom voice communicates with us. And somehow we come to place where we see more clearly who we are and what we need to do.
As Aikido master Morihei Ueshiba says: “Foster peace in your own life and then apply the Art to all that you encounter.”