My body is the map of my life

It’s National Storytelling Week. A celebration of the way humans have communicated for millennia and reflecting the way evolution has wired us to receive and process information.

Storytelling is a wonderful way to interact with the world, both around us and within ourselves. Stories somehow resonate with us, often proving more memorable than facts alone, with their ability to touch us deeply and stay with us for a long time.

Their impact has been proven by neuroscience, with research showing that when we hear facts and figures, just two areas of the brain light up. When we hear a story, a massive seven areas of the brain are activated. This natural human response to stories helps us to make greater sense of the world, as we relate what we are hearing to ourselves, creating meaning and learning lessons from others that we can apply to our own lives to make them more fulfilling and meaningful.

This week I have been thinking about writing and sharing a different kind of story – the story of my Embodied Life. I decided to take on this powerful exercise last year as part of my own journey of discovery into my patterns and preferences, and this week I’ve been revisiting it again. I’d invite you to try it for yourself. It’s a simple exercise, using free flow creative writing, starting with any memory that comes and reflecting on how it felt in your body, how your body responded to what was happening to you at the time.

It reveals huge amounts about what makes us happy, sad, excited, inspired… It also helps us to recognise familiar patterns as we start to see similar responses (which may be life-enhancing or not) that perhaps we had not been aware of previously. That gives us choice, as once we are aware of our patterns we can then decide if they are working for us, or against us, and do something different if that feels right. It also reminds us of the debt we owe our own bodies, as the physical vehicle which transports us through life, shaping and remembering our life experience in a way that complements and enhances the memories we hold in our minds, so we get a fuller, richer, juicier picture, one that is more real, more vibrant and more meaningful.

I’d like to share some fragments of my own embodied life story with you. I discovered much that was  long-forgotten and buried.

Small remembered pleasures such as the joy of racing friends in homemade go-carts down the hill where we lived, hair flying in the wind, screaming with excitement, uncertain how we were going to stop at the bottom – thrilling, if somewhat lethal to the neighbours’ hedges which we grabbed to slow down when it all got a bit too exhilarating.

Being outside in my Dad’s garden where I used to go when I wanted to be peaceful and alone, even as a small child. I used to sing to myself and plan to run away to Australia – I once even picked a bucket full of vegetables to take with me! That memory really made me laugh, and reminded me how much I love to be outside. I could almost feel the sun on my face as I planned my ‘escape’, enjoying watching the butterflies among the flowers, and the soft breeze tickling my skin. It brought back to me how freeing it feels to be outside, a great reminder at a time when I seem to spend more time than ever indoors, glued to a screen, that my real pleasure and aliveness comes when I am out of doors, in nature.

There were also painful memories of times when my body felt like it was failing me. Sciatica brought on by the stress of a house fire which meant I spent months of long exhausted nights walking from my kitchen sink to the front door and back as, unable to sleep, the only relief came from movement and it was too dark, cold and wet to venture out. The shooting pain, I can still almost feel it rising in my hip, radiating down my right leg all the way to the ankle and then making its return journey, startling and sharp, up and over my knee. Round and round in a never-ending arc of agony. It brought me to tears. Nauseous. Aching. Yet my body was simply trying to tell me that I really needed to slow down, rest, allow myself not to be superhuman, who somehow should be coping with all this with just a flick of my hair and a knowing comment about life bringing you lemons…

It forced me to finally ask for help. And at the end, it also taught me that my body can regenerate itself. This was such a powerful lesson. The consultant wanted me to have surgery but I was determined not to, I love to dive and was afraid surgery would stop me enjoying my deep dives, so I focused on healing through exercise. Amazingly, what eventually became obvious, was that for my body, being outside and exercising was by far the best cure – as proven to me when I did the Inca Trail a few months down the line. The holiday had been booked for months so I was determined not to miss it but I had a shaky start, and the first few days were marked by quite a lot of pain. Then the days of rhythmic walking, slowly and gently immersing myself in the spectacular landscape, seemed to lengthen my spine, gently opening up space between the vertebrae and easing the pressure on the discs until finally they felt free.

That was 14 years ago and I have found that writing my Embodied Life story has been like rediscovering an old and once-loved poem. A subtle yet powerful reminder of what is important and what makes me happy, an allowing, and a chance to refocus my daily practice so I am pursuing what truly works for me and my body.

It has reminded me of how far I have come, and how far I still have to go. It’s still hard to ask for help. It’s still hard to take the time to really look after myself – in a meaningful way that isn’t just a scented bath and candles (lovely though that is) but is about taking the time to exercise properly, taking joy in preparing a good nutritious meal for myself, getting enough sleep. In theory it’s easy, in practice it can be difficult to maintain, but having reminders like this really do help.

Allison Lindsay