I know it sounds weird right? I’m on holiday in the beautiful island of Mauritius. Sunny weather, nice breeze, warm temperatures and a beautiful beach, but for several days at the beginning of the holiday, I was grumpy!
Now to those of you who know me, that might not come as a complete surprise. The grump monster is known to appear from time to time.
But if ever there was an example of how our day to day experience are not created by circumstances, then this was it. How could I be in this beautiful, idyllic setting and yet not be feeling relaxed and tranquil?
I kind of knew that on some level I was pretty busy-minded, but it didn’t really do anything to my grumpiness to know this. I was as I was.
Until I wasn’t.
The next morning I woke up and started working on my website. I had a degree of guilt floating around since I was on holiday and I ‘should’ be relaxing, but I felt free and energised doing the work. Relaxed even. I completed a new web page and did some client calls, and by the end of it all I felt better than I had felt all holiday.
In fact, as the afternoon drew to a close, my wife Linda walked in to our room and said: “I really want to do some work”, and I joked with her: “Doing some work was the best rest I’ve had all holiday”!
It was a slightly tongue in cheek comment, but then I realised how much sense it made when a client I am working with around health concerns, asked me what my thinking was about ’self-care’, and whether it was important to schedule time out to let our body heal and rejuvenate.
When they asked me, my experience of being on holiday came flooding back to me. I found myself telling her about how I had ‘made up’ that my trip away was about relaxation and not doing too much work. It was about hanging out with my wife and kids and going in a swimming pool. To be fair I have done some of those things, and for the most part really had an enjoyable experience of doing them. But, those things weren’t in themselves inherently relaxing as I found out that day when I was sitting by the ocean on the first day of my holiday, grump monster in residence.
The truth of it is, I am happy to be away in this beautiful place, but I am lost in an illusion if I think that rest and relaxation is something that I ‘do’.
How? Well, that day I was grumpy, my made up idea of what I need to do to rest was in fact in conflict with what I actually wanted to do. I actually wanted to work that day, but I was too caught up in my idea that this was ‘a vacation’ and that I needed to shut down to ‘rest’.
In fact the day that I was ’trying to rest’ by the ocean, was probably the most draining day I had all holiday! Going round and round in my head – trying to adhere to my ideas for ‘self-care’. I know from my own healing journey and my work in health coaching, how being in that place of chronic resistance can actually have a negative physiological effect on the body. Rather than promote a space for healing it stimulates our fight/flight response, and the body goes into the ‘fight the tiger’ mode. That space is actually the opposite of ‘rest and digest’. It is not conducive to healing. It is actually conducive to tension, inflammation and oxidative stress.
It was a surprise to see that sometimes I can still get caught up in such traps because it was seeing that there is a greater intelligence behind life; something that is already at work managing my body, my energy and my health (in fact my life in general) that was at the core of my own healing journey. That intelligence builds galaxies. Am I really so arrogant as to think that I can do a better job with my thinking about what I should be doing to rest? Is it a surprise that we get worn out fighting that intelligence?
Whilst trying to manage my body has pretty much disappeared from my day to day life, seeing that it had sneaked back in on my holiday, because I thought I needed to give my body a break, was actually quite amusing! Apparently I am still quite human! It turns out that I didn’t need to give it a physical break. I needed a break from ‘John’ and all his supposedly wonderful ideas of what he thinks he needs to do to be okay. But for all those ideas, I am okay. The more I can see that, the more that deeper intelligence is able to manage my body really well, even when I have stuff to do. As one of my clients put it to me this week – a former ME sufferer so weakened by his condition that when I first met him he had to get around in a wheelchair:
“I came to see that it’s not about pushing through symptoms, more that it was my thinking about activity, not the activity itself, which was perpetuating a cycle that was causing them”. (Tom, 17 year ME sufferer)
Seeing through this has literally changed his life. Here is someone who, like me, had spent years trying to care for his body to make it heal, taking medicines and supplements and trying every treatment out there and yet constantly finding his recovery elusive. Yet since having this insight, his body has begun to heal and he is now breaking free of his wheelchair as he gets stronger and stronger – even walking and gardening! So much of his sickness was the result of an innocent and constant fight against that deeper intelligence and getting lost in his ideas of what he needed to do to look after or ‘fix’ himself.
I’ve seen this happen with other ailments too – chronic lyme, fibromyalgia, migraines, anxiety, depression, psoriasis and food intolerances. I’ve even worked with one client with primary autoimmune disorder who had to have regular infusions to bolster her immune system. One of her immune markers that couldn’t be infused, actually started to increase for the first time in 28 years, once she started to settle down and see that deeper intelligence at work behind the scenes!
How often do we get caught up in the trap of ’trying to be well’ and how much is it actually helping us to ‘be well’? In a world where we are being told that there are 10 million things that we have to do to ‘look after ourselves’, is it really any wonder that so many of us end up in constant resistance to ourselves and end up actually sick?
I am not denying that sometimes it might be helpful to take a break, do more exercise, eat more broccoli, take medicines and supplements and avoid eating junk food. But we are so much more resilient than we think, and I see time and time again how my ideas and thinking about what constitutes health, parenting, work, success and self care e.t.c can actually place me in resistance to what feels right in the moment, and how that can literally take me away from just knowing, right now, that I am always okay. It seems to me that looking towards seeing that truth about our wellbeing, and noticing how it has nothing to do with what we do can actually be the best form of Self care. The by-product of seeing more of our in-built wellbeing is that it takes the responsibility for caring for bodies away from ourselves and our noisy concepts, and opens us up to a space of healing and a clarity of mind. It’s a place where a deeper Self and a natural intelligence is already functioning. That Self serves as a much more robust foundation for care because it is inherently programmed and knows what to do to manage our bodies and immune systems. It also bring us fresh thinking, insight and creativity that can help us to do better in our lives. It’s not in opposition to us taking a supplement, medication or eating more broccoli. But the space we are moved to do those things from is totally different. It’s one of already seeing our wholeness and the intelligence behind the system. In my experience, it turns out that quite often just seeing more of that can actually be all of what most of us need to heal so many of our ailments.