you're more than just a heart and a mind
during a retreat weekend in my chaplaincy program, i was being chaplained by a fellow participant (meaning actively listened to and prompted with deepening questions regarding something on my heart/mind), and something that the chaplain asked, though it was so simple, profoundly changed the way i "check in", both with myself and with those i serve.
"i'm curious," she asked gently, leaning in a bit, "when you talk about this, where does the feeling sit in your body?"
up until that point in the conversation, i had been almost entirely living in my mind in order to tell a story and in my heart to share the emotion linked to the story. my body, i realized had been completely left behind.
"it's a weight on my solar plexus," i noticed, "and it's a tingling heat that creeps up the muscles of my neck, behind my ears, and up the back of my head".
"would it be ok if we take a minute or two of silence," she asked, "to honor the signals from your body, for you to breathe into them, and to see if they ease a bit. not to negate them or run from them, but to say 'i see you, thank you, and can i soften that'?" tuning into them, saying hi, and breathing ease into those feelings not only gave my body greater ease--it also translated to a little more mental and emotional ease.
it was SUCH as strong set of physical feelings, i reflected. how on earth had i not noticed that before? i likely hadn't noticed it because on so many levels, we're taught to ignore our bodies, to hide, to take up less space. some of us more than others. we're also often running at such a breakneck pace through our days that we plow right over those signals instead of taking a pause to check in.
case in point: when was the last time you were in a social or work situation when someone asked for a moment of silence to breathe, check-in, assess, or digest something? it happens all the time in chaplaincy work, and in my training, at first, it felt REALLY weird. now it feels crucial. it feels like paying attention to a whole slew of body systems working hard to provide me with important information.
and it makes so much sense. it's where we get the term "gut" feelings. it's the origination point of intuition, a much-maligned and unquantifiable system of knowing that ISN'T mystical or metaphysical and IS a direct result of your subconscious brain processing sensory input in a way inaccessible to our rational minds. it's your vagus (latin for "wandering") nerve so aptly named for the amazing distance it covers in you body, delivering crucial data to the computer that is you (more on that in another post).
“neuroscientists call this system the wandering nerve or our vagus nerve; a more apt name might be our soul nerve. the soul nerve is connected directly to a part of our brain that doesn't use cognition on reasoning as its primary tool for navigating the world” resmaa menakem, my grandmother's hands
strategy #1: just notice your body
here's the assignment: the next time you experience something incredibly intense or emotional, try to remember to ask yourself "how does this feel in my body?", "where does this sit?", or "where am i holding tension when i think about this?"
notice. breathe. ask. notice. soften. repeat. what is your soul nerve trying to tell you?
strategy #2: invite other people to notice theirs
here's the assignment: the next time you're holding space for a friend or loved one who seems very worked up or like they're experiencing something very emotionally charged, simply offer something like, "that's a lot, friend. hey, if you don't mind sharing, where are you feeling that in your body right now?" you'll get a sense pretty quickly about whether or not they'd like to engage in that kind of work. if someone isn't comfortable or interested, don't press it. if they dive in, maybe you can help them experiment with deeper noticing or if appropriate, softening through slow breath.
for some people, the body is not a safe or inviting territory. if this is you, i highly recommend being gentle with yourself when checking in. simply noticing may be all that can happen, and adjusting may be off the table at first. that is totally fine. you're in charge.
when it comes to other people, tread even more lightly, and only continue the invitation if the person seems interested by the prospect. also be aware, if you're invited to help someone identify and soften stuck or tense body parts, that you need to be VERY thoughtful with your word choices and avoid words that can be triggers for people with histories of abuse. for instance, i never ever, ever ask midwifery or chaplaincy clients to "relax".
for this second invitation to put a little chaplaincy in your step, i invite you to take a breath, and to step boldly back into your body. your body is magic, and it has SO much to tell you. all you have to do is listen.
be well, keep growing, keep going.
abby hall luca
the hearth chaplain