I’m going to ask you a question.
Don’t think about it. Don’t research it. Simply notice the first answer that flashes through your mind.
What animal are you?
Tune into your body, your animal self. Feel into your toes and see if you can sense the beating of your heart.
Now ask your body, your physical self, which animal it’s most like.
No changing the answer! This is your body’s truth.
And this is mine.
Hold on! Before you scamper to the comments to write how I should love my body, before you diagnose me as having a self-esteem issue, let me tell you a story.
I’m lucky to be friends with my acupuncturist. I don’t know which came first, the friendship or the acupuncture, but at this point they’re completely entwined.
So I’m lying on the table, there’s a lavender pillow on my eyes, and the needles are doing their thing. We’re talking quietly and I’m bemoaning my constant need for tune-ups. I mutter my old riff: I wanted to be a sturdy Volvo, but instead I’m a Fiat. Constantly in the shop. Fix it again, Tony!
My friend replies, I’ve been thinking about my body lately. My animal-self. I’ve spent a lot of time working on loving my self, on self-image. But it’s all in my mind, it’s mental exercises. So I’ve been working on feeling my body, my animal self, and asking it what it needs.
We continue talking. Exploring being grateful to our kidneys, our liver. Acknowledging how much energy our bodies use in our work, holding space for people to heal.
And every time she says “my body, my animal self,” I think elephant.
Here’s the thing: it’s hard to hate an elephant.
It’s hard to be angry at an elephant for being, well, an elephant.
My choice of elephant was not my brain insulting my body, it was my body speaking its truth. And in researching it a bit it’s spot-on right down to the powerful sense of small to compensate for poor eyesight and bad peripheral vision (I have a partially paralyzed eye that doesn’t move outward so, like the elephant, I have to turn my whole head to see to the side).
Acknowledging my elephant self is actually comforting; it makes it easier for me to love me. Because an elephant simply is an elephant. It doesn’t need to be anything else.
And I love elephants for what they are. It never occurs to me to think of what they aren’t.
So what are you?
Not what animal do you like or what’s your totem. I want to know, when you reach down into your skin, what animal resonates there.
Share with me. And tell me how it feels to acknowledge your inner elephant… or jaguar… or mouse… or cricket. Tell me how it feels to live in your skin and love it for what it is.
Mythology and religion both tell us that names hold a good deal of power.
The ancient Jews considered God’s true name so compelling that a man who knew it would have power over all the creatures of the earth.
In some tribal cultures, people used their true names only with those closest to them; for daily life, they used a common name.
I remember the first time a doctor told me that I had “a pain without a name;” he then went on to recommend that I stop horseback riding to relieve the nameless pain.
At the time, this seemed absurd. Why would I give up something I love if it wasn’t causing damage in a way that could be named?
Twenty-five years later, I am seeing this from another angle.
Clients often come to me because they have visited many doctors and specialists who have essentially told them that they have pains without names.
My job is not to name; my job is to help people get more comfortable in their lives.
I use deductive reasoning to help people make changes that allow them to thrive. Things like you seem to get a stomach pain every time you eat broccoli. Why don’t you see what happens if you don’t eat broccoli? Or some people feel better if they take herbal bitters before a meal to get their digestive juices going. Want to give it a try? Or Is part of the reason you have trouble waking up in the morning because your dread the thought of going to work?
You get the picture. There are no tests, no names, only “this feels better, that feels worse.”
And yet, when it comes to making big changes, it’s often hard for people to do it without the naming.
For example, when someone comes off gluten for 2 weeks and feels sooooo much better, often they want to go to their doctor and get a celiac test. They tell me that they will happily give up gluten forever… if they have celiac. Simply feeling better is not considered enough of a motivation.
Naming works the other way, as well. Once something is named, it is claimed.
When I was eight I smooshed my ankle, then went off to overnight camp where I was made to run on it. By the time the camp nurse realized how bad it was, it was too late to cast.
As a teenager I was told I had arthritis in my ankle and that it would take about 5 surgeries to repair it. Not interested.
So for my adult life I have been (mostly!) careful with my “arthritic ankle.”
A few weeks back, we had the Family Olympics at the beach. I won a silver medal in the egg toss. It was my first medal in the family competitions and I was so overjoyed that I decided to play a game of beach soccer, despite an ankle that was already pissy from a few too many walks on the very slanted beach.
Fast forward three weeks: my ankle is still swollen. I did the stairs on my butt yesterday. This morning, I visited the sports medicine clinic to see how much damage I had done.
My ankle was x-rayed for the first time in 30 years. And, lo and behold, I don’t have arthritis!
I have limited range of motion due to two bone chips. Because of this, my tendons and ligaments have to work harder than they would in an uninjured ankle. And…
It’s totally rehab-able.
The bone chips won’t go away, but the ligaments and tendons can be stretched and coddled so they can perform their additional duties with grace.
I have so many stories around my “arthritic ankle.” It’s become part of my self-identity. How interesting to learn that it is not part of my physiology.
So, what’s in a name?
Shakespeare opted for empirical evidence when he told us That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.
Are you holding onto a disease name that doesn’t let you live your life fully? Are you refusing to make the changes that would make your life better because your disease has not been named?