I was feeling a bit whoozy when I made it back home to Bowen Island. I’d just had a dental procedure dealing with an abscess. A bit messy but I thought I handled it pretty well considering my history of nasty dental experiences. I seemed to be doing well enough that I decided to fit in a couple of errands before I headed for the ferry, and for the massage I had scheduled at the end of a very full day. Nothing I couldn’t handle, I told myself.
So when the massage therapist asked me that inevitable question about how I was doing, my response was pretty positive. I thought I was doing pretty darn good. And so the session began.
An hour later, my confident persona was shaken. My mouth ached, I was nauseous and my body felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I was back in my body, and the truth of its experience.
An interesting study by Cioffi and Holloway on the delayed costs of suppressed pain nicely illustrates how this works. Participants in the study were asked to put their hands in ice water. While one group paid attention to the discomfort, another group were asked to suppress their awareness of the ice water. Contrary to what you might think, after taking their hands out of the water, those who paid attention to the discomfort had the most rapid recovery from the pain and while those who suppressed the pain reported a longer time for the pain to go away.
In a biological illustration of “holding onto the past”, our nervous system is congested with the message of past experience and is not as able to process what is happening in this moment. As I went into my massage appointment, I may have felt that I was coping well but my only accomplishment had been to suppress my body’s reaction to the dental experience. As the massage therapist’s expert touch brought deeper sensory awareness to my nervous system, it began to thaw, and I felt the truth of what was really there.
When we lose the ability to be present to our experience in the moment we lose contact with our emerging story, and its essential contribution to community. This is the greater price we pay for suppressing body awareness, and one that may be particularly applicable to the times we live in – our ability to contribute more fully to a true democracy as embodied beings. When we can hear our body’s experience in the moment, we not only have a greater capacity to speak to our particular truth, but in that heightened capacity for body based presence, we can more fully hear the contributions of those around us.