How do I know if I can trust my body’s messages?
When I am in a situation where I am being challenged to try something new or challenging, my body is usually screaming no. I am a cautious type, especially when it comes to physical actions, and I quickly decide that it is best if I stay safe.
What is the result of this attitude of mine?
I limit myself to situations that are familiar. I miss out on new adventures that may actually be enjoyable and ones that I am able to handle, if only I gave them a try. I resort to the default of “risk management” and I often err on the side of too much caution.
I don’t even know what I am missing when I do this. I hear others gleefully describe the fun they had on the white water rafting trip or the zip line adventure. I see photos of friends parasailing or cycling on wooded, winding trails with blind corners and steep hills. Rather than seeing their excitement, I imagine all the potential problems I would face if I let go of my cautious behaviour. I tell myself I am okay with staying safe and secure.
Recently I have been wondering about my attitude to “danger.” Am I too quick to back off from a new activity? What if I would question my body’s message to me and take a look at some other options? Can I always believe what my body’s messages are?
A book came into my life this past month. Run Toward Danger by Sarah Polley is a memoir that impacted me deeply. The title intrigued me, and I was struck by the paradox it offered as I kept reading. The concept of facing what I am afraid of and thereby opening the door to transformation and healing was presented in a vivid and practical way. The author is vulnerable and authentic as she shares how she was healed after suffering for four years after a concussion. She met a well-respected physician who advised her to move into situations that exacerbated her symptoms (anxiety, headaches, and blurred vision). Each time she did this, she was able to tolerate more stimulus and could integrate into daily life with her family and work colleagues. She was supported by her health care professionals along the way and moved through to complete health.
I was struck by the story she told. Was this truly possible? It was a complete turnaround from my usual approach to life and I kept wondering…
Today I went for a bike ride with my husband. I am becoming more at ease on my new electric bike, and I enjoy the beauty of riding along the flat, open dyke trails with an uninterrupted view ahead. At times, my husband takes the wooded trails along the river. They are narrow and winding and have blind corners that may hide oncoming cyclists or walkers. I am still unsteady on my bike when passing another cyclist on a narrow trail, and I have continued to say no to joining him on these trails.
I am here to celebrate what I chose to do today.
He invited me to join him on the winding trails and I said yes. I said I would go for a short distance and then probably head up to the safety of the dyke trail. Well, I ended up cycling the entire distance he did on the winding, wooded, and unpredictable trails. I took my time and managed to pass others safely.
What really happened?
I went toward what I perceived as danger. I noticed my instinct to “stay safe,” and I chose to act differently than I usually did. I was conscious of possible challenges and kept alert and aware as I cycled along the new trails. I started smiling as I realized how much fun it was to climb a hill and cross a wooden bridge and then coast down into more beauty in the forest. I was training my brain to view my abilities in a different light, and I saw myself as courageous and capable.
I saw the river flowing beside us and smelled the pink flowers on the butterfly bushes. I rode past tall trees and enjoyed the coolness of the forest. I would have missed all of this if I had not faced my fear and told myself “I can do this.”
Where else in life do I limit myself? I think about times when I am afraid to set boundaries in case I hurt someone’s feelings. I am a woman who likes to please others, and it feels dangerous to say no. When I speak up for what I want, I am embedding new patterns in my brain and each time it gets easier.
Facing my fear and realizing I can overcome my limits has been a lifetime journey for me. There are times when I will say no to an invitation. I don’t know that I will ever go parasailing! There is nothing wrong with knowing my limits, as long as I make a conscious choice.
What keeps you from enjoying your life fully? Are you ready to face a fear you may have and change your usual way of being? I encourage you to run toward what you may wish to avoid and be prepared to celebrate the positive results. I am glad I am choosing this path.