It is nearly 2020, so I’ll be writing up my annual 2019 in Review soon, but before I do, I wanted to share some thoughts about “intuition”.
I’ve been reading this book my dear friend Alex sent to me. It’s called “The Impossible Will Take a Little While”, and it is one of those books that turns out to be just what I needed just when I needed it. In an essay entitled “The Optimism of Uncertainty”, Howard Zinn writes: “Ordinary people can be intimidated for a time, can be fooled for a time, but they have a down-deep common sense, and sooner or later they find a way to challenge the power that oppresses them.”
That’s exactly it, I thought, down-deep common sense. Eureka!
In 2015, I graduated from college and started working at a medical-tech company in Wisconsin. I was concurrently going through a tough break-up, coming to terms with an ex who it turns out was a serial abuser, and adjusting to the realities of “the real world”. I have always had a sensitive stomach, but in the months after graduation, I started to have chronic nausea. I would go out with friends and find myself throwing up in the bathroom halfway through the meal. I did my best to ignore my symptoms. This resulted in a two-week stretch where I threw up every single day.
I finally quit the job that I hated not able to face one more day in a sealed room, talking to no one, openly crying in the hallways.
Our bodies are incredible. Our bodies are incredibly smart, and as it turns out, our bodies are telling us things all the time. We’re all aware of this on some level. When we touch a hot stove, our nerves say “Ouch, hot!” When we are hungry, our stomachs say “Feed me.” But I believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s like someone was constantly talking to me in a calm and steady voice, but I only heard it when it got fed up and started screaming.
In “Women Who Run With the Wolves” Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about the intuition that women carry in their bodies, that down-deep common sense. This is what people talk about when they talk about “women’s intuition” – an attunement with seasons, with life and death, the physical realities of periods and pregnancy and childbirth.
Without diminishing this power in any way, I argue that intuition extends to all human beings. As a non-binary person in particular, I know that this intuition is not exclusive to women, although perhaps women have more experience listening and responding to it. This ability, this skill I think would perhaps be more accurate, has long been dismissed as unimportant. This results in both the continued oppression of women and violence in men. What a tragic impotence to be unable to listen to your body, to fear that doing so – even to say something like “My body is telling me this” or “I was listening to my body” – will open you to ridicule. This is yet another bar in the cage of masculinity.
But all bodies, men’s, women’s and all those between/ around/ outside are wonderfully made. Our brains house billions of neuronal connections, and only a small portion of that is used for conscious thought. Our stomachs – our bodies’ “little brains” – expand and contract and digest and respond with hormones and transmitters. Our bones are constantly fracturing and regrowing. Our hearts beat faster and slower with the levels of adrenaline. All of this goes on at all times and our body is aware of it, records it, reports it back to us in a steady stream. We just need to listen.
When the peach of hate was elected in 2016, my body reacted instantly. I was depressed, nauseous, tired all the time. I know I’m not alone in this reaction. But my body also fought back. It kept me awake to write, it asked me to feed it healthy nourishing food, to rest when I was tired, to seek out community and support. Our bodies teach us how to revolt. Our bodies teach us how to be revolutionary.
Our bodies are social: they need eight meaningful touches a day. If we listen, we will seek community, we will organize, we will activate.
Our bodies are environmentalists: we need connection with the natural world, clean air, to look at trees and grass, to listen to birds.
Our bodies are dancers: the aches and pains tell us how to move, how not to move, that movement is good.
Our bodies are therapists: when I dream at night, I dream the answers that I could never reach in waking life. When I meet a new person, engage in a new relationship, my body sends me signals – do I feel tense? Do I feel comfortable?
This down-deep common sense is powerful. As Howard Zinn said it leads us to cast off our oppressors, guides us through the traps and pitfalls of the modern world. Our bodies tell us what research decades in the future will confirm, that we need more in-person connection and less technological distraction. We need hope and optimism not hatred. We need people in power who can listen to the body of the people.
This isn’t a conservative or liberal or male or female or any sort of categorical argument. It’s just a human concern.
Listen to your body, it is the result of millennia of evolution. It has been learning and changing since the beginning of life on Earth. It knows a hell of a lot.