“Rhythm is the keeper of health, and when there is something wrong with the health, the rhythm in some way or other has gone wrong, as when the tick of the clock gets out of rhythm, the clock goes too fast or too slow, and it does not give the proper time. ” HAZRAT INAYAT KHAN
A physician told me of a patient of hers who could no longer work because of fatigue and chronic back pain. One day this patient decided to watch her cat and do whatever the cat did. When he stretched, she stretched; when he rested, she rested; when he ate, she ate; and so it went. The cat showed her how to get in touch with her own instinctual rhythms. It was a profound lesson after which she was able to listen to her own body She developed a growing sensitivity to the language of her body and learned how to help it heal.
It’s difficult to hear the rhythms of our bodies; we so often forget and neglect it until a crisis occurs. Then, through a headache, a backache, an illness, we are forced to become conscious of our relationship to matter. How often we hear the voice of the body and then unconsciously silence it because it doesn’t fit in with our schedules and our goals.
The body speaks to us in hints, intuition, and symbols. The language is different for every individual. Some hear the body through movement in dance, gardening, walking, carpentry or in silence. This is the song of the feminine, and it call us through matter; we hear it in our bodies. Kwaku Daddy explains that in the Ghanaian tradition, the patron saint of rhythm is also the patron saint of healing. The song of the feminine wants to be heard, and we can respond to her calls by listening and attuning to our own deepest body rhythms. These nourish and heal us.
It has, however, become increasingly difficult to accept and love our own bodies just as they are; cultural models of perfection exclude most of the population. Yet the feminine principle embraces us in our wholeness; without it we are unable to hear our own rhythms.
A client wanted to stop eating sugar because it gave her emotional swings and clouded her thinking. I suggested that instead of trying to stop eating sugar, that she try to become more aware of her body. Gradually, she would grow more sensitive and the effects of sugar would become more disagreeable to her. The desire for sugar would naturally decline. She looked at me blankly. “How do you feel your body?” she asked.
As I reflected on how I had begun to learn to listen to my body, I saw that it had not been a conscious act of waking up one morning and saying, “Now I am going to be aware of my body. Now I am going to listen to my inner rhythms.” Instead, my ability to listen had arisen from my recognition of my relationship to nature.
Years ago I had read that it was a tradition among some California Native Americans to go into the redwood forests when they needed strength. Standing with their backs against a tree they would remain there until they were recharged. I remembered this brief description the day I took my husband to a hospital emergency room and watched him struggle for his life with asthma.
After leaving Stephen in the hospital, I returned home, drained of hope, and exhausted. I went to the redwoods nearby and leaned against one of the trees. Feeling soothed and calmed, I remained in this position with my eyes closed for several minutes. As I moved away from the tree, ready to go home, I noticed that my palms tingled. At about six inches from the tree, the tingling intensified, but any further away it weakened. I repeated this motion many times to convince myself that I wasn’t imagining that I could feel what the Chinese refer to as chi. In Japan they call it ki and in India, prana; we know it as life force.
This glimpse into the unseen, which for me had previously been the unreal, gave me great comfort. I was no longer alone. I knew that I was held, a single thread within the intricate lacework connecting all living things. Before this awareness, I would have only entered into the darkness of matter, seen only the pain that is held in the body. But now I had experienced in my body the joy that is hidden in matter. It was sage for me to listen to my own rhythms.
We have rhythms upon rhythms, layered in a unique way that gives us the particular tone of ourlife. There are rhythmic systems within the body, in circulation, digestion, respiration and elimination. There are rhythms of daily life, weekly rhythms, yearly rhythms and the much larger dimensions of the rhythms of a lifetime.
Our daughter Zoe was led to her own rhythms through a dream. She had decided to become a strict vegetarian. Her classmates had been discussing and exploring their relationships to food, and many had already chosen to eat a vegetarian diet. After nearly a month of eating this way, Zoe became weak. She didn’t understand why she was so tired. Then one night, she had the following dream. “I am standing in the garden. A newspaper article appears in my hands. It says, “Zoe should not be a vegetarian now.”
The next day she told me the dream. She knew there was wisdom for her in the dream, and now felt free to eat what she instinctively felt like eating; she regained her strength as she returned to her own natural rhythm. The dream did not tell her she should never be a vegetarian, but that it was important, now to be flexible in her relationship to food. Her fatigue wasn’t so much because of the change of diet, but because of the effect on her body and mind of being too rigid with her food. I had been strict with her diet when she was very young, so it was particularly important for her to break away from this pattern and trust her own intuition and instinct rather than a fixed concept in her mind.
While there are many ways to uncover our rhythms, we may stumble around in the adventure of discovering ourselves. Our conditioning and our habits can interfere with our ability to listen. I went through a long period of exhaustion when I tried to finish a work project. I pushed myself, working long hours without breaks, and my body suffered. One day, even my mind seemed to fold under pressure. I stopped writing and took a walk.
When I was halfway up a hill, a red-tailed hawk landed on a telephone wire only ten feet away. We stared at each other. Intuitively I knew I should ask the hawk what I was doing wrong. The hawk didn’t blink at my questions; he held my gaze. And then he flew away. A clear message resounded in my mind; “When you fly, you fly. When you rest, you rest.” My rhythms of working and resting were confused. I hadn’t fully engaged in my work, not did I ever fully rest without worrying about deadlines. It took me nearly a year of fatigue and backache to figure this one out. I was draining my energy by constantly overriding my own rhythms with a self-imposed schedule.
Following the hawk’s wisdom, I changed my work rhythm, my energy returned, and the backache faded away. Now when I experience back pain, I know I’ve slipped into old patterns. When we watch for clues, the clues are attracted to our watching; it’s mysterious how we discover what we need. It almost seems as if our rhythms want us just as much as we want them.