Inflammation and mind/body connection

The humble tomato and myself are not friends.

I always suspected that I didn’t get along great with tomato based meals, but hadn’t had one in quite some time…until last night.

I had an especially nice spaghetti bolognaise using a recipe I found online. I have to say, I can’t remember ever enjoying it more.

A few hours later I was in bed when the restless legs started. I couldn’t keep them still. I was trying to meditate to a mantra as I often do before bed but the tingling and clawing sensations in my lower legs got so bad I was thrashing around for ages trying to get comfortable,

Eventually they did calm down and I was able to sleep. I woke up in the night with a blocked up nose. I didn’t think too much of it in my sleepy state, but when I woke in the morning and the sneezing became uncontrollable, I realised it was part of the inflammatory response. Sure enough, my legs ached painfully, my heart pounded, and I felt generally weak and unwell.

As I tried to begin my day despite feeling dreadful, I became aware of a horrible feeling of anxiety flooding my system – that fight-or-flight that so many of us are familiar with. It wasn’t the result of feeling bad, as I often feel bad, it was part and parcel of the inflammatory response. I had an intense need to cry, so I did for a time, even though I knew it was due to the tomatoes and that staying away from them for so long and then re-introducing a meal heavy in them had freaked my system out and made me feel physically and mentally unwell.

Tomatoes – nightshades – are high in natural toxins – and for so many people they worsen existing conditions. That doesn’t mean they’re not good foods with many health benefits because they are of course. But for those of us with auto-immune or other long term conditions, they can exacerbate symptoms dreadfully. Potatoes are also nightshades and I do have to be careful with those, but they don’t produce such an extreme reaction. Chilli peppers are another and I tend to avoid those, not being a fan of spicy foods generally.

It was a lesson for me not only in knowing I must never eat tomatoes if I want to avoid unnecessary inflammation, but in observing my physical and mental symptoms as the witness rather than getting caught up in identifying with them. I can see my body doing its thing and it’s incredibly frustrating and annoying, but that’s all it is. I’m not actually anxious, my body is on the attack due to the tomatoes. It feels threatened so of course it’s producing adrenaline.

Knowing all this means I can accept and let it go rather than adding another layer of suffering and mind-identification to the whole experience. And I can grow more and more knowledgeable about what to put into my body.

Being the awareness that holds it all

Yesterday was not a good day. Some heavy emotions had hold of me and all I could do was let them have their way. Sometimes distraction works but this time it didn’t, and I felt intuitively that I needed to be with what was happening, that it was not an episode of depression that I could pull myself out of with some uplifting words or music. It was grief determined to be acknowledged and heard.

The challenge was letting the emotions be without identifying with them. I was tempted to revert to familiar narratives such as ‘my life is pointless’ ‘my opinion isn’t worth much’ and ‘this is all hopeless.’ They took me further into the cycle of pain until I realised what was happening and re-centred myself in the present moment. Because the key to healing is being fully with what is happening, accepting and being compassionate towards it, but not losing oneself in it.

I don’t reject those narratives because I understand why I’m experiencing them, I just don’t lose myself in them. My wounded inner child felt pointless, worthless and hopeless for many years. Unfortunately, she has had many reasons to feel like that. She has a voice that demands to be heard. She is part of me, but I am not her. This means I can learn to integrate her within me as I offer myself a loving space; embracing everything and rejecting nothing. Eckhart Tolle calls this the awareness or presence but it may just as well be seen as the Divine within, the Higher Self, or the Soul.

Emotions are energy that is moving through us for a reason – to make us aware, to wake us up, to transform us. They are meant to be felt and embraced as the messengers they are. But they are not who WE are. Like our thoughts, they exist for a time, then they move on. My challenge is to let them be without losing myself in the story around them and believing the story again. It FELT true once, but that doesn’t make it true then or now. Anchoring myself in the present, in my body, I can feel that truth and become the awareness that holds all of it.

In the moment you have a choice

When your childhood wounds seem to have you in a tight grip, squeezing the air out of your lungs, closing their fingers around your heart, desperate for another temporary release from a lifetime of pain, you have a choice.

When you can stop, feel the longing, the anger, the desperate need to escape from this pain into what you think you need, or what some part of you thinks it needs, you have a choice.

Even when you feel the tightness, the agony, and know you have a choice, but you act out anyway, you have a choice.

In awareness there is always choice. Even when the desire pulls you this way or that, you remain aware, the compassionate witness, understanding that there is space between the ‘you’ that you think you are who is gripped by a need for something out there to relieve fear and feel safe, and the witness which is ever present, eternal and loving.

The witness, the soul, higher self, Divine spark or whatever else we may call it, does not need to judge the child who is consumed by painful emotions and desires. The child is simply reaching for whatever seems to provide the relief from pain and the security it needs. Until the child learns there is another way, the witness can love the child – not the behaviour, but the child – and let the child know that love is found here, in this moment.

Even when the child does not believe you, or refuses to listen, maybe because the messages from the past are too entrenched, the fear too great, the desires too tantalising, and the witness totally disappears, all is not lost because the witness has not really gone away, it is always there; the sky within which everything else passes. And once again, there is a choice.

You can choose to reach out to the higher power to which all of us are connected, to pray, ask for guidance, ask for the courage to choose love.

In the moment, you have a choice.