Doctors have been telling us for decades that stress causes disease. But despite my relatively stress-free life, for the past few years, I’ve suffered from irritable bowel syndrome.
I honestly don’t know how long I’ve had this problem, but it became bad enough to notice after we came back from our South America trip in the Fall of 2011. Once I discovered that having diarrhea 3 times per week wasn’t normal, I went to doctors who ran numerous tests, but found nothing wrong with me. They prescribed some different types of anti-parasite medication just in case, which didn’t help. In the end, with no recognizable physical abnormalities, I was diagnosed with this syndrome, a common “mindbody disorder” where the brain and gut struggle to communicate properly for an unknown reason.
While this syndrome wasn’t debilitating, it was inconvenient and sometimes painful, and I wanted to understand the cause. Some sufferers have found relief through a diet change, so I tracked everything I ate for two years. Over time, I could find no correlation with what I was eating and the problems I was having. Usually, spicy and greasy food caused symptoms, but not always. And other times, even a healthy salad would cause me pain. I tried different food combinations, added more protein and soluble fibers, drank more milk. Later, I went vegetarian and removed all dairy and wheat from my diet. Nothing helped permanently.
I also tried a self-hypnosis course specifically for healing IBS. This did reduce my symptoms to about once every week or two, but it didn’t heal it completely. Clearly, there were psychological factors at play. I wondered what effect my emotions could be having on my IBS, but with a fairly stress-free life, I couldn’t think of any negative emotions that would be affecting it. Turns out I had a lot to discover.
“He who has so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition will waste his life in fruitless efforts.” — Samuel Johnson
Last November, a friend told me about a book called The Mindbody Prescription by Dr. John Sarno, M.D., and how he’s used it to heal his carpal tunnel, and others have used it for migraines, back pain, and much more. The premise is that many muscular-skeletal issues are caused by repressed emotions, which remain trapped in the body and surface as physical symptoms or disorders. Because the cause of these issues is emotional instead of physical, many of these problems can be treated successfully without medication, physical therapy, or surgery, which are often costly and can have poor side effects. I was somewhat skeptical, but interested to hear how that might work.
After reading the book, I was convinced that emotions do have an effect on the body, but was still unsure to what degree, or how to effectively “release” those emotions to heal myself. My IBS also persisted. But the book gave me enough motivation to start tracking my emotional state, especially how I felt around the time I experienced IBS symptoms, and I did start to notice some correlation. I also started becoming more aware of how I was feeling and what I might be suppressing.
However, the biggest changes began when I discovered the book The Presence Process by Michael Brown, which has guided me to successfully integrate many charged emotions from my past that I had suppressed, while also getting me in the habit of 30 minutes of daily meditation. As I go throughout my day and am triggered by various events, I continue to discover more emotions to integrate, and find myself more present in the moment to deal with them appropriately. I’m still only on week 7 of the 10 week course, but so far it has proved life changing.
This process has also been helped along, I’m sure, by participating in several breathing workshops, qigong practice, and the study of my dreams which I’ve been recording nightly for the past several years in an attempt to understand the subconscious mind. I’ve been interested in these topics since long before I was diagnosed with IBS, and I may discuss them more in future posts.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had many strong emotional experiences in the past few weeks, most of them resulting in a new sense of ease, lightness, and clarity. I have many stories to tell about the different emotions that have been released, or integrated, and the different ways this has occurred for me. For now, I will just share one of these experiences below.
Mid-December, I got invited to do an interview with Dean Dwyer for his Lifestyle Hacking Show. At the time, I felt like I just wanted to focus on figuring myself out, and didn’t want the distraction of an interview. It wouldn’t necessarily help my business. I didn’t need any more popularity. It might bring me consulting clients, but I wasn’t excited about consulting anyway. If I did the interview, it would only be to boost my ego, and I didn’t see the value in that. I also wasn’t confident that I had much of value to say, as I’m realizing how little I know both about business and life. So I told him no, but that he could contact me again in a few weeks to see where I’m at.
Mid-January, after a month of practice with the Presence Process, I was contacted by Tim Ferriss’ assistant asking if he can republish my blog post on How I Spend My Time Now as a guest post on his 4-hour Workweek blog. I hesitated. I let the email sit in my inbox for three days as I pondered the implications and delved into the recesses of my soul to understand why I was hesitating and what I wanted. I got lost in thoughts about how the post is over two years old and I spend my time differently now, so it wouldn’t really be authentic. And last time he wrote about my business, my inbox got flooded with emails from people asking how I did it. I didn’t want more popularity, more emails to answer, or to be held up as someone who has “made it” or as an example to follow. In the past I did, sure. My Mormon upbringing taught me that I know what’s right and how to live, and it was my job to let the rest of the world know. I’m still shedding that attitude, but more than ever I feel content to let people live their own lives because I don’t know what is best for them. I was also aware that some people feel resentful when they hear I only work 5 hours per week or employ a personal chef, and I didn’t want more of that resentment directed toward me. I was afraid of becoming famous, because of what people might say or do to take away my peace.
And the next day, I was contacted by Dean again about the interview, but with a twist. He let me know that he was more interested in hearing about my inner journey than my business success. And I was certainly more interested in talking about that. Still, as I paid attention to how I felt about these requests, I felt afraid.
But rather than resisting the fear, avoiding it, or stuffing it down, I allowed myself to feel it fully, even embrace it. And slowly, I began to see it for what it was — just an emotion, amplified by the mental stories I was telling myself about some fictional future. Through meditation, writing, and talking with Jen, I discovered that what I was most afraid of was people judging me. I was afraid of stumbling over my words, saying something I’d regret, and others thinking poorly of me. I also became aware of the judgments I was directing toward myself, and my own feelings of inadequacy. I felt like I needed to put on a “show” to impress people, to “help” them, or to hide my faults, when really, I just needed to accept myself for who I was, and be myself completely, without worrying how others would respond. And this interview and guest post would be a chance for me to practice. I could be myself more fully, see myself more clearly, and grow even more. Maybe I would embarrass myself. Maybe people wouldn’t like me. Maybe I wouldn’t have anything useful to say. But it would all be okay, and I can learn from whatever happens. I just needed to let go and be myself. I cried and felt relieved.
The next day, I wrote both Dean and Tim back saying I’d go ahead with the interview and guest post. Doing so brought me a wonderful feeling of lightness and aliveness, as if I’d been trying to push a beach ball underwater for years, and finally let it go. Also, while writing Tim back, it began to rain. I paused to step outside and enjoy the downpour and thunder and to feel the cool breeze on my skin. After a few deep breaths, I had an urge to go stand naked in the rain and be drenched by it. So, throwing all self-consciousness aside, I did it! And it felt amazing! I not only stood. I danced and laughed and smiled! :) And I felt deep in my heart that it’s okay to be me! And I love myself!
A few days later, after another powerful release, I had a dream rich with personal symbolism that confirmed to me I’m on the right path.
A family took an international trip together and had crazy fun. They told their friends they’d do all sorts of things their friends didn’t believe they’d do, but they did. There was a scene when they were trying on beautiful dresses and traditional clothes of the Tsang Dao region. The dresses were gorgeous! Long and flowing. One of the taller guys even wanted to try it on for fun and he looked good from the back. :) The traditional dresses took a long time to put on but looked beautiful too in a different way.
After the trip, this family came back to a chapel full of their family and friends. (It’s like they arrived just in time and it had been on the spur of the moment — they were just going with the flow.) They brought shopping carts full of stuff. Their clothes were wild, with very bright colors. Two had gotten married while traveling and they chose something really eccentric for wedding clothes. Colorful and unique and tight, with flowing streamers. They walked to the front of the chapel completely confident and at ease. On the way to the front, some old guy in the congregation almost teasingly poured a little water on their young boy’s head (maybe 8 years old) as he walked, but the boy didn’t seem to notice at all. At the front, the family was completely cool and happy and the boy’s smile was so big and genuine.
Someone wasn’t sure what to do next and then we remembered “Moon River” so I sang it (it was as if I was with or a part of this family now). I thought about singing my own version some day and changing the words. I do like “…off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see.” I couldn’t help but cry tears of joy through most of the song.
Then the scene changed and I was watching hip hop dances by Johnny Dep and his team who are supposed to be the best in the world. Some beautiful girls were dancing too. It was enjoyable to watch. Others were watching with me but then it was just me. Aysia was being held by one the girls. They were all doing a great job. The music might have still been Moon River but hip hopped up.
In this dream, the family (representing me) is completely comfortable being themselves and following their hearts, even when they come back into the world surrounded by those who would normally judge them (represented by the chapel). Their clothes represent their individuality and the way they present themselves to the world. The water poured on the 8-year-old boy’s head could represent a baptism, or rebirth, and also shows that he (possibly my child self) is unfazed by teasing and judgment, and is happy to the core, just as he is. The dream could indicate that I have released judgment of myself, am living fully and abundantly, and am comfortable sharing my insights and and joys. How others respond is irrelevant. I’m just being me. Moon River becomes an anthem for the celebration of being alive and being myself.
So, have these experiences (along with many others just as powerful that I haven’t written about) affected my IBS? From what I can tell, YES! I want to give it more time and practice to be sure, but I haven’t had any issues with it for almost a month now. I’ve also been using natural elimination postures which may be helping. Regardless of the physical benefits, I’ve experienced powerful emotional, even “spiritual” change in many areas of my life, that surely something good is happening, and I’m going to continue the process.
I’m feel like I’m on a journey exploring new frontiers, and making exciting discoveries within myself and the world around me. I make mistakes along the way. But I put myself out there, try new things, see what sticks, pick up the pieces, and try again. Yes, sometimes it’s painful and humiliating. But it’s also immensely rewarding. And I’m in love with life! The joy is in the journey.
“Not all who wander are lost.” — J.R.R. Tolkein