Pay Attention

“Pay attention to your body. It tells a beautiful story.”

You know how sometimes you can hear something, know it’s true and even important, but just as quickly it’s gone because there isn’t anything you’ve connected with to make it stick? And then there are those times when you hear something and it’s tied to an experience that engages all of you…and you don’t forget, ever. Apparently it has to do with how our brains are wired – for connection, which comes with limbic engagement. Something I experienced as I listened to the man who spoke these words last week at The Storyline Conference.

I was paying attention that day; I knew there was something about the reminder that was for me. The choice to honor and tend to my body is one that does not come easily, not when I had learned so well how to dismiss and despise it. An important, related reminder followed the statement about paying attention to our bodies:

pay special attention when you’re on the edge of discomfort, that’s the place where “aha” moments and wake up calls happen. So lean into the discomfort.

I was acutely aware of my body as the radiology tech bound my arms tightly to my sides, immobilizing me on the narrow table. Being a good people reader, she asked me if I was okay with that. (Clearly I don’t have a poker face.) I took a deep breath and nodded. Internally, I wasn’t so sure, but I told myself it was a natural response to restraint…I just needed a bit of time to adjust. I only had time for a couple deep breaths before the table started the slow slide into the MRI machine, my arms scraping the sides of the tube as I slid deeper in. My arms told me it was a really tight fit. My rapid pulse and quick, shallow breaths told me I should have marked “claustrophobic” on the intake form. My eyes told me it was a really good thing I said yes to the eye mask, at least that sense was blocked. My ears told me the noise was painfully jarring, vibrating through my whole body. My brain told me to be afraid; there was something about this that was painfully similar to other memories filed in its elaborate storage system. My hand, wrapped around the rubber panic ball, told me to squeeze because it was all too much.

My heart whispered quietly, “Just keep breathing. You are not alone, you’re going to be okay. You’re afraid…and you’re breathing…and you can do this.” I felt my breathing slow down, my body stilled enough to allow my mind to leave the room and return to one of my favorite stories. The tall beams of the swing set are anchored deep in the sandy beach, allowing no wobble, the swings high enough off the ground that adult legs can fully extend and pump, the seat sturdy enough for two. I am leaning into the strong arms of Jesus, completely at rest while simultaneously feeling the exhilaration of the wind and movement of our bodies through the air, hearing the loud crash of waves on the shore.

While my rational brain would tell you only certain elements of that story could be real, every part of my body felt its realness as I slowly breathed in that tiny, loud, scary tube. The first time I had an MRI, my doctor told me if I was anxious she could prescribe something to “take the edge off.” I only did that once, and while it did indeed take the edge off, I wasn’t very present, and I didn’t like that feeling of fuzzy disconnection. Hmm, perhaps there is something to paying close attention when you’re “on the edge.”
I’ve had many opportunities since then to practice honoring my body, knowing how it responds and what kind of care it needs.

Honoring my body means I don’t discount the fear and anxiety that rises up in me as I hear the test results that call for yet another test. Honoring my body also means I seek information that will be helpful in understanding and learning what I am facing, and then walk away from my computer when it calls to me in the middle of the night, when my anxiety ramps back up. The internet is no place to be when you’re tired and feeling anxious about your health. Honoring my body also means I ask questions, even of “the experts” when something is not sitting right inside of me, because this is my story that’s being written…I can’t just sit back and check out. Nope. I lean in, take a deep breath and pay close attention.


Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity.  Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.