“The definition of ‘wholeness’ includes being fully integrated as a human being,
body, mind, and spirit.” – The Life of the Body
“You’re okay,” I whisper, as the muffled thumps of the MRI machine begin to pulsate around me. My shoulders tingle in response to the tight enclosure. I feel a surge of fear and consider my three choices: I can disconnect from this experience and abandon my body through disassociation; I can squeeze the panic button, rescuing myself but ending the needed scan; or I can remain present and offer care for my body, mind, and spirit.
A memory begins to surface.
“Have you noticed how you shrug your shoulders?” my counselor asked. Immediately I was aware of my shoulders, tingling in response to his question. It was just a small shrug, an imperceptible movement…or so I thought. Yet my counselor, sitting across from me, noticed, and he interrupted the silence between us to mention it.
I had been telling him a story when I stopped speaking and shrugged. His eyes remained on me, inviting me to continue, but when I did not, he posed his question. I knew that for several months this good and gifted man had been listening well; yet, now I realized that he had been reading me well too. And his question, “Have you noticed…,” invited me to pay attention.
I am paying attention now, to the sound of the machine and to the rise and fall of my chest as I breathe deeply to abate the sensation of panic. I notice that I haven’t opened my eyes since the MRI began; I wonder why.
“Have you noticed…?”
I began to notice that often when I was in the middle of telling a story I would suddenly stop and shrug. Rather than continue when I reached a moment, feeling, or thought that felt too difficult to name, I allowed my body to punctuate the story with a dismissive shrug. This seemingly small gesture was actually speaking volumes. It was saying, “I will go this far, but no further,” leaving me on the edge of naming, grieving, and healing.
Rachael Clinton, a trauma specialist with The Allender Center, says, “If you don’t engage your body, you actually can’t get into the stories.” I was all-too-willing to engage my mind and heart in the healing journey. However, entering into an embodied experience felt like entering unfamiliar, unsafe terrain for I’d felt disappointed by my body too many times in the past. Could I risk trusting what it was telling me?
I am taking a risk now, as I choose to trust what my body is telling me more than my rising panic. A kind voice comes through the speaker, asking, “Are you okay?” A few tears fall as I honestly reply, “I’m freaking out a little bit, but I can continue.” I return to my intentional slow, deep breaths.
To engage my body, I needed to learn how to attune to it and trust it once again. The shoulder shrug was my entry point into body awareness, and I began to notice these shrugs more frequently. I also began to notice how my body responded in other moments—anticipation, anger, anxiety, exhaustion, fear, grief—and where these responses showed up in my body. Aching joints, queasy stomach, shallow breathing, tingling shoulders…my body was providing the cues; I was learning to read them.
I needed to engage my body with curiosity and tend to it with kindness if there was any hope of rebuilding trust and experiencing “wholeness.”
This engagement happened in a ballroom dancing studio when I felt uneasy dancing with multiple unfamiliar men in the group class. We don’t have to attend these classes. It’s okay to ask for private lessons with Tim.
It occurred in a story group when I sensed my need to be physically grounded. Slip off your shoes and feel the floor under your bare feet.
It happened in the boxing gym when I attended a class for the first time on my own. You are strong and brave. You can do this!
And it is happening now in the MRI machine as I feel my shoulders press against its sides.
“You’re okay,” I repeat. “Trust me.” I do. I take another deep breath, open my eyes, and find that light surrounds me. I choose to stay present, believing that I am going to be all right.
A lover of story, Susan Tucker has always been captivated by beautiful writing. She is drawn to themes of tension, joy/grief, hope/loss, freedom/shame, which she explores in her own writing. Susan spends her days teaching middle school English, mothering her two teenage sons, and loving her husband of 25 years. She cherishes her first cup of coffee each morning, moments of quiet and solitude, restorative yoga, worship music, and faithful friends.nbsp