Who Says It’s a Symptom?

by James Rolwing, DC

Here’s what I found in an online dictionary as the definition of the word “symptom”:  that which falls together with something, any phenomenon or circumstance accompanying something and serving as evidence of it.

Wow, nothing about health, sickness, or disease! Sometimes looking up a word in the dictionary is a profound revelation. The original meaning can be so right on, and so different from its common usage and understanding.

Let’s break down our typical response to a “symptom” in slow motion.
1) First, a sensation or feeling arises in our awareness. This is instantaneously followed by our mind’s judgment of the sensation as pleasant, uncomfortable, painful, or neutral.

2) Based on our judgment of the sensation, a plan of action or a reaction ensues. If it’s judged as pleasant, the plan might be, “Hell, let’s do this some more!” If it’s labelled as uncomfortable we’ll look for the nearest exit. And if we decide that it’s painful, our response may be anything from, “I want this to go away, now!” to “Oh shit, I’m gonna die!” Finally, a sensation judged as neutral will be ignored entirely.

3) Next, if the pain is physical, all that remains is finding a way to suppress it. If the pain is perceived as emotional, the mind will look for a target or a justification (“I’m angry at X,” I’m sad about X”), and then look for a way to suppress it or express it in a way that’s hurtful to oneself or some unsuspecting poor slob.

4) If we’re unable to manage sufficient suppression of the pain on our own, then, by golly, let’s enlist someone’s assistance in this search for the Holy Grail of suppressive agents. Now we’re greasing the slippery slope to a diagnosis, or at least a professional-sounding description of the symptoms.

I’m stopping way short of the extended version of this chain of events because whatever happens thereafter is just a further reflection of what occurred in step 1: an immediate separation from ourselves. The initial sensation or feeling is quickly replaced by the intellectualization of it. The feeling or sensation continues, but it’s been judged so profoundly by the conscious mind that even as we’re aware of it we hold ourselves separate from it. It’s like looking at our face in a mirror while we repeatedly say, “That’s not me, that’s not me.”

All of this occurs in a split-second, and it’s the most critical moment in our opportunity to heal that we trample over again and again. We cannot stop the mind’s judgment of the sensation; we can only shift our attention to watching our mind’s judgments while we also allow ourselves to feel the sensation.

If we can feel the sensation as well as acknowledge the label we’ve given it, give equal time to feeling and thinking, then we can ride that in-between state where the sensation is allowed to do whatever it’s going to do, and allow healing and movement to occur. If we react to the label we give it then movement stops, we’re no longer grounded, and being with the sensation is replaced by a strategy of the rational, fixing mind.

Our conditioning encourages us to regard any and all phenomena relating to our body with the utmost suspicion and fear. It’s a mental trap we’re taught early in life, to erroneously regard a symptom as a noxious outside influence trying to harm us, rather than an invitation to widen our capacity for feeling and functionality.

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