So how’s your mind-body connection these days? If you’re in a job that you can’t stand, I’m willing to bet it’s not too great. And that can lead to health woes big and small. As if you needed yet another reason to leave law, right? Well, maybe you do. Even though I have a job I love, I need occasional reminders about paying attention to my body and my whole self.
Since before Christmas, I have been longing to do absolutely, 100% nothing. When my hairdresser asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told her I wanted to sit in front of the TV for 3 days and watch only what I wanted, which would basically be Law & Order SVU, Midsomer Murders, and House. Along with all those forensic crime shows, and of course Psychic Detectives. I kind of have a thing about what makes people tick, and especially what makes them tick in a really warped way.
But instead of watching TV, my version of doing nothing, I got ready for Christmas. In my house that means decorating and crafts, making yummy treats, vain attempts at tidying and decluttering, choir rehearsals, and of course, shopping for gifts and food. Oh, and the work thing doesn’t exactly go away. Then there’s the midnight service on Christmas Eve, which means I don’t finish with the Christmas Day prep until about 2 am. (Naturally, little man is up at 5:40 on Christmas Day.) This year, rather than journey to my in-laws in Florida the day after Christmas (yipee!!), we went to Kentucky for a few days. In other words, the usual holiday madness that most of us participate in.
Then there’s THE NEW YEAR. Time of new beginnings, reconnecting, new connections, plans for the year, blah blah blah. Yeah, summoning start-up energy during hibernation season. So even though I really wanted to do nothing but sleep once little man was back in school, I went to networking stuff. I squeezed in new clients. It was all good, mind you. I enjoyed myself and made some great new connections.
Then, it finally happened: My body said “Enough of this, you idiot. You’re worn out and depleted. Here, have a cold so you’ll slow down.” And I have had to scale back. Last night, after reading with my son for a few minutes before fixing dinner, I sat on the couch and closed my eyes for a second. An hour and a half later, I finally managed to lift up my head enough to realize what time it was. Dinner from the freezer, anyone?
Listen Up, Your Body Is Shouting
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that when your body speaks, you need to listen. You would think I would have mastered this concept way before now. Mostly, I do get it. I knew that I was flirting with ill health by not listening to that longing message of rest. I guess I was hoping for a pass this time. Ha ha ha.
A lot of you are probably shrugging: A cold, so what? I’ve worked through the flu! Yes, I know you have. Sorry, I’m not handing out a medal for that. It’s part of the insanity of law culture, thinking that you can and should ignore your body for the sake of work. Because face it, folks, most lawyers are not really making the world a better place for all humanity. Perhaps you’ll excuse me for not high-fiving that you worked while ill so that a corporation could engage in some questionable practices that let it make a few more dollars and thus pay their shareholders $.05/share more next quarter.
So let’s take it as a given that you’re not listening to the early warning signs, and landing yourself with colds or worse. Most Americans, and especially lawyers, do that all the time. What you’re also doing, I expect, is ignoring the warning signs for so long that your health is really compromised, or getting there fast. I’ve done that too, when I kept trying to find that mythical great law job, despite my soul’s loathing of law and love of creativity and nurturing. That’s why I got cancer at age 29. So, learn from my mistakes, folks, don’t repeat them.
What I’m wondering is how many of you are refusing to acknowledge the deep damage that law is inflicting on your soul and thus your body. They are not separate things, body and soul. Despite the myth in corporate America that we can separate and compartmentalize our lives and being—work and home, emotions and logic, rights and responsibilities—we can’t. Psychology types call this myth of separation “splitting.” Life coaches call it ignoring the wisdom of your body and soul. Whatever you call it, there’s not any long-term good in it.
Have You Seen This Illness?
I’m not saying that every illness is caused by disconnection from your life purpose. But a lot of chronic, stress-aggravated diseases? You better believe they’re made much worse, if not precipitated, when we ignore our heart’s longings. Things like:
- high blood pressure,
- sinus and asthma problems,
- heart disease,
- irritable bowel syndrome, and
- chronic fatigue.
That’s just the easy starter list. They all have a stress component to them. Just about anything that doctors say “We don’t really know what causes this, and we don’t have a cure” is a candidate for inclusion. Actually, I don’t even rule out broken bones or bruises from accidents. Inattention because you’re overwhelmed by all the wrong things causes a lot of physical mayhem.
Tuning Into the Message
So what’s your body saying to you? Maybe it’s time to turn down the word chatter in your brain and tune into the wisdom of your whole being and find out. And I do mean your whole being, not just the logical, talking side of your brain. Your gut has a lot of wisdom to share, as does your heart, your back and your shoulders.
One way to tune in is to try this exercise: Sit quietly, and get as still and calm as you can. Breathe nice and slow for a minute or two. Then consider a decision or course of action you’ve been contemplating. Where do you feel that decision in your body? If you picture choosing one way, how does that feel in your body? Is there tightness, heaviness, discomfort, even pain? Or maybe lightness, release, unclenching, or a sense of energy? Then try picturing the opposite course. Does the feeling change?
When attorneys try this, they usually don’t want to hear what their body has to say, because it often tells them to completely revamp their lives. So they shut down their inner listening, and tell themselves they don’t feel anything. If you give this exercise an honest try, you will learn some things, I promise. I can’t promise you’ll want to hear that wisdom, but if you let it guide you, you’ll be glad you followed it.
After all, when is it better to revamp your life: when you have some time to plan and prepare for a big change, or when a heart attack, a stroke or cancer forces that change?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys get in touch with their body’s wisdom to find the best course of action for their whole selves. Find out what that’s like with a discounted sample coaching session. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule yours today!