I had a conversation with my jaw
I know it might sound odd.
In our rationalistic tradition, the body carries the mind around so that it may do the “important” work, but the reality is different.
Consider this: Our body sends 11 million bits of information every second to our brain. Our conscious mind can only handle 40 to 50 bits of information a second.
In other words: the body knows best.
Back in March, I was looking forward with great anticipation.
“This is such a good year for me,” I said to my friend while we were having lunch. “I launched my coaching business, I’m getting married, I’m getting my puppy, and I’m enrolled in Master Coaching training.”
Everything seemed rosy that afternoon and we toasted to that.
My training started in April, around the same time, we got a wedding planner to help us with the many details of the upcoming wedding, and we picked up our puppy.
Everything seemed to be progressing beautifully, but at the beginning of May I started developing TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) pain.
I’m not new to that pain. I had my first TMJ crisis about 12 weeks ago and underwent treatment. Since then, occasionally, I’ve had discomfort but nothing that can’t be managed with a massage, stretch or rest.
This time was different. The pain was terrible, and it was getting worse. My jaw, my entire face and most of my head were in pain. I had a constant headache and as the weeks progressed, so did my desperation.
I visited an osteopath, an acupuncturist, and continued getting massages while I was waiting to see a TMJ specialist. I got some results, but they were short-lived.
When I finally saw the specialist, he gave me cortisone shots, put me on pain medications and muscle relaxants, while we waited for a made-to-order bite-splint. I welcomed the numbing of pain, but intuitively I knew I had to go deeper, unless I wanted to continue numbing.
Up until this point, I’ve felt like a victim at the mercy of pain. I was looking for somebody (practitioner) to rescue me and was quick to become a persecutor (not pretty), lashing out because I felt justified given my level of pain. I was caught in a Karpman “drama” triangle.
Thank goodness I visited my therapist and sought coaching. I was able to gain awareness, step away from the victim mentality, stop trying to resist the pain, and instead, slow my mind down to pay attention.
“What is the pain allowing you to do?” My therapist asked. I realized it allowed me to rest more and drop non-essential activities (and worries). “Thank your jaw for the message,” she said. “Let it know that you can do those things without the pain.”
A fellow coach invited and guided me to have a conversation with my jaw. Almost surprisingly quickly, my jaw let me know it needs more self-expression. It said it was holding back, hiding, and trying to “chew up” too much at once.
That conversation felt as real as the conversation I had with my friend over lunch.
I realized my body is not betraying me with pain. It’s communication using pain. I’m pretty sure it had been trying to communicate with me for a while before using pain, but I simply ignored the messages.
After that experience, I decided to take a vacation, leave our puppy in a training retreat, and focus on self-care, while enjoying nature.
The pain that persisted for 12 weeks is 95% gone. No more medications.
Now, I’m using my jaw as a barometer. When I’m stressing myself out, I feel a pressure that reliably disappears when I take the time to take a few deep breaths and ask myself “How am I feeling?” and notice: “Am I chewing up too much?”, “Am I prioritizing?”, “Am I saying what I mean to say?”, “Am I doing what feels true to me?”
Next time something hurts, check with your doctor or practitioner (sometimes a pain is just a pain), but also try to slow down, stop resisting the pain (what we resist, persists), and ask your body if it has any messages for you. Be patient. Leave the door of communication open. Make it feel safe. Notice.
“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.”-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra