Somatic Rebellion

Three People Lying in the Grass Relaxing
April 27, 2022

Your body naturally rebels against conformity with self-destroying forces and ways of life. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I was hoping you might talk about somatic rebellion. [Shambhavi laughs] I saw your post on social media, I can read the post too.

Sure, why don't you read it? So I'm sure there's people that haven't seen it.

Says, Somatic Rebellion. Your body naturally rebels against conformity with self-destroying forces and ways of life. Even if your ordinary mind tells you to conform, your body will revolt. Many so-called diseases are the body's protest. When we pathologize and override the body's protest, the result is chronic resistance.

So I was just driving last week, and this phrase just occurred to me and then I wrote that. But it really comes out of one experience that I've had and also my training in Ayurveda.

And then another thing that I read a long time ago that some of you heard me talk about—I used to get a particular kind of migraine when I was younger, in my 20s and late teens, when I felt very overloaded and externalized.

You know that when we're trying to get things done, we're very externalized. We're not really being in touch with ourself. It's as if our body is here, and our real life is here, and then getting-things-done persona is out here somewhere and there's a gap, right?

And it's almost like a form of disassociation when we get too much into getting things done. This was before I did any practice. So this was my condition.

And I noticed that I would get these migraines when I was really overloaded, but I hadn't stopped. I hadn't stopped doing. And I used to call those headaches Bad Stop. I should have listened to my body and my psyche, but I didn't. I just kept pushing through and pushing through and pushing through, doing more things.

And then the migraine would stop me. And it was Bad Stop because it was a very strong message that I hadn't listened earlier when I would have maybe gotten a softer stop.

The other thing that happened around those migraines is that when I got them, I would have to lie down for a day or at least half a day. And then, of course, I would feel more rested. And there was also something weirdly alchemical about them where I just would feel better the next day, as if a storm had gone through. And I felt relieved of something.

They really felt like the headaches themselves were full of wisdom and medicinal in some way. That's really the kind of thing I'm talking about—somatic rebellion. There are many things that we pathologize when they actually are forms of wisdom that our body is expressing.

And we can look at chronic conditions as chronic resistance to either internal or external conditions or both. And I don't think diseases are only that, or imbalances are only that. But I definitely think that there's a component.

And then the other thing that, sort of the long trajectory of this phrase 'somatic rebellion' coming into my mind, was when I was maybe my 20s, I read this book called Anorexia: Metaphor for Our Age. And it was talking about anorexia as a rebellion that a young woman, in general, but it could be a young man too, sees sort of what's in store for them and refuses to participate.

Later on, I realized that there's another aspect of anorexia, which is the directive that women in our culture, and some men also, get from everywhere to disappear, to be invisible, to not be full participants in life, to hold back, to suppress ourselves in various ways. I mean, all, all women get this message. All women, in some form or another—don't show up in the fullness of who you are, that's not okay.

What I realized later was that anorexia was a way of becoming invisible visibly. That it was basically, excuse my language, but a fuck you to the demand to be invisible.

In any case, it's just been a very, very long trajectory. And thinking about my own digestive ills that I've had since I was in my mid-20s, my digestive issues started about two years before I started doing spiritual practice. And there's a component to it, which is I just simply am not going to be here. I don't want to have to digest everything that's going on here.

There's some part of me that's always wanted to be in some different kind of life and hasn't really fully resigned myself [laughs] to living in this environment with this kind of culture. It's like a rejection of some sort. That's not all that it is, but there's definitely that feeling there that I'm just rejecting something.

So I think there's a component of that to many illnesses. And even when there's no outright rebellion, even Western science knows that a lot of the responses that we have to pathogens are healthy responses. They're the wisdom of our body trying to get rid of pathogens.

Even when we think about people who eat really terrible food and live off of fast food and stuff like that, their bodies develop all kinds of diseases, and we focus on the disease. We don't focus on, oh the body is actually doing something to try to help this person. This person is sort of sandwiched between the ignorance of a whole food system and the wisdom of their body trying to confront that ignorance of that food system.

It's not a person's fault if they grew up a certain way, or they're in a certain socioeconomic situation or cultural situation. And to them, it seems fine to eat all this junk food.

Each of our bodies is kind of at the nexus of all of these giant systems and giant swaths of ignorance. But our bodies have natural wisdom. Our bodies are valiantly trying to deal with all of this, all the toxins that we're exposed to all the time.

In a lot of cases, our bodies just become overwhelmed by that because what body wouldn't? This is a time in history when we are just subject to an unprecedented combination of poisons in our environment and in our food.

The fact that we're still alive, I guess is kind of heroic. [laughs] But a lot of us actually aren't still alive, that's the thing.

The whole medical establishment does not situate anything within a bigger frame of reference. And that's how they make money, and that's how they perpetuate themselves. And they treat the body as if the body is the problem. But it isn't the problem.

When I had Crohn's disease, when I was in my mid-20s, I only used naturopathic medicine. And then when I was in graduate school, I was taking oral exams and it was very stressful. And my Crohn's disease got a lot worse.

And so I kind of relented and went to the health center at Stanford, where I was in school. And they sent me to the head of gastroenterology. And she just went into this tirade against Crohn's disease. She was just going—You have to hit it! You have to hit it hard! And she was, like, pounding her fist into her hand. This woman had, like, a personal war against this disease. And it just felt, even then, so wrong.

If we related to our bodies as messengers and chronic illness as the body's attempt to cope with things, even in some cases, kind of rebellion and resistance against prevailing conditions, I think we would have a very different feeling about ourselves and a very different approach to how we care for ourselves.

That's as far as I've gotten. This has obviously been almost a lifelong meditation, although I never really thought of the phrase somatic rebellion before. But this is something I've been kind of contemplating since my mid-20s in various ways, through various experiences.

I'm struck by how often the reference point for why people are having chronic illnesses is something to do with your childhood. It's like the whole world. You know? It's not just my childhood. [laughs]

We have these concepts about what we have to do. And then our body tells us, no, that isn't what you should do. [laughs] And we don't listen because we have these other concepts and we have other desires.

So we talk about, like, anxiety, which can have many, many different causes. So I don't mean to just totally simplify this. But in some cases, anxiety is just telling you, no, this isn't the environment you should be in, or this isn't the situation you should be in, or this isn't what you should be doing. But then we say, oh, I'm so anxious. I should be able to just do this without anxiety. Maybe not.

And also, this idea of metabolism or digestion is everywhere in Hinduism—this idea that all of life is kind of in the process of digesting, eating and digesting. So we talk about digesting ideas, digesting teachings, digesting other people, relationship circumstances, our own selves.

Being able to metabolize means to take something and make it your own, make it something useful. When we say, I am digesting this or I am metabolizing this, it means I'm taking something in and I'm making it into something that's useful for me, that's nourishing for me.

And when we talk about indigestion, we talk about something that I'm taking in that isn't useful for me, that is creating poison in my body, energy, and mind.

And then there are other things that just completely overwhelm our digestive system. Those things we really need to run away from. The example in my life was a roommate situation I had with another practitioner. But when I was much younger. I'm not going to go into the whole story, but it was just a very difficult circumstance for me.

But because we were both practitioners and we were both in this very Titany tantric community at the time, we both thought, oh we should be able to handle this. We have to be able to handle this. Neither of us really could. But I was, like, getting heart palpitations, and I was just feeling horrible.

Part of maturity and sanity is knowing when we aren't digesting a situation and letting go of our shoulds and our pride and just recognizing, hey, we're humans, we can't digest every situation. And we need to be able to be modest and sober and walk away from situations that are digesting us, basically.

Part of the contentiousness that everyone experiences is this false view that we're not supposed to be sick, that if we were doing everything right, we wouldn't get sick. Or if we found the right remedy, we wouldn't get sick. And it's just not true. I mean, human beings get sick. All beings get sick. This is a completely natural process.

So this feeling of being at war with our own body, a lot of it comes from our culture, as if it's some personal failure if we get sick. So that's something we really need to lose.

And then, as I said, we're living in both an extraordinary time when our bodies are just continually being assaulted by various chemicals and other things. And there's just, like, certain environments that one can't live in because of how one showed up.

We all have a unique dimension. We all come with ancestral karma. We all have a different configuration of body, energy, and mind. We all have certain weaknesses in our system that leaves us more prone to certain kinds of illnesses or chronic conditions like allergies.

Maybe we have ancestral, hereditary things that just come down through our line. Or our family came from one kind of environment ancestrally and now we're in a completely different environment, and our bodies really aren't adapted to it in some way. So there's just so many different reasons.

But we keep trying to do what we have decided to do. You know what I mean? Like, despite what our body does, we just keep—well, I'm just going to find a way that I can stay in this environment. I'm going to do all these remedies and take all this stuff and suffer through all this stuff. But I'm not going to move. Right? [laughs] I'm going to make this inhospitable environment work for me.

And that's pretty much how we approach stuff. We want to get a fix that is going to let our body be functioning in an okay way, no matter where we are, no matter what circumstance we're in. That just isn't a realistic view.

People often ask me not just about illness, but about relationships and jobs. How can I make this unworkable situation work? You know? That's like a basic form of a question that I get in a lot of different domains. And we really need to lose this idea that we can make everything work. We can't. [laughs] Some things just are not going to work for us.

Shambhavi, I have a question about that.


You know, I feel like I'm in this in-between time where there's obviously some stuff that isn't working. I'm not in a place where I can just cut things off or put the brakes on. What to do in that in-between time, when you're moving towards slowing things down, but you can't yet?

I don't know what your idea of can't is. Does that mean I can't pay my rent? I can't buy food? Or does that mean I don't have $100,000 in the bank? I know it doesn't mean that for you, but, you know, it's just, like, there's a big range.

So the first thing I would do is examine the can't and see if it's, like, a hard can't, or maybe it's a blurry can't or a soft can't. And see if there's any wiggle room there. And then if there's no wiggle room, just as things are ending, there's often a period of, like, petering out where it's a little bit excruciating.

I generally wait for things to kind of get to their end times naturally. I haven't always done that. But in general that's been my strategy. And sometimes, like, you see the end coming from a mile away, but you just have to wait for it. And during that time, there can be more detachment. And there is also some sort of just toughing it out a bit until things come to a natural end.

In my life, there have been different points where I recognized that it was my job to try to help bring about the world that I wanted to live in. Even though it's very, very, very hard sometimes, and even though I still get frustrated at times or despairing at times. It's not always easy.

But I don't want to be on the sidelines complaining about how everyone else is and everything that's going on in the world. I want to at least know that I did my best to help bring about the world that I want.

And that's what Jaya Kula is. In a certain sense. A lot of the values of Jaya Kula and the ways that we operate together expresses a lot about what kind of world I'd like to live in.

But I'd like a lot more worshipfulness please. So dial it up. [laughs] Less moping, more worshipfulness. [laughs]


Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.