We all have a head-mind and a body-mind. And though the head-mind can perform amazing feats of convolution and calculation, the body-mind speaks a simple truth. It doesn’t lie ...
Last December I stripped myself bare for a guy in Scotland I’ve never met. David Mickel, M.D., is a 40-year-old Scottish doctor who left traditional medicine to develop a new kind of mind-body medicine, which he eventually named Mickel Therapy. Though Mickel Therapy has many facets, its bedrock is a simple insight.
We all have a head-mind and a body-mind. And though the head-mind can perform amazing feats of convolution and calculation, the body-mind speaks a simple truth. It doesn’t lie; it doesn’t know how to lie. The body-mind sends us information about our internal world in the form of emotions. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has suggested, emotions are actual neurobiological states, governed by specific brain regions. Mickel Therapy speaks of the power of primary emotions and the need to act on them, letting them flow like a river on its natural course. If we ignore primary emotions from the body-mind, they build up and get diverted into a range of symptoms, such as fatigue, boredom, or any number of physical ailments.
I asked Dr. Mickel if he would work with me from a distance by email, and he suggested that I keep a “symptom diary” for a week or two. He would comment on this diary and over time, I would become more aware of the primary emotions arising in my life and would be able to navigate them more effectively.
I made countless, unabashed entries in my symptom diary, remarking on everything from my allergic reaction to a vitamin supplement to my aggravation over noisy schoolkids beneath my windows. Dr. Mickel returned my diary with comments embedded in a pink font. I responded with questions in a purple font, and he answered with a green font. We began to refer to this growing document as a “fruit salad” because of the layered colors. And this virtual back-and-forth offered very useful insights.
First, there was the incredible luxury of having an empathetic other who actually witnessed the hour-by-hour fluctuations of my inner being. Second, sources of stress emerged with surprising clarity, practically shouting at me about changes I needed to make. To wit: Though I should love the wellspring of life that is the schoolkids under my windows, I hate them precisely because they are under my windows, screaming and running pell-mell in all directions like human ping-pong balls. I immediately ordered double-paned windows to soundproof my living room.
Another surprise: Entries on my daily walks in the nearby park were mostly complaints about how tame and citified this strip of land was. Only once—gazing up at winter branches splayed against a cloudless sky and noting how they reflected a deeper pattern of nature found in blood vessels, river deltas, and neurons—did I feel transported. My body-mind, as reflected in my entries, was craving
wilder nature. And so I arranged a week end home “swap” with a woman who has a house two hours away on the ocean.
Finally, underlying themes of unrest kept emerging no matter what the entry, illuminating exactly how I experience stress. One theme: feeling hijacked and wrenched from my true self. Another: feeling impinged on. A third and extremely potent one: feeling contaminated. I was amazed at the concise power of this symptom diary and its ability to highlight my deeper self.
But the universe has a way of smacking you up the backside. The day before my new windows were to be installed, a geyser of black bilge from a clogged pipe 65 feet down in the boiler of our building vomited itself over my kitchen and living room. It soaked, stinking, into everything it met. The kitchen had to be ripped apart. The living room floor had to be washed with a bleach solution and would require sanding and polishing to restore. The window installation was, of course, delayed. I wept, or should I say, wailed, and I felt impinged on, hijacked, and contaminated—my diary’s themes.
Were the gods laughing at me? Or was it an eerie coincidence? As my friend Larry Dossey said when two horses threw him on the same summer afternoon, fracturing his ribs and his spine: “I’m glad to be alive and walking, and I’m content to live with the mystery”