The Symbolism of Symptoms: How reading in your body informs you about the needs of your soul
Most of us have been conditioned to look at disease or ailments as a purely physical problem that is usually caused by some trigger outside of us (i.e. bacteria, viruses, genes, environment, age, accidents…) and that we need to eradicate as soon and as permanently as possible. Ideally, we would even prevent the disease in the first place, by vaccinating and/or leading a healthy lifestyle.
In an ideal world, we would always be healthy, and disease would not exist. If it hits us despite all our efforts, we go to the doctor or the pharmacy and take all kinds of medicine to fight it or undergo surgery to cut it out. If we are more inclined towards natural medicine, we might try to fight it with herbal supplements or experiment with different alternative medicine approaches to find relief.
However, no matter how “natural” or “holistic” the remedies we seek out, as long as we consider the symptom as our enemy to get rid of as soon as possible, as long as we fear it – and as a consequence – focus solely on fighting it (of course please still get treated if necessary), all these approaches, whether natural or conventional, fall more or less short and don’t do the soul (complete) justice. Because the body lives downstream of the soul. This means that disease is never just a physical problem. In fact, it’s not even a problem. It’s the solution. Let me explain.
How your soul expresses itself through your body
We often say that we are a body with a soul, when in fact, we are a soul inhabiting a physical body. Closely linked to that physical body, which is really our temple, we also have an emotional body (that we often refer to as our “heart”, going beyond the physical heart as an organ), a mental body (our mind) and our spiritual body (our very soul). The principle of “as above, so below” or “as inside, so outside” means that for everything that goes on in our physical body, there is an equivalent in our emotional, mental and spiritual body as well. In a way, the body becomes the stage on which the theater script of the soul is played out. It allows us to make the invisible, which is unconscious, visible and conscious. This means that our physical symptoms are nothing more than our soul talking to us. They are important messengers about our soul’s plan, needs and challenges, especially of those parts that we prefer not to be conscious of, because they are uncomfortable to face – our so-called “shadow”.
The law of polarity and attraction
The ultimate goal of the soul is unity. However, the human consciousness cannot grasp unity, it can only experience the world through opposites – through polarity: night and day, warm and cold, hard and soft, masculine and feminine, life and death, yin and yang. Each of those poles lives of the other and could not exist without it. As human beings, we tend to judge those poles in good and bad, usually preferring light over dark, sun over rain, flexible over inflexible, happy over sad, life over death, health over disease.
However, we couldn’t live without rain just like we couldn’t live without sun. We would not be able to live the day, if we didn’t sleep the night. There wouldn’t be any men without any women. We wouldn’t know what happiness was without ever being sad. We wouldn’t be able to value life, if we never died.
So, in truth, the two poles are equal, there’s not one superior to the other. They just are. The more we emphasize one pole, let’s say control (which is energetically masculine), the more the other pole, in this case chaos (which is energetically feminine) grows simultaneously. For example, the more I try to control my binge eating through willpower, avoiding all those “bad” foods, the higher the chance that at some point I will just lose control and binge. If I try to completely deny or try to get rid of something I consider as “bad”, the more I will invoke it.
As soon as I judge some part of me as “bad”, choosing to not see it in myself (i.e. my fear, rigidity, weakness or intolerance), I push it into my shadow – the unconscious part of myself. Simply denying that part of me doesn’t make it go away though – to the contrary, it can now play out completely out of my conscious control, sabotaging me from behind.
According to the law of attraction, we will always attract what we have inside, so we will constantly encounter people or situations reflecting that very trait back to us – just like a mirror. However, since we are usually not aware of this mechanism, we project on the other person, trying to change them rather than ourselves. This is why the more annoyed we get by someone or something, the closer we need to look at ourselves.
Symptoms are not your enemy, but your friend
We all are sent down here with a curriculum of things to learn in this lifetime. We all still have areas to grow, to discover, to integrate and to make peace with. Our physical symptoms inform us about those areas and help us to make them conscious. So, in fact, illness or unwanted symptoms in general are not our enemy, but our friend, who has our best interest in mind, namely the growth of our soul. They are a genius way to remind us of our wholeness. They are trying to make us whole again – even if the effort may be distorted. They are never meaning to punish us.
If we take responsibility and listen to their messages, rather than trying to suppress them, ignoring them or blaming them onto the outside world, we can learn quicker and with less pain. The more courageous and proactive we face our shadows and challenges, the less our body has to take over and force us to.
It’s really like a warning sign in your car, which lights up to indicate a serious problem somewhere not directly visible to you. It’s annoying, but if you simply cover the sign or take it out, so it doesn’t bother you anymore, that doesn’t make the problem disappear. If you don’t stop on time to check what’s wrong – not with the sign itself, but with what it points to, the signal might get louder and louder and eventually your car might crash or stop working.
The same is true with any physical ailment. It usually starts out softly, with minor “irritating” symptoms, like fatigue, digestive distress, a bit of pain here and there… the more you ignore it, the more intense it gets over time. If then you turn to harder and harder medication or even undergo surgery, to cover up or to cut out the irritating thing, you might get rid of the symptom (aka the warning light), but not the problem. And it will show up again, more intensely, in another way. It will simply use another trigger to manifest itself, maybe in the same way, maybe in other symptoms or another disease. Until eventually you crash and are forced to stop and to abandon the road you were on.
Curiosity instead of judgement
The trigger is never the real cause of the disease, it is just a means of communication suitable to the underlying issue. So, get curious about your unwanted symptoms and listen to them, before you try to get rid of them – ideally while they are still whispering, so they don’t have to start shouting. Ask yourself, if you are really on the right track. Be glad for having been “disturbed” and been warned about a problem that you would otherwise have missed.
Once you set the intention to listen, you will be amazed by what you hear. The body has an amazingly precise way of symbolizing exactly what the issue is about. It’s like a language, just that it does not consist of written words, but you can still learn it. Each part of your body symbolizes something else. By reading in the body, you can shed light on what’s really going on in your subconscious.
This is not always (or actually very rarely) a pleasant process. We have been pushing those things out of our consciousness for a reason. However, simply looking at your shadow will bring light into the dark. So, the more annoyed or irritated you actually feel by a “diagnosis”, the more you feel that it absolutely has nothing to do with your specific case, the more truth it probably contains. You can then slowly start working on accepting those denied parts of yourself and integrating them back into your soul. This usually implies changing convictions and beliefs about yourself or the world – and through that changing your thoughts, emotions and actions. For example, you might realize how sick to the stomach you really are of your job – and decide to leave it. Once you do that, there is no need for the body anymore to compensate, and the symptom can disappear.
Of course you can and should still treat yourself with “conventional” or “natural” methods if needed, but at the same time start the process of consciously exploring the message contained in your symptom.
How exactly do you listen to your symptoms and read in your body?
Many books have been written about the symbolism of disease and I definitely encourage you to get one or several. Most influential on my own journey has been the work of Ruediger Dahlke and Louise Hay. However, I find that there is a special value in doing some self-reflection first, before serving yourself from the “ready-to-eat” buffet.
What follows is a 4-step process that I personally use for any irritating symptom (physical or behavioral) – or even outside events, accidents and the like – that I might experience. Please note that this process can be very confronting and the language can sometimes feel very hard and accusing. Yet none of this is meant to blame anyone. The only intention is bringing into the light what’s currently in the dark, in other words: increasing awareness and consciousness.
- Put the symptom into words: Simply start by describing your ailment to yourself, for example: I am so stiff, I am so inflexible, I am blocked or stuck (in my back, in my neck), Bending (my knees/my back) hurts, I cannot stand straight, I twisted my (fill in the blank and look at what this body part symbolizes to get an idea where you are twisting yourself), I cannot move my head ( = cannot look left or right, just fixate what’s right in front of me), I feel sick to my stomach, …
Next ask yourself the following two questions:
- What does this symptom force me to do? For example: Slow down, stand/sit still, stay home, take rest, accept that I cannot always get my will (humility), realize that what I want is not necessarily what I need, eat better, sleep more, party less, say no to an activity, start turning inwards, work less, find faith, get taken care of (receive help), learn to accept myself the way I am, love myself unconditionally, embrace my “feminine”… => this is usually what you need more of / what is good for you / maybe even what you secretly want but do not dare to confess
- What does this symptom prevent me from doing? For example: Running, moving too much, overburdening myself, working too hard, staying up too late, burning myself out, eating certain foods, having to hold this presentation, having sex, getting into a relationship,… => this is usually what you need less of / what is not good for you / what you secretly want OR what you are secretly afraid of.
- Lastly, look at what this specific body part or symptom symbolizes. For example: Gut: the ability to digest food and “life”, ability to discern useful from useless, protection (immunity)…, kidneys: relationships, dualism, fear…, liver: anger, frustration, ability to “detox” …, knees: humility, point of conflict between own and other’s path…, thyroid: communication, ability to speak one’s truth and clearly express one’s deepest desires…, reproductive organs: sexuality, relationships, motherhood, creativity…
Please note that this is just food for thought, suggestions to dig deeper, and by no means a “diagnose”. Not every aspect has to fit for you. You might not find yourself in there at all. You might come up with your own, additional interpretations. This is a very personal process. The same thing can symbolize very different things for two people. Only you can know what exactly it symbolizes for you. In general though, do not dismiss an idea right away. In fact, the more you reject it, the more it probably does play a role. Remember what I said about the shadow, and how we are not able to see it in ourselves. Just take it in and allow it to resonate inside of you. And again, do not take anything as a personal assault.
Looked at in that way, reading in the body (and over time, even in the world around you) offers you endless opportunities to learn more about yourself and understand what it is that your soul (not your ego!) really needs. It makes the journey through life so much easier and smoother, because you work with yourself rather than standing in your own way.