My past week has been the surreal experience of remembering that winter does not mean the same thing around the world. Here in the Cowichan Valley it involves a lot of rain, grey skies and very warm temperatures.

I’m so conditioned to expect crisp cold and snow that, even though this is my third winter on Vancouver Island, I still find it disorienting. Like I’m on hold, waiting for the ‘real’ moment to arrive.

I know that real moment. Winter, winter. With snow, blusters and bright blue skies.

Over the last week I’ve also had some stomach-aches.

Actually, on and off I’ve had clenched gut, stomach-achy feelings for a while now. And by a while I mean years.

Without boring you with extensive digestive details, I want to share a connection I’ve made lately between big big feelings, and these painful bloaty tummy aches.

Or, I should say, abdominal pains, because they are not actually where my stomach is situated, but in my entire guts.

Around late afternoon I’ll notice that my stomach is expanding – my waistband gets tighter, I feel uncomfortable, and my heart sinks. On a bad day my guts will have expanded 4 or 5 inches by evening and consequently, the rest of myself feels distended and uncomfortable too.

While I’ve sought a great deal of help for this over the years, there’s not much that has helped.

However, one thing is starting to make sense.

When my guts clench and twist as well as bloat, I KNOW something is up in my emotional/spiritual world, and if I don’t deal with it, it will just get worse, and worse and worse.

When I tune in, these clenches tell me a few things. That something I am facing, or about to face, is a big deal – sometimes an even bigger deal than I think it is. If I’m unclear, my guts will very loudly tell me so.

When I tune in my guts tell me that I need to bring my attention right into the pain and discomfort, and make space to express the feelings living there, to the person I’m having the feelings about.

Of course this is easier said than done, but I’m very fond of the saying: “pain is a great motivator.”

This saying comes from seven years experience working with clients as a Hellerwork Structural Integration practitioner, as well as from my own spiritual work. “Pain is a great motivator.”

What I mean by that is that when everything feels good, most of us, including myself, are not very inclined to explore the gnarly personal growth work that involves diving into the depths of tough feelings and darker spaces.

Why should we? Why would we?

I sure do know that when I’m feeling good, even if there’s a niggling little sense that all is not as it should be, I don’t want to rock the boat. I just want to keep on feeling good as long as possible. Thus, most of my clients come to me for postural work and deep-tissue massage when they’re in pain; physical, emotional, spiritual or all three.

I am the same. I didn’t come to the work of sorting my feelings out, sorting my posture out, sorting my personal relationships out until the pain of them not functioning became great enough. And so it is with my gut distress. I am finally at the point where if I don’t dive into the painful feelings, my body will tell me, so intensely, that life will be most unpleasant if I ignore it. With gut cramps. With distress. With a fog of overwhelm brought on by bloating that I simply cannot ignore.

Which leaves me with the throbbing tender raw feelings that have been living in my guts, waiting for me to attend to them. And they are big. Anger. Sadness. Grief. Fury. Rejection. Envy. Shame. Despair.

And then there is the deepening into the pain that lives there when I tune in. It challenges me to sit with it, and it challenges me even more to express it. I surely haven’t wanted to, which explains why the pain has been there for years. But if I don’t, well, my guts won’t let me sleep. They won’t let me eat. They make life pretty damn miserable.

And that, to be honest, is the simple point of this little story.

Gut feelings are there for a reason.

Listen to your guts.

Because of this, I really am curious. What have your experiences of gut feelings been? Or, if we broaden this concept, of your intuition? Of your felt sense, and your body’s way of telling you that things need to be addressed, that whatever is going on simply cannot be ignored anymore?

Until next time,


ps – by the way, that little sense that all is not as it should be? Briana Saussy writes a lovely article about ‘peace, peace, there is no peace,’ or, what to do when everything is not ok.

pps – I just love sharing. Stories, ideas, art. In fact, I teach too, and Personal Mythmaking is my twice yearly 3-month circle/ecourse in which you reconnect with your creativity, with your body, and rewrite your life story. If you enjoyed this article I know you’ll enjoy my course, and I’ll enjoy your presence.