In a recent issue of Spirituality and Health I read an article that recounted a practice of acclaimed poet and writer Maya Angelou. Prior to a keynote speech, while some presenters were pacing back and forth in nervousness, Maya was paging through the newspaper. She would pause at times and rest her left hand on their heart while looking at a photograph of a person. She would grin that wide-brimmed smile of hers. After she went through that section of the paper she would go back to the beginning and start the process again. This time as she paused she would place her hand on her heart and shake her head sadly.

It turns out that this was part of Maya’s spiritual practice. Pausing at the pictures at first gave her a chance to recognize those who had done remarkable things (cured diseases, built business or buildings, etc.) She saw that if she could recognize something remarkable in them, then that quality must be in her somewhere too—or else why would she have been intrigued in the first place? And then she’d ask herself, what does that remind me of in myself that I’d like to grow?

The second time through, she would pause at the people who did unthinkable things (murder, rape, destroying precious things, etc.). The recognition this time around was that those too are things inside her, perhaps a dormant or dark part inside. How can I delve in to discover the need under that destructive behavior so I can find a positive way of meeting it for myself before it erupts? 

Each person in the paper was teaching her to meet some aspect of herself that she may have otherwise ignored. In this way she constantly learned and remembered all these different parts of herself.

Sometimes it is our body that signals to us that we are ignoring parts of ourselves. It could be something we consider to be inspiring or menacing. Our judgments of ourselves and others are pointing us in the direction of our “work” or deeply-held patterns. These patterns may affect our health if held too strongly or rigidly.

If you believe something so strongly that you get a visceral reaction from the experience, then your body is telling you that you hold a belief. Your gut-level reaction—positive or negative—is usually an indication of whether you are inspired or disgusted by the event and ensuing belief. Take a moment to ask these questions:

Can I recognize something remarkable in myself? What does it remind me of in myself that I’d like to grow?

—or—

How can I delve in to discover the need under the destructive belief so I can find a positive way of meeting it before it erupts?

When we are judging something as negative, we might consider what need in ourself is not being met. Needs can include being safe, heard, seen…. Marshall Rosenberg and his Non-Violent Communication offer a long list of needs and other tools if you are curious.

Staying curious about what your body is telling you, without rejecting it or judging it, is a gift to yourself and a path toward healing.