In Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, when the ghost of Jacob Marley visits, Scrooge accuses him of being “a bit of undigested beef.”

I’m at my parents’ house in Arizona this week, and last night my siblings and I were laughing about that line (maybe mostly because my youngest brother declared we were quoting Michael Caine — who, yes, gave a brilliant performance in the Muppet version of the story, but still!). Is it really possible that indigestion could cause hallucinations? And what about the other way around? Could an undigested idea — an idea that you have trouble assimilating because it’s too far out of your comfort zone — cause indigestion?

I’ll tell you the book that got me thinking about this in a minute, but first I think I’d better prove that I’m not crazy.

Think of nausea. Nausea is physical, right? It’s in your gut . . . somewhere. Sometimes it’s caused by food poisoning, etc, but we’ve all felt the kind of nausea that results from fear or panic or revulsion. Though they feel roughly the same, one is physical and the other is entirely mental. Thoughts in our brain cause the nausea.

I experienced another mental–physical connection with the births of my kids. I’ve already discussed it to some extent in this other post, but the detail I didn’t mention before is that with this latest baby I talked myself through natural childbirth.

I’d read that the key was to tell yourself that contractions are good because they are bringing your baby to you, so that’s exactly what I did. When real contractions began (the “painful” ones), I told myself not to tense up, not to cringe, not to focus on the pain. I told myself to look forward to the next contraction. When each one came, I thought, “Oh good! Here we go! This is it! Keep coming! I want to have this baby!” And I also thought, over and over: “Relax!”

It also helped that I’d had false labor all week long, so I really did want those contractions to keep coming. And thanks to that attitude, I walked into the hospital calm and composed, handing the nurses a plate of cookies I’d baked, asking could I please soak in a bathtub, and finding out I was already eight centimeters dilated.

Yeah, I would have looked at me like I was crazy, too. It was surreal.

Sometimes I wonder if it was easier simply because it was my third kid, but a neighbor of mine told me about a completely opposite experience her cousin had with a third or fourth baby (I don’t remember which). The cousin had always had epidurals and was counting on that again for this birth but was told that she was too far along and couldn’t have it. She wasn’t prepared to go natural, felt angry and scared, etc, and kept screaming and screaming. Finally the doctor tried to get her attention by calling her name several times, but she was too immersed in the pain and just kept screaming. When he then yelled her name, she cautiously cracked open one eye and discovered that the baby was already out! Needless to say, she felt chagrined and recognized that all the pain was in her head.

Anyhow, I think it’s because of all those experiences that when my dad handed me a book yesterday called Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes of Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them I couldn’t help feeling curious. If nausea can be mental, and even labor pains can be mental, could other problems, too?

So I looked up some of the physical issues I’ve had recently. No, I’m not going to disclose them here because that’s getting just a little too personal, but let me just say that they all made sense. They were all physical manifestations of mental issues I’ve been dealing with lately.

Next, I looked up issues my kids have been having. For example, one kid bites his nails and the other recently began snoring. And again, the associated mental issues made sense.

In fact, they were a revelation.

Not that I’m trying to give anyone indigestion here with crazy ideas. I bring it up because this blog is about words and I’m continually astounded by all the various applications of a title I spent comparatively little time choosing. When I named the blog, I was thinking strictly of analyzing fiction and story and how words create pictures and entire worlds in our heads. And now . . . well, now I continually find myself in awe of the power of words for one thing or another.

Heal Your Body is a tiny book, the size of a five-by-seven photo and very slim. Its content is simple: an alphabetical list of ailments in the first column, the probable mental causes in the second column, and a sentence or two in the third. And I think it’s the third column that fascinates me most.

For example, under “Nausea” the suggested causes are “fear” and “rejecting an idea or experience.” Simple enough. And the cure? To tell yourself, “I am safe. I trust the process of life to bring only good to me.”

That’s it — even for “dis-eases” as serious as a brain tumor. (Tumor prescription: “It is easy for me to reprogram the computer of my mind. All of life is change and my mind is ever new.”)

Isn’t that fascinating? Not a prescription for drugs or herbs or surgery, etc — a prescription of WORDS!

I wonder what Charles Dickens would have thought . . .

What do you think? Ever had an experience where something physical was “all in your head”? Ever talked yourself through it?

Leave a comment!


6 thoughts on “Undigested Beef? Or an Undigested Idea? The Physical Manifestation of Words

  1. Wow. Very interesting post, and yes, I’ve had several experiences where pain was in my head, or strangely missing depending on my attitude.

    I also know emotions/thoughts can play a huge part in how we physically feel. There is even a study that examined tears shed under different emotional prompts and even those shed while sniffing an onion. They all had different chemical compositions. So why couldn’t words do something similar and create different physical reactions?


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