“This is a very important practice. Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself.’
~Thich Nhat Hanh
As we established in the last post, avoiding, ignoring, or hiding from difficult emotions simply doesn’t work. Here is the truth: the more we run from our feelings, the more they run us.
Take a look at your own life to see if this is true:
- Are you limiting yourself when you know you are capable of more? Fear is driving you.
- Do you drink or eat too much? Some feeling is eating away at you.
- Do you complain? You are likely to be irritated or disappointed.
- Are you emotionally triggered by certain people? Do you continually make self-defeating choices? You haven’t yet discovered the feeling that is the root cause.
We dance around our feelings for good reason – we are programmed to avoid pain and seek pleasure. The highly intelligent approach to difficult emotions invites us to rise above this programming. It asks us to courageously shine the light on our experience and receive it fully as it is.
When we can relax with all experiences that appear, miracles happen. We know that what we resist persists. Likewise, the end of resistance to feelings is the end of being ruled by them. As feelings are seen for what they actually are, conditioned tendencies fall away, revealing the natural state – clear, open, aware. The possibility for all of us is to live as this fullness.
School Is in Session: What Is a Feeling?
Before we can learn how to be with feelings, we must understand precisely what they are. What is a feeling? To answer this question, get out the explorer’s headlamp. Be unflinching in your desire to know the truth in your own direct experience, for this is where freedom lies. Bring awareness to the actual experience of your feelings, and what do you find? Is there a thing called sadness or fear?
Surprising as it may sound, when you look for a feeling, you can’t find it. What you do find are sensations in the body and a story that you tell yourself in your mind. You feel afraid? What is actually present are thoughts about what may or may not happen in the future along with tension, vibration, and jitteriness in the body. Sad? You will usually find a story running in your mind about lack, insufficiency, or regret along with a heavy or dense sensation in the chest.
The Facts About Feelings
This fact – that feelings are actually thoughts and physical sensations – holds the key to freedom from them. But rather than adopt this point of view, look inside with a laser focus. Where is the feeling? What is actually present?
How surprising it is to learn that when we avoid a feeling, what we are actually avoiding is the experience in the body – the physical sensations. We can spin around in the story forever, but until we are willing to receive these sensations in the space of awareness, to allow them to be fully as they are, the feeling will persist.
School Continues: Know How the Story Works
Giving attention to any thought will take you away from the direct experience of the feeling in your body. Again, check it out in your own experience. When you are captured by a feeling, how often do you repeat in your mind the story of what happened or what you should have done or what you need to do? This can go on for years keeping the feelings – and the suffering – firmly in place.
The function of these energized thoughts is to divert you from directly experiencing the sensations. Why not feel them? Two reasons.
- We imagine that if we allow a feeling in its totality that we won’t survive the pain. In other words, we are terrified.
- We simply didn’t know that this was the path to freedom.
Maybe you have had the same experience as me. If I’m angry at someone, I will “wake up,” becoming aware that I have been rehearsing over and over in my mind what I would like to say to the person. My hands are clenched and my body is tense and contracted. I’m clearly having a reaction, but I didn’t realize it because I was lost in the thoughts.
Paying attention to thoughts will never release you from the feeling. Resist and ignore the sensations in your body, and you will live in the story forever. Let the stories go, no matter how enticing they may be, bring openness and compassion to the felt experience in your body, and even long-standing patterns, habits, and grudges will begin to release.
Sometimes the Story Needs to Be Told
Despite the wisdom of letting go of the story, sometimes it needs to be told. Not in the same compulsive way you have been telling yourself forever, but to have it be truly heard by someone. Find a trusted friend or professional, and tell the whole story – for the last time.
Be willing to say “goodbye” to it like an old friend who has long outstayed her welcome. Then begin to peek into the feelings in your body that have been driving it.
Put down the fight with your own experience. Then you will be available to the peace, joy, and love that are your natural state. This is what is already here, waiting for you to return home.
The next post will be all about relaxing into the bodily sensations. For now, I invite you to reflect on these questions:
- Can you identify the stories you tell yourself that keep your feelings stuck?
- Can you play with letting them float across your awareness, not giving them attention?
- Do you notice any resistance to not feeding the story?
- Can you find the physical sensations? Can you simply let them be?
As always, all questions, reports, and insights are welcome. I’d love to hear…