How often have you simply sat with your emotions, without reaching for the phone, or a drink, a smoke, or a friend?
I’m going to guess and say probably not that often because it’s uncomfortable.
Who wants to feel sad, angry, frustrated, alone?
But if you are to heal, I suggest you become acquainted with this; the physical discomfort of your emotions.
Tara Brach writes about this in her book Radical Acceptance, and it’s a practice that I’ve come to rely upon.
It’s as simple as it sounds, but it’s challenging.
For example, you might be feeling frustrated. For me, that feeling is very much a deep ache in my legs. My chest feels tight, my head feels tight, I feel as if I can’t move, and that I’m surrounded by walls.
The image that comes to mind is being stuck in an old brick well and I can’t climb out. So I sit with it — and I notice that I’m frustrated with myself for procrastinating, for not doing what I feel I should be doing.
So I sit with these emotions, and I recognise that I’m scared to take an action because I might fail.
Following the practice of simply sitting allows the emotions to move through your body and leave. It can take up to 20 minutes or more, and that’s where the challenge lies.
Doing nothing but feeling, observing, not judging, and without moving away from the discomfort can be tough.
I’m sure you’ve heard countless guru’s parrot the phrase that emotion has the word ‘motion’ in it and that emotions need to move.
And it’s true.
Emotions are not meant to be stored in the body.
And here’s another truth that I’ve illustrated with my example, your emotions will be covering up other emotions that were not dealt with at the time, be that last week, last year or over a decade ago. They are the cover for the deeper, unconscious emotions that really run the show.
Anger is often the covering emotion for sadness and grief. The anger layers over the sadness and grief because it’s an ‘easier’ feeling to deal with and provides energy to carry us through. Sadness and grief are very heavy energies, very static, still. Life is hard when you feel as if you’re wading through treacle. Anger on the other hand can be a driving force, it can keep us going.
My example above shows how my frustration hides my fear of not being good enough and keeps me stuck, in a ‘safe’ place. If I don’t move, I can't fail.
On some level, I don’t want to move forward. It’s easier to feel frustrated than it is to feel unworthy.
These ‘top’ layer emotions prevent us from feeling the real emotions of sadness, grief or unworthiness.
And because we are fantastic at adapting and surviving, the anger and frustration become inbuilt responses until eventually, we have no idea what we are actually responding to anymore.
I can look at my desk and feel frustrated, but really I’m scared.
Sitting with ourselves takes practice. We need to get back into tune with our bodies, with our true selves, and sitting is one way.
Initially, the feelings might be strong, they might not uncover anything, you may sit with the same emotions for weeks, months even, I certainly did. At times I felt that I was going nowhere and this was all new age guff and nonsense, but then a crack of light and I was able to watch a new emotion gradually arise, the old ones left, an understanding took place, and the shift happened.
Now I know that my frustration is actually a signal that I’m moving out of my comfort zone.