An adult client recently reached out to me from out of the country while on a very challenging journey. This person was meeting their father for the first time and asked me about how to deal with all the really big feelings that were coming up. Here is my response.
“Pay attention to WHAT you are feeling rather than WHY you think you are feeling it.”
My coaching to you is to go toward your feelings and pay close attention to exactly WHAT you are feeling rather than WHY you think you are feeling it. The feelings are being “triggered” not “caused” by what is occurring. The cause is much older and deeper than what is happening right now. The WHY is really a wild goose chase designed by our ego to avoid actually facing and experiencing the feelings.
“Feelings are an exquisitely designed, divinely inspired, perfectly functioning communication system.”
There is a little sign in my office that says, “Feelings are meant to be felt. That is why they are called feelings.” This is true whether it is a broken bone or a broken heart. The feelings we would most like to avoid are a gift in disguise. All of our feelings are an exquisitely designed, divinely inspired, perfectly functioning communication system of our mind, body, and spirit working together trying to tell us something we need to know to help us heal, to point out what in our life is out of alignment with our true and deeper nature. Our feelings also reveal what in our life is perfectly aligned and nurturing to our soul.
“Attachments are the source of all suffering.”
Emotional suffering is virtually always about some attachment we have formed in our life, innocently enough, to a relationship, a job, an idea or belief, an activity, a substance, an object, something that we want and are unable or unwilling to release from our grip. Sometimes it is simply the difficulty we have letting go of things not having been different than they were. That is one reason why much of therapy is grief work.
If overwhelming feelings arise, whether related to current or past trauma, you might want or need to seek support to help you regulate your nervous system and more gently integrate your feelings. Likewise, if feelings arise that are psychologically overpowering, perhaps related to depression, OCD, bipolar disorder or another condition, please seek professional support.
“Suffering is a gift in disguise.”
So our job is not to get rid of a feeling we don’t like or are afraid to fully experience but rather to go toward the feeling, explore it, experience it as fully and completely as possible. Name each feeling as it arises into awareness as though we are an onion being peeled one layer at a time, perhaps scared, confused, angry, sad, excited, happy, confused, grateful, hurt, jealous, scared, confused, outraged, resentful, guilty, happy, relieved, confused - honoring each as it arises or falls away. Just keep paying attention to what arises into awareness. Honor our own natural process. Notice and then visualize exactly where in our body we are feeling it. See if we can see its precise location. Welcome it to be there. Open our heart to the feeling. Invite it fully into awareness. See if we can make it bigger, more real, more intense. Notice its size and shape, its color, its texture, anything we can notice about it. Ask it a question about anything in our life. Take a breath, soften, and let go of holding on. Notice anything that comes into awareness, sometimes something revealing, sometimes nothing. Feel free to have a conversation with the feeling. Surrender to it - let the feeling have us. Become it. Remember our feeling is not our enemy. It is there in service to our highest self. Our job is not to get rid of it. Our job is to go toward it, explore it and discover anything it is ready to tell us and that we are ready to learn.
“Our ego thinks it is us.”
Our ego thinks it is us and that its survival depends on never losing control. Control is an illusion, a construct of our ego, designed for its own survival and definition of its self.
Our ego’s favorite strategy for not losing control is to avoid intense feelings. Our ego’s favorite strategy to avoid feeling intense feelings is to quickly try to figure out WHY we are feeling it. Our fearful and quite innocent ego thinks that if it could actually figure out WHY we are feeling it then we would not actually have to feel it. The anticipation of the possibility of feeling a really big feeling and thereby not being in control looks like death to our sweet, innocent but totally misguided ego.
“Resistance causes persistence.”
Our willingness to go toward the feeling, explore it, experience it as fully and completely as possible is how we begin to process it, integrate whatever it’s about, and begin to move free from it. Remember, resistance causes persistence. The more we fight, resist, ignore, stuff, or temporarily anesthetize ourself from a feeling, the more power we are actually giving it.
I sometimes think of the feelings we might call negative as “emotional gas”. They come from deep inside and need to come out. And if we fight, resist, stuff, ignore, or try to anesthetize ourself from them, they will begin to seep out in inappropriate times and places and create symptoms/sufferings in our life.
My experience is that in time, as we learn how to make friends with our feelings, learn how to explore and open to their gifts, we will naturally begin to see what they were trying to tell us, what attachments they are pointing to. All of our sufferings come from attachments, not just a preference, but stuck to an attachment that our ego innocently but misguidedly believes its happiness or survival depends upon.
“We are already profoundly somebody when we come into this world.”
When we came into this world we did not come in as a clean slate. We are already profoundly somebody with an assortment of predispositions, limitations, strengths, unfinished emotions, genetic, astrological, and divinely inspired implants. I believe that we bring these deep old feelings into this life with us. And like a magnet, from the moment of our inception, throughout every moment of our entire life, we will attract to us the very predispositions, people, events, circumstances, and situations that give us an inescapable opportunity to do the work we came here to do. If we want to know our life purpose look to our feelings, both to our joy and to our suffering.
“The only way out is through.”
We can learn to honor our own process, to open ourselves to this divinely inspired journey. It is in our willingness to feel and explore these deep, old feelings that we begin to process and integrate them into our bigger self, and begin to free ourselves from the suffering of many ages. To do this requires a willingness to totally let go of holding on to whatever attachment we have not released. Freeing ourselves from the suffering comes from surrender, from opening our heart and totally letting go of whatever we are clinging to - without going away, without closing our heart. As someone once wisely pointed out, “The only way out is through.”
When we do this we begin to feel an amazing sense of freedom, lightness, and the loving knowing of the essence of our soul which is pure loving awareness, holding our scared, innocent ego with tenderness and compassion.
“Develop an intimacy with the “self”.
Another reason to “honor your own process”, to go toward and explore all your feelings, is because that is how you develop an intimate relationship with yourself. Having an open, honest, and intimate relationship with yourself is the basis and foundation for an intimate relationship with another person. Your interest and willingness to know yourself by experiencing the emotional content of your life, and being willing to be seen by another is what allows people to develop open, honest, authentic and richly rewarding relationships with each other.
Blessings to all of us on this journey.
Sincerely - Frank