One of the exercises I am often told to do is to “be with the feeling”. When I first started doing this I remember being a little scared and confused. “How do you do that?!? What do you mean?!? I’m always feeling!” Since my main emotions were usually depressed and anxious, to be with these feelings meant to be consumed by them. What I learned was that by being still, and locating the feeling in my body, I allow myself to feel, let the feelings cycle through, and ultimately give myself love and compassion. Yet even knowing this, it was a tough balance trying to feel my feelings and not spiral into an episode.
In the past 2 years I have identified my feelings and felt them through. No matter how painful, I did this out of the simple goal of giving myself love and compassion. No matter what the feeling, I know it’s okay to experience what I am in any given moment. Putting that inner critic aside that says “What the hell is your problem?” or “Oh what a big baby you are!” can be difficult, especially when the emotions are intense. These critical statements are what I was told by the adults around me when I was a child.
What our parents and/or caretakers tell us is what we tell ourselves. These words that we tell ourselves feel as normal as the air we breathe. When we work to replace these critical words with words of compassion and understanding, it can feel like a lie. But, with practice, we slowly find ourselves forming a new pattern of normal. However, in times of stress, we go back to what we unconsciously know as old “normal”. Breaking this pattern and replacing those old critical voices with comforting ones takes work, and sometimes can feel like a tall order. For myself, I have noticed a difference. There is a lessening of my critical voice, and my compassionate voice has become stronger. Sometimes my compassionate voice will even often allow my critical voice have its say with the understanding that this is an old habit, from an old wounding.
Last week, I was talking to my interim therapist about my persistent feelings of loneliness. She asked me to be still and experience this feeling in my body. Where do I feel it in my body? How does it feel? What does it look like? This exercise was familiar to me, but this time she asked me to do one thing I hadn’t done before. She said “Set your story about the feeling aside, and feel what it’s like in you body”. Set my story aside? As I sat with the feeling of loneliness, I could hear my story about loneliness fading in and out of my mind. I would begin to hear the story and remind myself to set it aside. As I did this, I realized that this is exactly what my meditation practice is like.
In meditation, I start by focusing on my breath. When I begin to notice my mental chatter I lovingly acknowledge it, set it aside, and refocus on my breath. In this new (for me) “being with my feelings” instead of focusing on my breath, what I am focusing on is, my body sensation. When I notice my story to the feeling creeping in, I lovingly acknowledge it, and refocus on the body sensation. This exercise is one of giving yourself the space, time, and love. It is the loving act of re-parenting yourself.
I should note here that the goal of being with your feelings isn’t to eliminate them. It is to show your self-love and compassion in the knowing that you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Setting aside the story associated to that feeling is a completely different experience that merely allowing yourself to feel. If you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a try. Ideally with an easy/less intense emotion if this is your first time and/or unfamiliar with meditation.