Leaning Into Emotion

When we’re struggling, experiencing a difficult emotion or circumstance, it’s human nature to want to push this away, get rid of the feeling, or numb it down as an alternative to the pressure we might feel going on internally.

After all, our basic human want is to feel happy.  However, life being what it is, while we can do our best at keeping all the balls in the air, sometimes they just go flying right!

The last few weeks I’ve been struggling with some pretty heavy duty anxiety.  This is something that’s not all that easy to admit given I’m a meditation teacher, practice myself twice daily and keep up a regular wellbeing routine.

I had even begun to question my own sanity through all of this, “How can this be happening?” It didn’t even really make sense to me that I was experiencing this.

So, of course, I set to applying all my knowledge and using all the tools in my tool box to get going at “fixing” myself; however, the more I tried to find solutions the more agitated I became, and in many ways it felt quite scary. 

Then I realized that I was trying to “cure” myself with wellbeing fixes.  

Having in the past turned to different crutches to numb an issue, through food, alcohol and overwork, given that none of these are really options for me these days, I just turned to “healthy” ones, convinced the more I meditated, exercised, ate right, saw the best healers, and focused on saying some positive affirmations, surely these would alleviate the problem?

Ah no…  not happening. 

What they did help with though is create the awareness that sometimes you just have to sit in the uncomfortable stuff.  That these amazing tools aren’t necessarily a cure all, rather they actually sometimes bring a lot to the surface for us to heal, and if we push our emotions away they just get held down in the body.

85% of our subconscious is unprocessed emotion.

With decades of running away from facing some of these emotions, I’m sure I have my fair share to deal with!

Instead I learnt that the more I leaned into the anxiety, showed it some acceptance, that it seemed to ease just a little bit.  I also started listening!

We have such a tendency to have little patience with ourselves, and a want to fix anything that isn’t working, however often the answer is in facing into our fear itself.  Running towards it rather than running away. 

“The cure for the pain, is in the pain.” - Rumi

It’s actually totally natural for us to feel emotions like fear and anxiety, in fact it’s a part of our human survival system and it’s just our body communicating to us.  Yet often we make ourselves wrong for the experience, and the more we push it away the more elevated it can become.

Having the courage to remain open to the experience rather than shut it down is a challenging one. 

You wouldn’t turn a friend away that was suffering, however we turn away from ourselves, and might even isolate ourselves from others in an endeavour to hide what’s going on for us, because we feel ashamed or see it as a form of weakness.  It feels pretty risky to share the raw feeling inside of us.  

We react by self-protecting to keep safe, and do whatever we can to soothe ourselves and our nervous systems, but often it only serves to perpetuate the feeling.

Instead it’s possible to lean into the emotion.

In particular, I’ve been connecting into my physical body to tune into the sensation itself, our minds can think ourselves out of a lot of things, but our bodies are always a true barometer of the internal state.  I’ve asked the following questions:

In this moment, what is happening inside me? 

Letting myself feel whatever is here, not pushing it away, or meditating, exercising or getting on my computer to find an answer in a bid to get rid of it.  Sitting in the stillness, being with the emotion and listening.  In doing so really tapping into the body, and doing my best to avoid the narrative going on in the mind.   

Can I let this be? 

Creating an openness and space to allow for it to exist.  Letting go of the judgement around it or the need to have to fix myself, simply being in the space no matter how uncomfortable it may be.

How do you want me to be with you? Or, What do you need from me? 

What could I do to nurture myself in those moments?  At times, it was as simple as acceptance, not making myself wrong for having anxiety, or telling myself I shouldn’t feel this way. 

The more I was able to sit with what was there, the emotion and anxiety were able to pass through, and I was able to gain some deeper perspective.

Life is a journey, often the more work we do on ourselves, the more we feel we have to find this perfect version of ourselves to present out to the world, especially if that is our profession to help.  Yet the more we can be real, the more it makes it okay for others to be as well.  It’s important that we realize that we are all doing the best we can in this world, and show ourselves compassion when we are going through difficult times.

Showing up with love and kindness for ourselves just as we are, is no easy task, but the more we can lose the self-judgement and accept all our perfect imperfectness, actually letting ourselves feel what is here rather than pushing it away, helps us stop struggling against the current, and allows us to connect back to the flow that will eventually lead us back to peace.


Authors Note:  The questions are based on the beautiful work of Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher.