I often hear from my clients that they are struggling with an uncomfortable feeling, something like deep grief or immense anger. They describe experiences of suffering and often express a desire to “make it go away”. Their hope is that therapy will end their experience of the difficult feeling, that there will be easy shifts or magic pills that will allow them to opt out of feeling the feeling.
They have tried hiding from the feeling through ignoring it or avoiding it. They have tried running from the feeling through means of escapism or staying overly busy. They have tried fighting the feeling by pushing it out and forcing it away. But it comes back, or stubbornly, never really leaves. This feeling is here to stay and it needs to be felt.
In these circumstances, I encourage my clients to move INTO the feeling. To get curious about its nature, to be willing to consider its information and to give it time to do its necessary work.
There is a Rumi poem that I love to share with these clients in order to introduce an alternative perspective on uncomfortable and difficult feelings.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
So, what does it mean to sit with an uncomfortable feeling? To welcome it in?
If you have an established meditation practice or feel drawn to this method, try that. Sit still. Be quiet. Soften the mind. Notice what you carry.
But it also doesn’t need to be quite so formal. It would be worth trying a silent walk, a warm bath, or sitting alone in front of a view.
Wherever you settle, you could try the instructions below for sitting with the uncomfortable feelings that you carry. Not with an intention to “fix” them, or rid yourself of them, but instead, to learn from them and to allow yourself an opportunity to REALLY feel them.
- Find a space that feels safe and comforting.
- Notice the feeling (grief, frustration, jealousy...) that has proven uncomfortable to carry.
- See if you can find a location in the body where this feeling resides. Take your time. An internal scan from head to toe might help this process.
- Once you have identified a location where you hold this feeling, rest your palms there to draw awareness to this space and your attention to this feeling.
- Now, get curious. Does this feeling have a name? How about a color? Can you feel its texture? Is there any other sensory input you can take in? Is is hot? Is it sharp? Is it damp?
- Set aside judgment of how you want it to be or not be. Just notice it as it is.
- Now lean into it. Can you immerse yourself in it? Can you really free yourself to feel?
- When you’re ready, offer yourself comfort and compassion. Express a gratitude for this feeling and the work it is doing in you.
- Slowly and gently draw your awareness back to your surroundings. Take a few deep breaths. Transition back into your day.
- Circle back to this practice whenever you notice yourself avoiding feeling the feeling.
This is what it is to welcome a feeling and to treat it like an honored guest. And in doing so, you honor yourself, your whole self, and your experience of this situation.