Connecting with Difficult Feelings

The body is the secret.

What is being felt right now in this very moment? How do I know how to recognise what is felt? Especially when I spend most of my time in my thoughts as is our cultural habit in the west. I can become disconnected from feelings and find it hard to even identify what is being felt and often just noticed a numbness. Thankfully we have the body which we can tune into anytime to connect with ourselves in a feeling rather than cerebral level.

I first drop down into the physical sensations of the body. I notice my weight on the chair. I notice I feel warm. There’s some sounds happening.

I take a slow breath from as low down as I can, my stomach, and another and turn my attention to home in on the physically felt sensations inside. And with a purposeful kindness and allowing. No desire to change anything, just to notice. Where in my body are any feelings being felt right this minute?

Right now I notice there is a tightness in the throat. I acknowledge this sensation and give it a little space around it to be there. I lean back inside a little while doing this, just observing and being with the sensation at the same time.

I recognise that anxiety is present. Anxiety often manifests in a slightly constricted throat sensation for me. There is also a slight tightness in the chest area, it feels a little bit clenched or contracted.

I breath again consciously, and make sure that I’m breathing from as low down in my body as I can again. I take a minute or two to just be with these feelings and sensations. And I create in my imagination a little space around them to give them some room to be there, the tightness, and fear there. The message is “it’s okay you can be there” to it.

Turning towards any feelings of disturbance inside is a relatively new type of relationship and takes some practise if we are not used to it. I still resist doing this often. Think I could do with writing some reminder messages and sticking around the place!

The habitual response for most of us is to do anything but turn towards and actually feel disturbing feelings, to be with and in the discomfort. That is understandable, we prefer not to feel pain of any kind. So we try to stuff them down, deny or replace them.

This is not a sustainable long term strategy and a variety of physical illnesses are said to eventually manifest as a result of repressing our feelings. And they just pile up into a chronic kind of body tension I notice for me. And a new approach was necessary.

So a little initially bravery to turn towards the uncomfortable feeling and then breath and give it some space to just be there for a while. And then we discover that it does not remain as it is when we do that.

Feelings are dynamic, they come and go, they move and change, dissipate, and arise. They just want to communicate to us and want to be heard. It is a kindness to ourselves to allow them to be there and be heard by us. We both observe like a gentle parent and we experience at the same time. We chum ourselves along. And sometimes it’s enough just to say to ourselves ‘I’m noticing anxiety at the moment’.

Even with all the mindfulness I have done, all sorts of automatic semi conscious thoughts, true and untrue, can come unnoticed and be believed by me. Thoughts sneak in often and many some communicate a possible future threat. Even if the threat is not true, it can feel very real. The body then does it’s job and responds in preparation for dealing with the threat. By releasing adrenaline and cortisol to ready us (the fight flight sensations).

Sensations associated with anxiety make themselves felt in the body. And boy if we were prone to anxiety before, in the last 2 years or so we have been bombarded by threat and danger messages with Covid and now a war.

So this turning towards the feelings through the body sensations is a useful way to navigate the extra fear floating around in society that most of tend to pick up. We can soothe ourselves by simply being there with kindness.

I’m still feeling a little anxiety here after this exercise, though I notice the throat and chest tightness has released quite considerably. I put my hand on my chest and say “May we be well, may we be at ease, may we be safe”.

I sometimes wonder if this is the only ‘practise’ that I need to do. It has the added bonus of bringing me right into the present and into the senses too. Not only noticing what is being felt, and also what is heard, and seen. A beautiful simple gateway to the ever passing present.

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