Getting poleaxed by your feelings? Try this.
Updated: Jun 3
Here’s the trick behind the self help techniques that can help you to get to the real need behind your big feelings.
Gotta love ‘em.
Actually, it's more like, gotta live with ‘em. Being sensory creatures as we are – even our thoughts are ways of filing our sensed experiences – our feelings are a primary way we navigate the world.
Trouble is most of us tune them out a lot of the time, and that can be tricky when our feelings are sending some massive “STOP RIGHT HERE!” messages.
When we’re tuning out of our feelings, what happens in practice is that we spend our lives on diversion, without really pausing to question why the roadblocks are there or even whether there’s anything we can do about it.
Turning towards uncomfortable feelings helps us understand the need beneath them.
Buddhist practice talks about “turning towards” what we find uncomfortable, and (as I realised yesterday in a cheerful moment of clarity) this practice is actually at the heart of nearly all the “block clearing” techniques you’ll find out and about. Well, the ones that work, at any rate.
We tend to run away from awkward feelings because we have too many “shoulds'' about how it’s all supposed to be. Too complicated. Too uncomfortable. This approach is, however, somewhat shortsighted. For beneath every awkward feeling (think “roadblock” sign) there is a great, profound and extremely valid need (think “hole in the road that needs fixing”).
These needs are marvelous, wonderful things.
They are a call for union, integration, wholeness. A need is really your system saying “give me this, and I’ll be tip top and raring go. You just wait and see what I’m capable of when it's all come together”.
The “ouch” feeling hanging out above is like a flashing neon, a call to action. Its job is getting you to the scene of the crime and activating your resources to get the system running at optimum as quickly as possible.
One big reason we “turn away” from our needs is fear.
The pain of disappointment is profound. We don’t even want to look at those needs because it's so devastating to confront our lack, our sense of helplessness.
Here’s where the magic happens and this is the piece of wisdom we are missing terribly these days. There are so many ways to get to a single place. So many things our minds, hearts, souls are capable of. So much the universe has we haven’t dreamt of yet.
By connecting deeply with the need you can actually generate the nourishment required all by yourself.
Thanks to conformity thinking (if you don’t fit you’re broken) and consumerism (we want you to want so you buy) we are trained from an early age to focus on the lack, on what’s wrong, what’s missing, how we aren’t good enough.
There’s another way. You can also connect deeply with the quality you wish to embody and it’s this ability that makes us staggeringly powerful as humans. We can allow our minds to take us anywhere we need to go. It's beautiful, intuitive and simple.
Let me show you how to “Turn Towards” and deal with difficult feelings creatively.
When I was taught this, I was feeling pretty frazzled, so my teacher suggested we use the need for rest, so let’s go with the example and I’ll show you how “turning towards” can help you get beyond the pain and into a whole different state of fulfilment.
SO, you’re feeling tired. What usually happens when you’re slung out is you try and ignore your exhaustion and keep. on. trucking. This generally leads to some kind of tension, tetchiness or other secondary symptom. This may in turn lead to a headache, or a huge blow out with someone.
When you’re turning towards, you come in at whatever the presenting problem is, and keep “turning towards” whatever’s uncomfortable (your drivingly irritating partner, headache, the tetchiness etc etc.) Be with what is, and gradually, the layers fall away.
Sit with it, don’t fight it.
Allow the tetchiness, pain, derision (!) to come. Hang out with each breath. Go “under the breath” to get deeper into the experience. Instead of fighting how tired you feel, allow it to come, and with it, any feelings of exasperation, vulnerability and so on. Keep going as you feel the feelings unfold, and notice how the quality changes as you go.
Eventually, and it may take some time (especially if there’s a lot of “ignored” stuff which needs to be seen) for you tune into the real need. In this case, for deep and profound rest.
When we’re tired, we feel the lack of rest and that’s what’s so demoralising. But as you sit and turn towards, you get clearer about what you need, the quality of the rest that you need. You get more and more information about what’s missing.
Instead of bemoaning the absence, feeling the separation, you can sit intimately with these qualities, and (here’s where it gets a bit quantum) actually generate them with your mind.
Try sitting with the sense of deep rest for a moment or three.
Let your breath guide. How might the best kind of rest feel? How can you feel rested right now? You can bring it down to the micro level, tiny details in your body, images, sensations, in each breath. Feel “rest” within you, instead of “over there” and out of reach.
Can you feel the difference?
You can roll this out to deal with difficult feelings as they emerge, or make this into a regular practice to tune in more deeply with yourself and what you’re needing on a daily basis, or in the broader canvas of your life.
You may find there are layers of “old” stuff that would like attention, and that as these fall away, there is more ease in your whole life, and you find it easier to respond “in the moment” or spot yourself going into overwhelm before crisis hits.
Simply amazing what the mind can do.
Now, over to you… How does this practice relate to how you deal with difficult feelings? What will you do differently after reading this? And what else would you find helpful? Let me know in the comments!