Being with difficult emotions, softening, soothing and allowing

waterlilly pondSession Details - September, 2017 - Strategies for building our resource of holding difficult feelings in our compassion.

On this topic last year we discussed the wisdom of Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, general systems theory, and deep ecology. As the root teacher of the Work That Reconnects, she has created a theoretical framework for personal and social change. Pivotal to this work is learning to be with the difficult emotions that arise due to the problems our world is facing.

This time we discussed the wisdom of Tara Brach, and investigated some tips that she finds helpful for bringing compassion to difficult feelings. We then explored what was workable for each of us in regards to the practice of softening, soothing and allowing in the presence of difficult feelings. 

Self-Observation Without Judgment - Danna Faulds
Release the harsh and pointed inner voice. 
It's just a throwback to the past,
 and holds no truth about this moment.

 Let go of self-judgment, the old,
learned ways of beating yourself up for each imagined inadequacy.

 Allow the dialogue within the mind to grow friendlier, and quiet. Shift out of inner criticism and life suddenly looks very different.

 I can say this only because I make the choice a hundred times a day to release the voice that refuses to acknowledge the real me.

 What's needed here isn't more prodding toward perfection, but intimacy - seeing clearly, and embracing what I see. 

Love, not judgment, sows the seeds of tranquillity and change.

How to Feel Your Feelings: Article by Tara Brach, July 24, 2017

To begin to feel your feelings—especially if they are intense or difficult—you need to create a welcoming, kind environment. You can think of your feelings as wild creatures that hide out in the woods, and the only way they’ll come out into the field is if they feel safe enough. They’re parts of your psyche, but they hide in the shadows when it’s not safe. In order for them to feel safe to come into full consciousness, they need to feel a kind, gentle receptivity from you.

Feelings will come and go, and it’s not necessary with every arising feeling to take a deep dive. But you will need to work with those that you habitually run from if you want to wake up and be fully openhearted. When a feeling comes up—let’s say it’s fear—you can simply recognize it and name it by saying, “I sense fear here.”

There’s been research done at UCLA that shows that when you name an emotion, it activates the frontal cortex and helps to sooth and comfort the amygdala, lowering the reaction in the limbic system.

After you’ve named the emotion, the next step is to allow it to be there—to have the conscious intention to give room to whatever has come out of the woods. There are two questions I find useful to bring a full, present attention to difficult emotions. The first is, “What is happening inside me right now?” Try to contact the felt sense in your body. Investigate where the feeling lives and how it’s expressed. Feel your throat, chest, and belly—feel where the emotions actually live in your flesh.

Then ask yourself, “Can I be with this?” or “Can I let this be?”

In some way, offer the message that’s needed, whether it’s one of kindness, gentleness, or care. You can say to the emotion, “You belong.” Even if it’s fear or shame, I will say, “You belong. You are a wave in my ocean.” As soon as you give the message that “this belongs too,” you signal there’s no resistance, and that gives the space for the emotion to unfold, release, and be integrated into a greater whole.

An emotion is sustained by a looping of a thought and a felt sense in the body. To allow it to express and move on, we need to meet both the thought and feeling with mindful awareness. If there’s a feeling of fear but you have no idea that you’re telling yourself you’re going to fail at that presentation next week, then you’re only partly in touch with the emotion. If you notice the anxious thoughts but you don’t feel it in the body, you’re only partly conscious of the emotion. Whatever is not in conscious awareness binds us. As you include the thought pattern and felt sense in a kind and open presence, the sense of identification with the emotions begins to dissolve. It is free to come and go naturally. It becomes a wave that doesn’t define you.

(sourced from Tara Brach's webpage

My thoughts on Tara's comments:

I particularly resinate with Tara's comment of ‘you belong’.
I also resonate well with her last point, that it can be helpful to check in on our thought patterns – what are we believing? Then doing a U-turn back to the body.

When looking at bringing compassion to difficult feelings it can be good to reflect once again on the 3 components of compassion:
1. Mindfulness Vs over-identification / auto-pilot
2. Kindness Vs criticism / judgements
3. Common humanity Vs isolation / disconnect

As a great deal of our unnecessary pain is an ‘inside job’, so to speak, we need to start this process from the inside out with all of the components of compassion, our own loving – connected – presence with this life right here.

As we turn towards difficult emotions, even with MSC our pain may temporarily increase – so we incline gradually towards emotional discomfort. The stages below from MSC can be a guide:

Exploring – becoming curious, dipping our toes in

Tolerating – perhaps using single focused mindfulness practices to build our resources

Allowing – an open awareness style of letting feelings come and go – like the weather

Befriending – gaining greater perspective, trust in all things in transition

Strategies for meeting difficult emotions:
• Noticing and noting emotions (in a kind and friendly tone to your inner voice)
• Finding emotions in the body (dropping the story – dropping into the body)
• Softening the body is physically compassion
• Soothing ourselves is emotionally compassionate
• Allowing discomfort is mentally compassionate

To bring the self-compassion component in it may be helpful to connect to our physical anchor (soothing touch), feel the body grounded and ask the question what do I need? Or what would love do – as love is always loving?

We discussed as a group what the opposites to softening, soothing and allowing were for us, and how they felt in our body. I always find it useful to work from the opposite, to give myself a felt sense of the unecessary suffering I can cause or add to a difficult situation. 

Thanks once again for the warm community of MSC past participants who truly make these sessions.


Comments from participants

“I have found mindfulness a key to coping." 

“Learning to be still and kind to myself." 

“Tina, you create a safe, warm, kind and comfortable environment."

“I could not think of a better way to start my week." 

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