Last week's post about touching our wounds with love seems to have hit a chord with many of my readers, and I've heard from some of you that this is something you'd like to learn to do better, but you're not sure how to go about it on a practical level.
Since this skill of being present to our emotions in a loving, compassionate way is something that very few of us are taught, I thought I'd share what I've developed that works for me as a starting place for others to explore what might work for them.
The key to this approach is treating whatever you're feeling as a helpful acquaintance that you'd like to get to know better.
Obviously, you probably don't really see this emotion as helpful or as something you want to know better when you're hurting, but even your pain (or anger or fear) is there with a message for you. Allowing yourself to be fully present to that emotion will allow it to do its job and move on faster than trying to escape it will ever do.
Setting the stage
If you're meeting with a new acquaintance you really want to get to know better, you will likely try to find some undisturbed time to spend with that person. Finding a similar time and space for getting know your emotions is important.
For some, this may be sitting quietly. For others, it may be taking a solo walk in nature. It could also involve pacing or dancing or drawing or writing. Whatever works best for you is fine.
The important thing is that it is uninterrupted time alone so you can focus internally on the emotions arising in you.
Dropping the story
As you move into that space, it's important to drop the story around the wound. This is not the time or place to explore the action or situation that caused the wound, who is to blame for the wound, or anything else about the story of the wound.
Take a moment to check those stories at the door to focus only the emotions themselves. (If you're like me, you'll likely find these stories creeping back in, so you may have to keep setting them aside repeatedly each time they arise.)
Part of staying out of story also means not giving labels to what you are feeling. We are going to explore the feelings themselves instead of retreating to the intellectual distance of trying to put labels on them.
Getting into the body
Once we've dropped the story and the labels, the way to get to know our emotions better and be truly present with them is to use all of our senses to describe to ourselves how they move in our bodies.
It's important to stay open and present with loving compassion to whatever arises here. This is not a space for judgment or rejection of this new acquaintance. It's all about just paying attention.
Imagine that what you are feeling is another being that you are getting to know. How would you describe that being?
What does it feel like in your body? Where do you sense it? Your chest? Your belly? Your shoulders? Does it move from one part of the body to another as you watch it?
Is it stationary like a heavy rock? Or is there movement? What is that movement like?
Does it feel like it's attempting to crush you? Does it feel like it's ripping and tearing you into pieces? Is it just stirring and whirling?
Is it sharp or dull? Twisting or heavy? Does it remind you more of hammers or knives? Is it ice cold or burning hot?
Remember as you explore this to stay away from labels. Rather than say that you feel anxious, for example, pay attention to the whirling flight of butterflies churning in your belly without naming it.
(This particular example was how I discovered that anxiety and excitement are, for me, almost the same feeling in my body. It's my mind that labels that differently depending on my story about what is happening. That's why labels get in the way sometimes!)
If you were to act out how it feels, what would that look like?
If you were able to see your emotion, what would it look like? Is it a certain color or group of colors?
Would it look spiny or hairy or scaly or full of flame or some other way?
Is it big or small?
If it were an animal or a mythological creature, what kind would it be?
Let your imagination run wild here! How would you draw this emotion if you were make a picture of it?
If you could hear your emotion, what would it sound like?
Does it roar? Does it whisper into your ear? Does it scream like a banshee? Does it whimper?
Does it say anything? (Remember to keep out of the story here, though. You can still note any other messages, like "Help!" or "It's hopeless." or similar non-story messages you hear.)
Taste and smell
If you could smell what you're feeling, what would it smell like? If you could taste it, what would it taste like?
Is it like ashes? Or brimstone? Or the ozone after a lightning strike?
Is it bitter? sour? harsh like soap? Does it make you gag? Or is it sickly sweet?
Take time to really settle into each sense and explore this new acquaintance to get to know it well. Consider recording what you notice in some way, if that will help you focus on this process.
Also, feel free to let tears flow or otherwise act out (for example, in dance) what you are feeling to be fully present to it.
You will likely note during this exercise that what you are feeling is probably more complex than any simple label you may have applied to it.
You may also notice some intensifying of the emotion as you bring your attention to it, but I generally find that to be temporary.
Ultimately, I find that paying such detailed attention to what I am feeling (while staying out of the story that fuels it), allows the emotion to dissipate. Like a toddler longing to be seen and heard, it often acts out until it gets our full attention and is then content to go off its own way.
The very act of being present to what you are feeling is healing in and of itself. Although it may take more than one session of exploring in this way to work through strong and long-held emotions. That's ok. Keep repeating it as long as you need to.
If you've tried this exercise (or one like it), how did it go? Did you learn anything surprising? How did affect what you were feeling?
Do you have other ways of touching your wounds with love that are different? How do those approaches work for you?
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