Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Living with "Bad" Feelings

If you're alive, you will inevitably experience "bad" feelings.

I'm not referring to the sense that something "bad" is going to happen. Rather, I mean the feelings that nobody enjoys such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, hurt, regret, guilt, hopelessness, shame, and other "negative" states.

Since emotional responses usually occur along with various actions, physical sensations, and images (i.e., mental or internal representations of the experience), feelings create very powerful memories in your bodymind.

Imagine the following scenario.

When Jean feels lonely, she sometimes finds herself, automatically, reliving times in her childhood when she didn't have many friends and cried a lot. She can still feel her deep, uncontrollable sobbing, irregular breathing, and the ache in her chest. Jean also remembers her painful and depressing images of a future that continued her isolation.

If you imagined yourself in Jean's place, or in some other familiar setting, you probably experienced the unpleasant situation as if it were happening all over again. You may vividly remember sights, sounds, tastes, words, or physical actions specific to that event.

As a result of the intensity of these memories combined with a current "negative" experience, most people will often do whatever they can to avoid or ignore "bad" feelings, or to become attached to having something that feels "good" instead.

What else can you do?

First, in order to create a new view (or paradigm) about "bad" feelings, you might consider these alternative assumptions:
  • There's nothing intrinsically bad or good about "bad" ("negative") and "good" ("positive") feelings. These terms refer to different kinds of experiences that people judge in various ways. A "bad" feeling is not necessarily worse than a "good" one, and may basically be a difficult-to-feel experience.
  • You are not your "bad" (or "good") feelings. You have these experiences just like other things you have. They don't define you.
  • Your "bad" (or "good") feelings act as signals from your bodymind. You can use these signals to choose, and change, your responses to internal or external events.
With a new view of "bad" feelings, you're now ready to experiment using this practice:
  • Recall a time recently (i.e., minutes or hours ago) when you had an unpleasant (or difficult) feeling.
  • Relive the feeling and all your associated memories, images, and physical sensations . . .
  • Let yourself fully feel the experience in your bodymind.
  • Now, use some of your attention to witness your experiences without judgment--just accept whatever happens . . .
  • Ask yourself silently, "What's happening?" and as simply as possible describe your observations of your experience.
  • You can make written or mental notes (e.g., I'm feeling angry and confused, my head aches, and my muscles are tight) to respond to your question.
  • When you finish, consider, "What do I want to do?" and reflect on your possible actions.
  • Give yourself time and space, and let your response emerge from within.
  • If "I don't know" results, just take more time until you do know and feel satisfied with your response. Of course, "Do nothing" may also surface as well as specific action steps (e.g., call or write the person, change your behavior next time, forgive yourself).
When you use these two questions, "What's happening?" and "What do I want to do?" with witnessing, you develop your capacity to fully experience the complete spectrum of feelings (i.e., from easy to difficult). Then, without judgment of self or other, you may freely choose your responses.

Be patient and kind with yourself!

Love and Peace,
Dave

PS In the middle of writing the practice, my computer hard drive crashed! Immediately, I had a direct opportunity to test the strength of my own years of practice. As a result, I quietly witnessed a range of feelings and images move through me, noted what happened, and clearly decided on my action steps. In this way, my experience reveals that the reward for your dedicated practice is that you get to be You!

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