Feeling the Feeling
June 29, 2011
You're laying in bed, trying to fall asleep. It's already been an hour since you turned out the light and your mind is racing. You feel awake and even energized. Sometimes you even feel more energetic than you did at bedtime. You begin to worry about not getting enough sleep and feeling tired the next day, which only seems to add to your anxiety. What is it? Why is this happening? - You ask yourself. You scan your mind for something specific, something to tie to this state, a reason for feeling this tension, but you can't come up with anything that seems that important.
If this sounds familiar, even if it only happens once in a while, read on.
What is happening in this situation, is that you are having a physical response to mental activity. You are thinking yourself into an excited state. You're probably aware of that, but you might not know how to manage the process, otherwise you would!
What we often try to do when we find ourselves in the above situation, is 1) try to find the 'reason' for our overactive mind, and 2) participate in relaxation exercises to help ourselves fall asleep. While there's no harm in doing either of these, neither of them effectively addresses the main issue, which is that something is happening inside our bodies that we can't seem to manage. Finding the 'reason' for the tension might make you feel better in that you were able to link it to something identifiable, but it probably won't make the actual feeling go away. Approaching it from a somatic (body) process, might help for a few minutes, but it doesn't address the source, only the symptoms.
There's another way. It's called "Feeling the Feeling."
Feelings are the bridge between the mind and the body. We have them based on our thoughts and also based on what happens to our bodies. We can have them as a part of a memory or by themselves - possibly triggered due to an unconscious thought (memory). What's important in times of anxiety, is not that we are able to find reasons or remedies for our pain, but that we connect to it. Yes! connect to it. Rather than telling ourselves that something is wrong, which only tends to add to our suffering, do the opposite.
Invite the feeling into your body. Why? Because feelings are there for a reason. Feelings are meant to be felt. That is their way of moving through the body. When we suppress them or have an aversion to feeling them, they tend to stay where they are and nothing much changes. When we "invite the feeling in" what often happens is that it simply dissipates. I realize that this seems counterintuitive. You might think that by focusing on the feeling, it would only grow and become unbearable, but more often than not, the opposite is true.
When a feeling is invited into the body, to be fully felt, it's like allowing someone tell you something they've been wanting to tell you. Have you ever just wanted someone to listen to you - without interrupting, judging, or rebutting your words? When we can "speak our mind" we often feel a great sense of relief. Often, we're not really looking for a solution to a perceived problem, but just to be heard, to get it out. Well, it's the same for your body, except in this case, it's an aspect of yourself that needs you to listen. Rather than the message coming to you through words, it comes in the form of a feeling, the body's language.
When we accept our bodies request to be heard by 'Feeling the Feeling,' the energy that was surrounding that need usually evaporates with the expression. This is why it's important to not only allow the feeling to exist, but to actually invite it in. To say to it, as one might say to a child, "It's OK. What is it? You can tell me." When we show ourselves this kind of tenderness, and understanding, we enter a state of compassion, and through that state, we become wholehearted.
In order to invite the feeling in, we need to be vulnerable, to be open to not knowing the reason, and possibly not having a solution. When we push feelings down and out of our way, we only move them aside temporarily. Because our bodies and minds are resilient and complex, we can do this for some time, but eventually 'unfelt feelings' will manifest in various forms, such as general anxiety, rashes, impatience, and even anger (often related to feelings of a loss of control).
When you find yourself awake when you would rather be sleeping, ask yourself: "Is there a feeling of energy in my body?" Scan your body in search for anything that feels like it has a charge. Feelings can be anywhere, but they often reside in the chest, abdomen, back, and/or neck. If you don't feel anything specific, just feel the sensation of scanning your body. Feel the feeling of being. Remember to 'invite' the feeling into your body, rather than wishing it were gone. Imagine you are talking to a person (a child perhaps) and think "Yes? What is it? How can I help you?" Let the 'energy' know that "It's OK. You are safe here." Continue to focus on the feeling and have deep compassion for it, as if it were an injured animal that has found its way to your door. Show it love and understanding.
What is really happening?
Through "Feeling the Feeling" we are able to allow expressive precesses to release those energies that are holding us in a nervous state. It's not necessary to know exactly what the feeling was about, only to allow it to be felt. When we show compassion for these parts of ourselves, we embody love and we see ourselves as we truly are. When we see and accept ourselves as we truly are, we often experience a great sense of connection and calm - an aspect of love.
Try this practice and let us know what you discover. Share your questions, thoughts, and insights below.