Be present to feelings with compassion

A meditation on making space for feelings.

This is a follow up from a blog written a couple of weeks ago so it may help to read that if you haven’t already.

In Spiritual Direction sessions I’m often inviting people to be with their feelings as this isn’t something we generally tend to do. Our default responses are more often to:

Place them in our head as a way to fix them.

For example we may feel anger over something that’s happened and rather than allowing it to be present in a loving space, we place it into our thoughts and find ways to fix and control an answer to what is causing the anger. By removing or dealing with the cause of the anger, we diminish the emotion of anger.

Although there are times when it’s appropriate to look at how we may change a situation, there is often nothing that can be done in a way that brings a successful resolution. The anger remains and our feelings of being out of control escalate.

Put them to one side and carry on.

It can often by inconvenient to be present to what we’re feeling. There isn’t time, we’re too busy, feelings don’t matter. We can become quite adept at placing them down, putting them to one side.

There is a time to put them down and to let them go, but ideally after we’ve given them some attention, even if, in the moment that is simply to acknowledge their presence with kindness.

Tell ourselves we need to get it together.

Depending on who we are and our inbuilt defaults, we may give little credence to how we feel assuming that a stiff upper lip and simply getting on with things is the healthiest way to respond to our feelings.

Our British culture has historically been very good at this and we can have a tendency to be harsh on ourselves commanding that we “pull our socks up and don’t be silly”.

It’s a bit like a quick slap round the ear and demands that we toughen up and don’t cry. Unfortunately this attitude suppresses our feelings and they end up sitting there and coming out again at another time, often more potently than they first did.

Ignore them and hope they’ll go away.

In recent years this perspective has found its way more deeply into our conscious through “keep calm and carry on” and all the alternatives that can follow the keep calm part!

There is something about this approach that is lacking authenticity. It says that I will glide through all the pain and challenge that comes my way, I will simply keep going or I will drink wine or eat pizza instead.

Ignored feelings, like suppressed ones will simmer away somewhere within us and escape again if they’re not seen, acknowledged and shown kindness.

Now we come to the mediation on what we can do with our feelings.

Although in this mediation there will be ample time to identify what feelings are present to us in this moment, the more we intentionally practice being present to them the easier it becomes to identify, name and be with feelings in the day to day outside of a contemplative practice.

As a backdrop to the mediation Mirabai Starr offers a beautiful quote from her book Wild Mercy which says it so well…

All we need to do is watch our fear and pain arise, name it, smile and wave, may be even take it into our arms for a moment and cradle it until it relaxes and then return our attention to the wild mercy of what is real.

It also needs saying that some feelings are overwhelming – like grief – and demand attention whether or not we want to give it but even here this practice can help us walk through them, to be present to the overwhelm, to “cradle it” and step by step get through to a different place, even if this takes a very long time.

It is also equally helpful to be with positive feelings like joy and delight as these can easily be missed. What a gift to give them space too and invite them to bring hope, peace, happiness and well-being, filling our hearts with thankfulness.

The contemplative practice of being present to our feelings…

Quieten down by closing the eyes and  being attentive to breath.

Take three or four deeper breaths being aware of the movement of air in and out of the lungs.

On the exhale sink, let the shoulders drop, be held and supported. Know yourself to be loved and seen.

In the stillness become present to what you’re feeling. If thoughts come place them to one side or allow them to lead to a feeling.

If what your feeling is not apparent, it may help to bring attention to your body – do you notice any sensations like a tight chest or shoulders? If so when you pay attention to any of these sensations do you notice a feeling surface?

Take a few moments for feelings to emerge and as they do name them and place them in front of you or as Mirabai says “cradle them”.

Simply notice the feelings. Now is not a time to judge them, give opinion about them or control them. It is a time to let them be.

The space in which the feelings are cradled – whether by you or in front of you is safe and full of compassion and kindness.

Allow your feelings  – even if your perceive them as negative or wrong – to be met with compassion.

Now be aware that God, Jesus, Spirit, love is also in that space seeing you feelings and having great compassion towards them.

Welcome the love and compassion of God towards what you feel.

Welcome the love and compassion of yourself towards what you feel.

As you remain present to this and to the compassion in which you feelings are held be aware of what you’re noticing within yourself, or of what may be on offer to you in this moment.

These feelings may also lead you to other insights or observations, simply follow their thread and notice where it takes you.

You may want to make a response to anything you notice, you may simply want to be and to continue to cradle your feelings or hold them in that safe space.

When and if you feel ready you may want to surrender the feelings, to let them go. If this doesn’t feel possible right now know that they have been given loving, compassionate attention.

Slowly return to this space, taking a few deep breaths and opening the eyes.

As your Spiritual Director, I will be a companion on your spiritual journey, creating a safe place to help you discover the truth about yourself, about God and about your relationships with others.