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I Can't Give you Anything but Pain

...and it could be good for you

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As a therapist, trying to convince people that feeling painful emotions can be valuable...well, it's a hard sell. Who wants to feel bad?

And in our culture, it's so easy to escape feeling painful feelings: better-living-through-chemistry, hours on Facebook, shopping, overeating, overworking, another self-improvement workshop, etc. Numbness is at our fingertips.  

There are plenty of emotions easy to feel--joy, relief, empathy, tenderness. And then there are the other more difficult ones: anger, fear, grief, anxiety, doubt. It's in the difficult ones that we find our greatest lessons. They tell us something about ourselves and our lives. They reveal that we're not comfortable with what is and that it's time for investigation. They teach us what it is to suffer so that we can connect and empathize with the suffering of our partners, our children, our friends, people we don't know, the world. The challenge is that to find out those lessons, we have to sit still and listen.

Here's a experiment: the next time you feel uncomfortable--even if you don't call it anxiety or fear or sadness--sit with it. Don't distract yourself, just sit. Many traditions believe that it is when we stop resisting painful emotions and let them just flow through us, that we can release pain. Meditation is one way to do this. Here's a simple practice to try:

  •  Get comfortable and close your eyes. 
  • Feel whatever this uncomfortable feeling you're experiencing in your body and try to map where it is lodged inside you. Imagine it is a wave that passes through you and then recedes.
  • Breathe slowly, and repeat this to yourself: "I feel sadness (or whatever you are experiencing), and I will be okay. I can just be with it and then let it go."
  • When you've done this for a few minutes (or longer, if you'd like), open your eyes slowly. Allow whatever comes to you. Write it down if that helps. Or just sit for a moment. 
  • And then, move through your day. You may notice a new awareness of your surroundings and of your feelings.