Nobody likes pain! We run from and avoid it. We push it away, trying to numb or distract ourselves from its menacing presence. This is especially true of chronically painful or difficult feelings.
For most of us, a painful feeling is viewed as some sort of malevolent, alien force running amok inside our bodies. We want to control and subdue it, forever flushing it out of our systems.
The approach we teach here helps you begin to establish a new kind of relationship to your painful feelings. But first, entering fully into this relationship includes understanding three things that we are NOT saying about relating to pain.
- We are not suggesting that you must relive painful past incidents and experiences so your feelings about them will change.
- We are not saying that you should try to like some person who has hurt you.
- We are not suggesting that you must somehow force yourself to be kind to painful feelings inside you, as though they were unwanted, uninvited guests needing to be treated in a polite, hospitable, and friendly way.
Learning a New Perspective
In a nutshell, this changed perspective is about the difference between being “inside” or outside what your body knows. What does that mean?
Hopefully, many of us can tell when our tears and fears are caused by something or someone outside us. Some of us know when we need to address such external circumstances in order to protect ourselves from further danger or abuse.
But most of us neglect taking time to be with our “inside” felt carrying of these external circumstances. In fact, we even start pushing away our inside feelings, just like we try to push away the painful outside circumstances that trouble us. We start treating our insides just like we treat what’s outside!
Our perspective gets jumbled up. Pretty soon we can’t tell the difference between what’s inside and what’s outside. Eventually, they both become the enemy!
Here are some explanations that may help you better understand where you direct your caring presence.
- Every difficult feeling is really my own body responding in pain to the burden it is carrying in relationship to something outside or inside–but the feelings about it and burden are “inside” me. They are really me! When I push away my difficult feelings, I’m rejecting my own flesh and blood.
- The question is not, “Can I be caring with a difficult feeling that I don’t like?” Rather, your own body is expressing it’s discomfort and pain around some issue or circumstance in your life. The question, then, becomes: “Can I be caring with my own body hurting, scared, lonely, confused, put down. . . . ?”
- Can I be gentle with my body suffering under this load? Can I become a genuine companion, walking a journey with my own body in its pain, inviting it to tell me its story? I need to create a whole new relationship right now with myself, with my body as it carries this emotional baggage. Would I neglect or abandon someone I loved who was feeling this way? How about directing some of this caring toward myself?
- My painful feelings are really ME, my own body crying out just as surely as my body yells when I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer. It does no good for me to yell back, “Bad finger,” just because it hurts. The issue for healing is: my body hurts and needs me to companion the painful feelings with a physical presence that says, “I’m here. I care. I’m not going to abandon you. I’m listening, whenever you’re ready to tell me what you want to say.”
Approaches That Get Us Off Track
The approach we teach above helps you to begin establishing a new kind of relationship to your painful feelings. However, entering fully into this relationship includes understanding five misleading approaches that we are NOT suggesting for relating to difficult feelings.
• As we noted above, we are not suggesting that you must relive painful past incidents and experiences, acting out or purging your old feelings about them so you can change and grow beyond their influence. Cathartic release and tension reduction are never the same as processing your inner stories.
• Likewise, we are not saying that you must learn to like some person who has hurt you in the past as away to make the residue of feelings they may have raised up inside you go away. The first step toward restoring any broken relationship begins by owning the real feelings inside yourself. When these can unfold and tell their stories they will often offer far better guidelines toward renewing relationships than any external moral or religious command that we do so!
• We are not suggesting that you must somehow force yourself to be kind to painful feelings as though they were unwanted, uninvited guests needing to be treated in a polite, hospitable, and friendly way.
• We are not embracing any forms of the “Mind Cure Movement” which in one way or another exhort us that if we but think positively, imaging everything as right or originally perfect, then all will be well.
• We do not suggest that you must put your arms around a difficult anger that you feel is justified. The issue is not whether your anger is well-founded or biased. Rather, you begin by asking yourself, “Can I notice how it feels in my body to be carrying the burden of this anger that so often repeats itself over and over again? Am I able to notice where I feel this most in my body and try to be as present in a physically caring and empathic way, as much as I can?”
The approaches above try to control feelings, or to substitute better feelings for those that are painful, or to temporarily distract us from what hurts through exercises and activity. But none of this allows hurting feelings to tell us their meaning, our personal unfolding story.
Being Here, Living Now
There is another angle to this new perspective. The reality you listen to is in the present, not the past! It is the reality of your own feeling inside you RIGHT NOW. It’s not some outside event or circumstance that has already occurred, or that you anticipate might happen in the future. It is being with yourself, your own body here and now! It is assuming responsibility for companioning your body’s stress here and now, rather than pursuing the path of neglect or blaming that changes absolutely nothing.
This is not about remembering or reliving some old trauma. Your attention is upon what is real INSIDE YOU right now. This is the place where change can take place inside yourself. Your feelings are doorways into all the unheard stories and felt sensing that lie waiting to unfold within you. This is where a bond must be built. This is where the healing connection is made. This is where an overlooked link can carry you across the threshold to change in the way it feels, so that a fresh new perspective on life and on yourself may grow inside you.
The potential caring connection that heals is already right within you! It is caring for your own body burdened by all that it must bear. “I want to run away from…” “I feel confused by…..” “I feel guilty about…..” “I am fearful over…..” “I hold myself numb around…..” “I feel lonely when carrying…..” Such stories are inside you, within your body’s feelings, waiting to be heard with patience, perseverance, and a caring presence.
The Institute and its members do not teach the habit of noticing and nurturing important feelings as a substitute for professional psychotherapeutic or psychiatric care for those who need it, nor as a substitute for training and licensing in the above health fields.