Feeling Is Healing: Maturing Our Response to What Feels Bad
Panic. Pain. Overwhelm. Dizziness. Heartbreak. Ah, the underbelly of being human. Inevitably, at some point, we are each asked to face these unwelcome visitors, required to process dense, even excruciating feelings.
Our experiences take us far out beyond our desire to keep it all ‘love and light’.
Feeling, much to our dismay, involves feeling not only the ‘good’ but also the ‘bad’—heavy emotions and physical symptoms that can feel like they will swallow us whole. Sometimes the yucky stuff gets so intense that, like an atomic bomb going off, we have to stop everything, clear our agenda, and take cover. Like a case of bad nausea that demands our undivided attention, certain energies bowl us over, stop us in our tracks, and bring us to our knees.
Emotional and physical discomfort is an unfortunate ‘built-in’ aspect of the human journey—one that we’re taught to shy away from and avoid at all costs. We learn to run because we are a culture of running. We distract ourselves and medicate ourselves—it’s what we do.
We are so hell-bent on suppressing and avoiding discomfort that we miss valuable opportunities to know-ourselves better and to heal through our own willingness to be present with the yucky stuff.
Like it or not, tremendous growth often happens outside our comfort zone.
I recently read an advertising slogan for a supplement that read, “A good life starts with good health.” While I think we’d all agree with this statement taken at face value, when we look deeper we also get this message: bad health equals a bad life. We even internalize this harmful message: If I’m sick I must be bad. I will be bad and life will be bad unless I find a way to fix this. We get this same deep underlying message in our culture not only for ill health but for all the so-called ‘bad stuff’—depression, trauma, mental illness, struggle, and loss.
It becomes so automatic to push away and judge the ‘bad’ stuff that we forget to meet ourselves (and others who are suffering) with love.
The Patient Care Coordinator at the health centre I frequent is so preoccupied with co-coordinating that she fails to care, to stop shuffling papers long enough to just look at me, or to extend herself my way and say, “Hey Sweetheart, I’m really sorry that you’re not feeling well today.”
The truth is, we do this to ourselves all the time. We spend so much time judging the ‘feel bad’, resisting it, pushing it away, distracting ourselves, or trying desperately to fix it that we fail to do the one thing that actually allows us to heal—and that is to feel it fully and bring our loving presence to what hurts.
I still catch myself doing this. Getting swept up in a frenzy of fear when symptoms swell, a panicky spiral of trying to figure it out and how-do-I-make-it-go-away. When I’m centered I remember instead, to fully stop, land in myself, place my hands on my heart and belly, take deep breaths, and tune into the feeling.
I’m learning to do the exact opposite of what we learn: to stop running and to fully face and feel all the dense energies that visit this body I’m in.
In meeting the ‘feel bad’ that arises in me, I’m becoming more compassionate. We learn compassion the hard way, often through reaching our own brink, through being cracked open, through facing our own flawed humanness again and again. There is no formal training for compassion, no book that’ll give you the real thing. Polishing the heart is mucky and unglamorous business—and it’s unavoidable when we live life with even a small semblance of open-heartedness.
We must cry our own tears to be able to sit with another who cries. Through admitting and allowing for our own imperfection, we inevitably come to allow others theirs.
I must ‘feel for me’ before I can really ‘feel for you’.
We come to understand that no one is exempt from the underbelly of being human. No one. In spite of ourselves, and regardless of our protests, life gets to us one way or another. We either go kicking and screaming or eventually, we learn to willingly open wide for the full spectrum of experience that life inevitably brings to our door.
We may not choose what’s coming for us but we do choose how we greet it and whether we allow it to soften or harden our hearts.
The heart, perhaps, is not polished so much as it is shattered again and again, like glass. The more wreckage there is, the more shards, and the better light is reflected in all direction, the more we can become a light onto others.
Some days are difficult for the heart. She is a sensitive and tender guest in a turbulent and fast world that often gives precedence to the mind. Some days we need a full stop to honor the process of feeling fully—even if our to do lists seem more important than attending to ourselves. When we stop and feel it all, when we hold space through our presence, this is where healing happens. When we finally stop and feel unconditionally this stuff that we are so convinced is ‘bad’—anxiety, nausea, dizziness, anger, tension, fatigue, depression—when we feel it, we allow it to run its course.
We each have to find our own unique way of digesting and integrating our felt-experience. Regardless of how we do it, our presence is required. We need to give our attention to the ‘feel bad’ and let it speak. In my experience there is always wisdom in the ‘feel bad’, there is always a message waiting for us.
Those of us living with chronic physical symptoms have to learn to live with ongoing discomfort in a way that doesn’t do violence to our tender hearts. This is easier said than done. Pain, discomfort, and emotional distress can create constriction in both body and soul. When we resist, we contract, and if we do this hard enough and long enough, there is little space left for healing or for life-energy to flow.
For me, honoring myself through extreme discomfort has meant learning to fully feel difficult sensation, and to meet myself with kindness when I’m suffering.
I’ve had to grow my capacity in terms of what I think I can handle, of how much discomfort I can stand. The more pain it seems, the more space is required to hold it, and to heal it. Contrary to habitual contraction and resistance, I’m learning to open, soften, and grow in the face of discomfort.
Yes, polishing the heart is messy business. Sometimes I think that those of us who ordered big love and full-heartedness are giving extra muck, extra cleaning to do, or extra breakage to live through in service to opening our hearts. How else did you think you were going to grow your capacity for love sweetheart?
Through meeting our own suffering, we become forces of love in a world that is in dire need of our heart-full presence.
The tough stuff is a work out, a training ground, and as impossible as it may feel at times, I do truly believe that we are never given more than we can handle, never more hurt than we are capable of integrating. The mucky stuff shows up to be healed through your presence. These energies want to come home to rest in love but we have to stop resisting the yucky stuff with all our might before we can heal it.
Fixing is often not required for healing, surprisingly. Tough emotional material and symptoms often subside or even vanish when we allow for them, when we meet them with our attention, and hold them in our presence.
We heal the ‘feel bad’ through feeling it.
I believe that my own debilitating neurological symptoms are, on some level, a cosmic summons, a demand for my full presence and undivided attention. Nothing less will do. I’m learning to become a clearing, a welcoming field of love that allows difficult symptoms to come up, to be felt, and to dissolve.
I believe that healing is an ongoing process as opposed to a one-time fixing job. To be human is to be in a continual state of feeling and healing. Some conditions, as I’m learning, take way longer than we’d like to heal and to run their course.
Nobody wants to feel ‘bad’ or have unpleasant emotional and physical experiences, but when stuff inevitably comes up we have to learn to develop a more mature response than our culturally conditioned reaction of pushing it away. Eventually, we grow and meet the challenge of integrating difficult felt-experiences. In my experience, the stuff that ‘feels bad’ is almost always a summons to be more present and to love more.
:: EXPLORE ::
This is an invitation to take a time-out to be with yourself unconditionally and to feel whatever needs to be felt. This is an opportunity to dip your toe in the water of feeling unconditionally.
Take some time for yourself in a setting where you will be undisturbed. You’re welcome to sit or to lie down for this exploration and I recommend making yourself as comfortable as you can. Once you’ve settled your body allow your attention to shift from your thoughts and thinking mind to your felt-sense—to the feeling and sensations in your body. Closing your eyes can help to focus your attention on what your feeling. Notice if your attention is drawn to particular parts of your body. Take a tour of your felt-experience and as you do so be gentle, curious, and open.
If you’re experiencing physical or emotional discomfort you can practice releasing resistance by having tiny ‘tastes’ of what feel bad. Feel into the sensation not the idea of the sensation. If you have a headache for example, feel into what is really there—does your head feel thick or light? Is the pain constant or throbbing? Without trying to change or alter what you’re feeling, allow yourself to simply be present to the feeling. Placing your hands on your body, (I like to have one on my belly and one on my heart), allow your breath to become a little fuller as you continue to feel. You can do this for as long as you’d like. Simply feeling. Breathing. Present. When you’ve reached your threshold, or you feel done with your exploration, allow your attention to slowly return to the room.
*Please note that if you’re currently in crisis or in any extreme state it’s recommended to explore feelings and sensations in the presence of a licensed therapist or medical practitioner. This article and exploration are not intended as a substitute for medical attention or mental health care. This is simply a reflection from my own experience and is offered to you from love, from my own health and healing journey to yours.
Copyright © 2016 Marie-Ève Bonneau