Working with Difficult Emotions

It's human nature to resist pain. Evolution trained us to push away the difficult, to just survive. These habits are well-grooved, but they're no longer necessary. And they block true healing. As Carl Jung concisely stated, "What you resist, persists." 

When I resist pain, I only create more pain. If I resist my grief, anxiety, shame, or fear, I strengthen the hurt not the healing. But when I make space for difficult emotions—when I invite them in and look more closely—there's a release. It's counter-intuitive, but it works every time. 

After years of practice, I have a new relationship with fear. It's no longer a scary monster in the corner. Now it's a known companion. It's a signal: look inward and be gentle.

Michele McDonald created an acronym for this process: RAIN (Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-identify/Nourish). First we must recognize our situation—what is my direct experience in this moment? Exactly how do I feel uneasy? Where does this manifest in my body? (This takes time and inner-reflection.) The second step is a big leap: allow for the feeling; allow for the experience as-is. Here, we release our grip and let the feeling flow. (This can be done in small, safe ways; it's a gradual process.) Investigation is the third step. Once we allow for the emotion, we bring curiosity—not in a heady way, but in an embodied way. How does this emotion pulse in my body? What are the sensations and how do they change? Are there layers underneath? What needs my attention and care? (This investigation is worthy of a lifetime.) The last step is resting in awareness, in presence. Our emotions don't define us. If we allow for difficult feelings, eventually they morph and settle, and we sit in a centered place. We can apply self-compassion and nourish our hearts: “May I be kind to myself in moments of pain.'“ (Gentle touch—hand on heart, belly, or face—physically supports this last step of nourishment.)

This path is both brave and beautiful. It takes strength and kindness. If you want to try, I'll be your guide. This meditation applies when you're in the midst of difficult emotions: