When I work with kids as young as four, we do deep breathing exercises and then I ask them to say one word that describes how they feel. I go first and I say, “When I do deep breathing, I feel relaxed.” We then go around the circle and each child gets a chance to say how they feel. I’m always amazed when kids say things like, “sad” or “mad” or something that, at face value, might seem out of place to an exercise like deep breathing.
In some instances, it may be that they’re just saying a word that has no connection to how they’re really feeling, but perhaps it’s a feeling they had in the recent past. In other instances, it’s clear they are connecting what they just did (deep breathing) with how they feel (relaxed, for instance). This is a great exercise for kids because they often don’t make a connection with what they do and how they feel.
As we get older, though, we move further and further away from connecting how what we do with how we feel. Overeating is an example; we may be upset and in our pain, we may dig into a pint of ice cream or a big bag of chips but we really aren’t doing anything to help identify how we feel. In fact we’re just trying to cover it up.
I’ve had a number of times in my life where this has happened to me. I’ve not necessarily used overeating as my coping mechanism. I’ve sometimes used things like exercise, as in going for a long run, as a way to cover up my feelings or run away from them (literally). But as the book by Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Where ever you go, there you are.” You can run but you will never run away from your feelings. They’ll always be right there when you get back.
One of the best ways to process an uncomfortable feeling is to identify what it is. We like to stay on the surface when we describe our feelings, as in “She really pissed me off!” But being “pissed off” might not really best describe how we feel. The core feeling might be something like anger or fear or jealousy.
There are authors and inspirational teachers who say there are really only two emotions: love and fear. This may be true but we know, as humans, that there are many shades in between and things like anger, jealousy, frustration, happiness, elation, anxiousness all are emotions we experience as well. In any event, the bottom line is we will never be able to move past a negative feeling until we know what it is. We will never be able to make changes in our life to remove the source of these negative feelings until we can identify what the source is. So, the best thing we can do to heal is be able to state how we feel.
One of the best ways to do this is to meditate. I used to know a yoga teacher who, whenever she had to make a big decision, would say, “I have to go sit with it.” Now, at the time, I thought, “Sit with it? Why not go make a list of pros and cons? Talk to someone you know about it? Make a spreadsheet to identify action steps.” While this can be helpful, it completely removes from the equation the concept of intuition and feeling. These can be two powerful aspects that go into any decision.
So, the next time you find your feeling confused or under stress, upset or just stuck, sit in a chair and close your eyes (if you have another way you prefer to sit to meditate, do that). Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Let your feelings bubble to the surface. Feel them. Let the feelings come forth, even if you find that your eyes are filling up and you begin to cry. Stay with the feelings for at least 15 minute as you sit and continue with your deep breathing.
Open your eyes. Take a piece of paper and start to write. Write down how you feel. Keep it short. Try to use just a few words that identify how you feel. Use this as the basis to create a healing path for yourself. You may find that once you identify how you feel, you can start to create some action to either remove the source of the pain or, in the case of feeling good, to add more of that magical ingredient to your life.
Whatever your path, know that only through letting your feelings come up will you be able to live a healthy, happy life.