If you trying to be with an emotion but don’t really want to be with it, then you are trying to welcome it because you want to be rid of it. ‘Trying’ is really about getting rid of emotions, and trying to get rid of emotions only perpetuates them! Become aware of the impulse of wanting to get rid of emotions.
Let’s say, for example you are trying to be with ‘fear’
To do this exercise you will have to turn down the volume on thoughts; or better still, ignore your thoughts and mental images completely. Look to the sensation only. Notice the sensation like a new born baby who knows nothing but the sensation itself.
What is the sensation itself when it is stripped of story? If you don’t think about it, do you know that this sensation is something labelled or called’ fear’? Is there any inherent ‘fear’ in the sensation itself?
Relax the focus from that sensation and take in a couple of deep breaths and then go to the sensation located at the sole of your foot. Would you call that sensation ‘fear’? Or is it just a tingling vibration? Now compare these two sensations – the neutral sole of the foot to the sensation labelled ‘fear’ in the chest or where ever – what’s the difference between them? A thought might appear saying that one is more ‘intense’, but apart from that – any difference? Don’t refer to the labels – just refer to the sensations.
Can you see how labels and thoughts add a commentary, like – “this is fear”, “this is unpleasant”, “this has been here for so long”, “I don’t want this anymore”, or “this is too intense”? None of these thoughts actually belong to the sensation. See the thoughts but place them to one side. Without these thoughts would you know these sensations were fear?
As one sensation dissolves you may find another layer bubbling up to the surface. Do the same. There may be sadness, or anger – it is another layer hidden in the body dictating our thoughts, feelings and activities from behind the scenes.
Expanding Emotions (ACT)
I would like you to sit upright in your chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. You can either close your eyes or fix them on a spot, whichever you prefer. Take a few slow deep breaths and really notice your breath flowing in and out of your lungs.
Now quickly scan your body from head to toe, starting at your scalp and moving downwards. Notice the sensations you can feel in your head, your throat, neck, shoulders, chest, abdomen, arms, head, legs and feet. Now feel into the parts of your body where you’re feeling this emotion most intensely and observe the feeling closely, as if you are a curious scientist who has never encountered something like this ever before.
Observe the sensation carefully. Let your thoughts come and go like passing cars and keep your attention on the feeling. Notice where it starts and where it stops. Learn as much as you can about it. If you draw a line around it, what shape would it have? Is it on the surface of the body, outside you, or both? How far inside does it go? Where is it most intense? Where is it weakest?
If you drift off into your thoughts, as soon as you realise it, come back and focus on the sensation. Observe it curiously. How is it different in the centre than around the edges? Is there any pulsation or vibration within it? Is it light or heavy, moving or still? What temperature is it? Are there hot spots or cold spots? Notice the different elements within it. Notice that it is not just one sensation, but sensations within sensations.
As you are observing the sensation, breathe into it. Imagine your breath flowing in and around the feeling – breathing into it and around it. And as you’re breathing into it, it’s as if in some magical way, all this space opens up inside you. You open up around the feeling. Make space for it, expand around it – however you make sense of that – breathing into it and opening up around it. See if you can just allow this emotion to be there. You don’t have to like it or want it, just allow it; just let it be. Observe it, breathe into it, open up around it and allow it to be as it is.
You may feel a strong urge to fight it or push it away. If so, just acknowledge that this is an urge and it’s there, without acting upon it. Just continue observing the sensation. Don’t try to get rid of it or change it. If it changes by itself, that is okay. If it doesn’t, that is also okay. Changing it or getting rid of the emotion is not the goal. Your aim is to simply allow it and let it be there.
So now imagine the feeling is an object. As an object what shape does it have? Is it liquid, solid or gas? Is it moving or still? What colour is it, transparent or opaque? If you could touch the surface what would it feel like? Wet? Dry? Rough or smooth? Is it hot or cold, soft or hard? Observe the object curiously, breathe into it and open up around it. You don’t have to like it or want it – just allow it and notice that you are bigger than this object. No matter how big it gets, it can never be bigger than you.
And finally, take one of your hands and place it on this part of your body. Imagine that this is a healing hand – the hand of a loving friend or parent and feel the warmth flowing from your hand into your body. Not to get rid of the feeling but to make room for it – to soften up and loosen up around it. And when you are ready, let your hand fall, once again breathing into the feeling and expanding around it. And when you are ready, you can open your eyes.