How I manage unwanted emotions and experiences has been a study for me over the last half decade or so. Until I was 50, I did as my family and culture had taught me; move away from them, suppress them, deny them, distract myself from them, or flat out run! Do anything but feel them!

A change of pace

For the last eight years the momentum has changed. I’m learning to feel, to heal. Turning towards them, rather than away from them. In other words I’ve stopped running. I’m meeting with curiosity and interest whatever is arising, honouring my experience as it is. Even if I really don’t like it.

This has not been without difficulty. And, as a result of my efforts, I’m discovering a groundedness and liberty that I’ve not known before. Engaging with the pain of negative material, has, inevitably, been uncomfortable. At times it has been overwhelming. But, kind of like being dumped by a wave, when I come up again for air, I feel invigorated and happy to be alive. I write these blogs to embed and share my learning. I’ve learned some tips along the way that I’m hoping might be useful to you too.

Growing inner resources

Firstly, cultivating an inner resource or calm ground of being within. This has been a practice that I have many times not given due attention to and have underestimated the value of. It’s so easy to get caught up in the negative or unwanted experience or emotion and not take the time to continually, and deliberately, re-navigate to this place within. Over time I have learned its importance and know now to stop often and feel into it, not wait for when I’m feeling frazzled. I’m doing it now as I write this.

Cultivating an inner resource can be done, anywhere, anytime. Just a few moments at a time to feel in, bring to mind memories of a calm joy previously experienced, or a time that you felt at home, or imagine what that might feel like, and bring it to life as a felt sense, in the body, in the present moment. The more I do it, the easier it is to access, even when I’m frazzled. In fact, it just shows up, out of the blue, to support me.

A slippery slope

The invitation to meet and greet negative material as it arises hasn’t always gone well for me. I find it a slippery slope and often before I know it, I’m in the grips of a full blown fusion with whatever I’m working with. I am the self-doubt, the shame, the fear. It’s all I know in the moment. I’m fully hi-jacked.

Finding the middle way can be challenging. I’m finished with refusal and denial. I don’t want to do that anymore. And, I don’t want to be hi-jacked. I find Rick Hanson’s ‘let be, let go, let in’ very useful. First, I need to ‘be with’ the material long enough to recognise it for what it is, being careful not to fuse with it, or become hi-jacked by it. Then, and only then, I need to ‘let it go’, to the extent that I can. Finally, I need to ‘let in’ something that is a specific antidote. Here’s an example, if I notice self-doubt arising, after feeling it in my body (rather than analyzing it in my head) I’ll let it go, to the extent that I can, and then deliberately bring into my present moment experience a feeling of confidence, perhaps drawing on a memory of a particular achievement or even imagining what it might feel like to be confident. And, I let it really sink in.

Against all our conditioning

It’s a life’s work I believe, and like anything else in life when you first start doing it, it isn’t easy. It is, after all, against all our conditioning and the brain’s natural negativity bias. It’s a practice. Over and over and over again. Over time, this will grow the strengths and skills to adroitly manage and tend our deepest wounds as they gradually bubble to the surface.

Two key things

So that’s two key things. Firstly, cultivating and growing familiar with our innate sense of peace and calm (inner resource). Coming to know the felt sense of our true and essential nature that is always there beneath whatever surface turmoil might be going on. A safe place that you can always turn to.

Secondly, getting really specific about what would help most to grow internally. Here’s some more examples; for shame – growing a sense of being appreciated or respected, for fear – growing a sense of strength and empowerment, for doubt – confidence etc.

Essential condiments

There are a couple of essential condiments to these. A generous sprinkling of self-compassion is essential. It’s totally natural for the inner critic voice to get pretty loud as previously denied aspects of self, come to the light of day. My practice is to thank my inner critic (for trying to protect me) and ask my self-compassion voice for its opinion too.

Safety is paramount. Imagine three concentric circles with total safety at the centre, challenge in the next ring and overwhelm in the third. We want to move no further then the challenge ring. Once we’re in overwhelm our fight flight survival response is activated and we’re not available for learning. Overwhelm can happen though, before we know it, and when it does? A full dose of self-compassion is required.

Watch out for the four ‘C’s

One more thing to watch out for; the four ‘C’s; comparison, competition, complaint and criticism. All sure fire ways to tip us into a feeling of separation and take us away from home.

Build new neural pathways

It is a life’s work, but practice brings results and rewards. As Rick Hanson says, “we’re changing our mind to change our brain to change our mind for the better”. These practices change neural structure and pave the way for a more peaceful, happy you. These and many other tools are totally within your control and always at your disposal to help navigate your way through tricky internal territory.