With all the uncertainty so present in the world today, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed and worried. You may find yourself thinking, I don’t know what to feel anymore. I don’t feel anxious, but I don’t feel joyful either. I just feel numb, which I’m beginning to believe is better than constant fear and suffering.
When stressful aspects of life bring forth difficult feelings, you may go into a state of suppressing and avoiding all feelings. Many people learn early on — from our families, our schooling and, later, the workplace — to see strong emotions as unacceptable. It’s common to avoid or suppress difficult feelings, but this has consequences.
When you close yourself off to feelings, there’s a corresponding tightening in the body, which cuts you off from the wholeness of your being. When you become disconnected from your inner experience, it’s difficult to connect with others in a deep way. There comes a painful sense of separation in which feeling cared about and feeling care for others are hard to access. This makes it difficult for you to receive the nurturing care needed to bring healing.
With practice, you can learn to become more conscious and aware of your feelings in a spacious, accepting way. You can begin to know your own vulnerability, to cultivate it, and to develop a sense of trust in your feelings and what they have to tell you. When you’re able to stay with a difficult emotion, you can begin to sense your own brokenness and let it break you open to something deeper. When you understand feelings in a deeper way, it brings a new vibrancy in relating to others.
Meditation to help surface underlying emotions
This calming meditation helps you become present to your feelings, allowing them all the space and care they need to be whatever they are going to be.
- Find a comfortable position where you feel relaxed, eyes closed or gazing gently downward. Take a few slow, deeper breaths to gather your attention, then allow the breath to settle into its natural rhythm. Sense your body as a whole, rest- ing here in this moment. Notice any strong physical sensations in your body, observing them closely, allowing them to unfold and change over time. Sense whatever feeling is present in this moment. It may be very subtle, or it may be strong. There may be a feeling of worry, of trying to control things. Or confusion, or a sense of liking or disliking. There may be strong fear, sadness or annoyance. Or numbness. That’s a feeling too. Just resting with what is here, letting it unfold. Sensations in the body. Allow them all the space they need to be all they are going to be.
- Now describe the experience in a word or two. Sensations of heat, pressure, tingling. Feelings of sadness, longing or fear. Notice if there is a wanting for the experience to stay, or to go away. Simply welcome whatever is here. You are not trying to control anything. Not trying to change what’s happening. Not trying to get rid of anything in your experience. Just letting feelings unfold in their own way. They may dissolve and release, or they may change in some other way. You can stay present to one feeling at a time. Notice if more feelings come, knowing you can return to them at a later time. You are not analyzing or try- ing to solve anything. Just staying present to what’s happening in a simple way, heart open. Sensing the feelings from within the body. Being present for your feelings in a compassionate way. Resting back into the spaciousness of your awareness. Letting any patterns of sensation and feeling unwind and be released into the spaciousness. Opening to a deeper calm that is avail- able when feelings are trusted and allowed to settle themselves in their own way. Repeat this meditation when you are feeling numb to help you learn to better identify and trust your feelings.
For audio recordings of select mindfulness meditation practices, please visit Dr. Ferretti’s website Present Heart.
For an introduction to loving-kindness meditation from our sister magazine:
For more guided meditations from Dr. Ferretti:
Dr. Louise Ferretti is a clinical neuropsychologist serving children and families in western New York. She has been exploring mindfulness and heart-opening practices for over 20 years, with experience in Vipassana and Tibetan meditation traditions. She recently completed the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program developed by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. She has taught mindfulness to children living with mental health challenges, and offered heart-opening practices in faith communities seeking a deeper contemplation on love. She’s also Chief Editor of the magazine Kindfulness.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Kindfulness (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).