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A Nugget on Feelings

by Milissa on April 17, 2011

in Mindfulness,Philosophy

When my skin is crawling and everything in me wants to avoid what I’m feeling, how do I remain compassionate of myself? Through my practice, I aspire to become more skillful in working with challenging feeling states. When it comes to staying present with the emotions I don’t like to feel, I need all the help I can get!

The teachings on Lovingkindness and Mindfulness by Sharon Salzberg, and those on self-compassion and Tonglen by Pema Chodron, have helped me immensely over the years. Still, I struggle. Sometimes I feel so bombarded with feelings I want to flee or flail. I try to remind myself that it’s part of being human to become overpowered by emotions.

A few weeks ago, I attended a dharma talk at Common Ground Meditation Center in Minneapolis with Phillip Moffitt, a former columnist at Yoga Journal. He is a humble and kind teacher, and there were many nuggets of wisdom I came away with. There’s one that I’ve carried in my back pocket since then. I need to paraphrase, because I did not take notes, but he said, when acknowledging feelings—which we do by making a light mental note in mindfulness practice—try using this phrase: This is what [a difficult emotion] feels like.

For example, This is what fear feels like.

This simple instruction has been such a gift. Saying to myself, This is what disappointment feels like, when a class I wanted to teach doesn’t fill, has helped me to experience in my body what I’d rather avoid. It evokes a spirit of gentle curiousity, and helps me to avoid making the feeling solid. And it helps me cut through the monkey mind around what to name a feeling. This is simply a feeling and in my body and heart it feels like this, at this moment. In the next moment it might be a different feeling, and I can show up for that. Or it might be a different flavor of disappointment—maybe sorrow or anger or regret.

Often, I’ve noticed that working mindfully with the most painful of states can help me to see the nature of my suffering and learn to let it go. So I try not to avoid feelings, but instead use them as the core of my practice. A painful feeling doesn’t mean that I’m broken. It means that I am alive. And, noticing that, might help me to awaken!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

nikki April 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Your writings are so right on Milissa. wow my feelings have been all over the place as of late. sometimes i am skillful in working with them but lately it has been tough to remember some of the things you have mentioned here so thank you. yes it is not a sign of failure; it is another step on the path of mindfulness . Thank you.

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Milissa April 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm

@Nikki thanks so much for your comments. We are simpatico in so many ways. Especially, I think, in our shared dedication to daily life practice. It is not easy, but it is rich, eh? So much to experience and learn in this always shifting, changing world.

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Patricia April 21, 2011 at 7:46 am

Thanks Milissa. As a chronic “feelings” avoider, this essay gives me permission to remind myself that it’s all part of the human condition. Thank you.

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Milissa April 23, 2011 at 11:00 am

From knowing your writing @Patricia I know that you are very skillful with feelings. Maybe writing is where you practice mindfulness of feelings, and how they are felt in the body, and then you can bring that knowing into your daily life.

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dj April 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm

This is very helpful and timely, Milissa. Thank you! I’ve been trying out this practice this week, and it’s been enlightening.

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Milissa April 23, 2011 at 11:02 am

It’s so good to connect on practice and spiritual growth @DJ even though too many miles are between us to have weekly practice together. I hope to connect again live on one of the retreats!

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