The Mistake of “Just Being With” Feelings

by | Nov 8, 2020 | Inner Work | 8 comments

It happens so many times for me while working with individuals one-on-one.

It almost always (it may actually be always) happens with those who are more experienced with certain techniques, especially those with a more spiritual tilt.

They are exploring a particular issue, feeling into whatever is coming up for them emotionally, physically, and then something more significant is touched upon. Often it is a core conflict or internal dynamic, where there is some tension and resistance in the mix.

It’s very clear that we’ve gotten below the surface level thoughts and feelings, down into something deeper.

At this point, something tells them that the correct step is to “just be” with that feeling.

Many times, that “something” telling them to do this is their mind echoing a concept that it has grabbed onto. A learned idea or approach, rather than an intuitive sense of where things are flowing.

The particular flavor of “just being” with the feeling has some other meanings imposed upon it.

There is a forced sense of stillness, even if the body wants to move, a forced sense of distance, even if a natural impulse would be to move in a direction or inquire into the experience.

There can be a rejection here of anything therapeutic, or a releasing type of process that might make total sense –  because that would somehow break the rule of ‘just being present.’

Sometimes the implication is that any action would equate to overly trying to control and fix things, or running away from something.

Like a caged bird, all of the available, often most needed options for freedom, become closed-off because of this concept.

This gets subtle, but it is a very important distinction, and I want to try to address it as best I can.

It is one of those things that you can literally spend years doing, slowing your progress drastically, while believing it is the right move.

The Power of Just Feeling

Two of the most challenging aspects for me in trying to articulate this detail, and how it can be a trap, are the following:

1) Learning how to ‘just be’ with a feeling at any level is hugely powerful, and one of the key ingredients to getting lasting results with any type of inner work.

2) At the highest level, to truly be present with a feeling with no agenda, no grasping at or pushing away, may be the most powerful “action” possible.

I am heavily influenced by an Adyashanti course I took years ago, one of his earliest online offerings, in which he outlines this as the essence of “transmutation.” To be with something so fully with no agenda, no resistance or manipulation, that it can transform.

It is, in my opinion, a great thing to explore and approach mastery of in whatever way you can. If I remember his description correctly, it was: “for lack of a better word, advanced.”

Advanced because it is something much more subtle and nuanced than something you simply decide to ‘do’ – “OK, I’ll just be here and not fight or grasp.” Those things are happening at many different levels, many of which are not conscious.

It is one of those things that you can think you are doing, but with time and practice realize you are not even close to doing, at least that has been my evolving experience with it 🙂

To be willing to approach your feelings at all, to explore what it is to consciously feel and explore your emotional and physical sensations, is a rare and valuable gift.

It is of enormous benefit to learn how to approach what you are experiencing and stay present with it, even for a moment. So many things in life are designed to keep us in a constant state of distraction from our inner universe of feeling.

In fact, even many inner work oriented practices and tools can end up being latched onto as another form of trying to get rid of, transcend, or change feelings before giving the space for them to really process.

Being With Feelings is Its Own Skill

Some years ago when I was rather deeply into some great methods, through one of them I was lucky to start learning from GP Walsh. We soon began collaborating on various projects together, which gave me close access to what was being created, and my own questions getting to be addressed.

He was great at emphasizing the importance of first allowing a feeling to be present without rushing to do some type of process.

That this in and of itself is a deep practice and art form. Through this he created some audios that he sent to me, which were expanded and became the excellent course “Just Allow It.” Those recordings are now part of Inner Reconciliation Level 1 where I co-teach a few lessons.

The most fundamental thing I like to use in my approach is something I call “Guided Awareness.” Basically, this is giving a name to, and helping you zoom in on, your natural ability to direct your attention: to different parts of your body, to different sensations, into more subtle feelings and emotions.

It’s something that is SO natural and available to us that it is easy to not recognize it as an ability, or a tool.

I place a lot of emphasis on breathing and engaging the body to help support you and feel grounded, helping you to stay present while you begin to bring more attention to these subtle feelings. This groundedness is especially important as uncomfortable emotions and sensations arise.

Not The End-All

Of course, with the emphasis on allowing and welcoming feelings, this can become latched onto as the end-all of practice.

As our minds love to know the answer and crave that silver bullet solution to all things, “just being with” or “just allowing” that feeling to come up now becomes THE answer.

Interestingly, even in Inner Reconciliation, it is just considered step 1 of the process. This does not stop many practitioners of it to place all of the emphasis here.

In many cases, the ability to present with a feeling is the building block, the primary training ground. It’s the ability to dribble and even get onto the basketball court.

Not Linear

Of course, this type of work in reality is not all so clear and linear.

Making a “step 1 = allow, step 2 = abc” is just a matter of creating something to latch onto and grow with that can be useful to many.

There will be plenty of people who experience a complete transformation and are able to ‘be with’ things on a level of mastery without even realizing it. There will be arguments for, and against, any of these premises and from their own perspective they may be right.

Two people may be “being with” a feeling, yet have an almost inconceivably different thing they are actually doing.

This is why I feel arguing about what the true path is with any of this stuff is a waste of time. The point of writing this is purely out of it having helped several people I have worked with to focus in on this distinction, so it may help others.

It is not about an ultimate rule about what is a complete or incomplete process, because I am not qualified to say that.

Robin Redbreast Bird Animal Robin - DavidReed / Pixabay

The Distinction

There is a very big difference between:

The experience of what it is to actually be present with something
vs.
The thought: “I will just be with this” and everything wrapped up in trying to ‘do’ that.

The thought of and posture of “just be with it” can be a subtle form of holding back.
This is the particular way I’ve encountered it, often.

There’s a flow of things, a natural movement to them, and before it gets deeper or past a certain point, the voice comes in and says ‘just sit with that.’

In more than one instance, all that was needed was to point it out.

In more than one of those instances, the response I’ve gotten was “I just had the impression that that is what I’m supposed to do.”

This seems to be a common theme. It is quite possible that many things out there subtly, or overtly state it as THE thing to do, turning it into more of a particular action than allowing everything to flow in whatever way it does.

Tuning Into the Distinction

If you can, recall some time when you felt in the zone, in the flow of an activity. A game, a sport, a movie, a conversation or interaction with someone. You were absorbed in the moment, flowing with it naturally.

Can you feel that at all?
Can you feel how you just catch the ball and quickly respond in the moment?
Can you recall how the words of the conversation just flow out naturally, moving from a loud laugh to silence, to a natural sense that it is time to leave, and everything in between?

Now –

Can you imagine sitting with someone, not responding to your friend speaking to you in conversation, saying to yourself

“I’m just going to sit here and ‘be with’ the person because that’s what I’m supposed to do.”

That would look completely absurd. It IS completely unnatural.

 

As you get more experienced with this, this type of thing looks just as bizarre when it is being done internally.

The way it happens is often more subtle, it’s more like:

“I’m not going to laugh or shout or match the energy here because I’m supposed to be…”

It’s not natural. Conversation moving whatever way it does without trying to force it somewhere, is the natural version of it. It can end up happening in all sorts of different ways, from deep to fun and light, without any of them being the “correct” way to have a conversation.

This is one of the reasons I feel emotional processing, releasing and other inner work practices can be deeply beneficial in letting you truly just be with things, naturally.

Releasing IS About Presence

When you are talking about emotional releasing at the higher level, at least in my view and the techniques I have worked with, it is about letting go of your agenda. Letting go of your desire to control. That is what you are letting go of. Not running away from feelings or rushing to get rid of them.

From a place that is more free of a desire to control, free of a concept of what you are supposed to do, it becomes increasingly easier and more natural to actually be present.

It’s not about forcing yourself to be ‘still’ with something.

It is letting go of whatever in you is resisting, fighting, grasping, and whatever concepts like “be still” might be holding back the natural flow of things.

Being present has a natural openness and flexibility to move in whatever direction is needed in a moment. Having a predetermined way of ‘being with it’ is just another trap.

I’d like to reiterate that

Being present and open has a freedom in it.

Trying to be still and ‘with’ a feeling can a quality that Adyashanti refers to as the “stillness of a prisoner.”

Examples

One very talented young artist had developed the discipline, through practice, to force themselves to sit as still as possible while in the face of the most uncomfortable feelings.

They had to stop doing any type of introspective work altogether for a while, because it felt like torture.

That’s because IT IS torture to do that.

When we worked together, understandably, things were a bit reluctant go near any type of introspective process. It had been conditioned to expect something unpleasant.

We started with an opening up of perspective and approach, communicating to the body, mind and nervous system a much more gentle and exploratory quality. That there was no mandate to sit with anything, or take any particular action at all. With a different, much more inviting stage set, things were able to relax and respond.

One person I was facilitating in a group call, it was very obvious that her body wanted to move. I commented on it and the response was something along the lines of “I’m trying to ignore that and just be present with the feeling.”

We were already well present with the feeling. The body’s impulse need to move and release some of the energy WAS the natural response. As soon as I suggested to let it get up and move around, there was a huge release.

I hope the distinction is clear. At that point, you’re not running away from your feelings or just being distracted by the body.

I have several stories of people I’ve worked with that get to a place where they are seeing something, perhaps a younger version of themselves, in an unpleasant situation. They feel the pain or emotional intensity, perceive a situation and are very centered in themselves at the moment, but have a holdback saying to ‘just be there’ with it. The moment the suggestion is given to go pull that kid out of the nightmare and get them the hell out of there, there is instant relief

Now, this is case by case, but the difference is when there is an obvious other move to make and “just be here” is the holdback.

Sometimes people are the equivalent of being very thirsty, and instead of just going and getting a glass of water, something has been latched onto saying “I’m supposed to just be fully present with the thirst until something happens.”

The impulse to grab the water IS what happened. The mind judged it.

Again, it takes discernment to know which is which, but there is a very clear distinction that I hope these examples and analogies might point to.

What do I DO?

Like I said, this is a subtle one.

You can say “just go with the flow” and it doesn’t mean much. You can say to an inexperienced musician “just play what you hear” and it’s not going to really help them.

I recommend practicing no-agenda type of sitting practice at least a little bit, for example guided awareness, just focusing on the breathing, any form of meditation. Body awareness, moving your focus more deeply into a visceral experience. Incorporate these without having a specific therapeutic technique or goal with them, except to be more present.

Observe if being present is something you are trying hard to ‘do’ instead of ease into.

Also observe if your mind has gotten some grandiose expectations about what is supposed to happen when you are finally “really present” or anything of the sort.

Then incorporate a more proactive type of process like EFT, a releasing process, something where you are probing into a feeling and actually doing something, so to speak, to work with it.

Allow these to be like colors on a palette, different tools in the toolbox.

Then take a step back behind all of it and, if this does not feel too abstract, observe the fact that there is a more fundamental awareness, a broader sense where any of these different types of activity take place.

If there is “being present in stillness” or “diving into a feeling” or “tapping and giving words to the experience,” there is something more primary where the sensations and feelings arise, are felt, and then the next action or thought arises.

This can give you some space to help see that just like in a conversation, certain things flow naturally. They are right in that moment. They may not be the right move in the next moment.

How Do I Catch Myself?

As far as realizing when you are stuck in a position on something that is not allowing it to flow and resolve naturally, I believe it is something you get better at. I’m certainly better than I was years ago, if I think back on how totally trapped I could get in ideas, arrogance, etc.

I can’t talk about how to always catch yourself, and not need support and guidance through everything because I cannot do that, and it’s important to me not to speak on things I myself can’t do. It’s why I still get facilitated, work regularly with Brad Yates, listen to guidance from people like Adyashanti and explore other resources.

One distinction I have noticed is that the more I have treated this like an art form and a life long practice like I experience being a musician, or practicing yoga, the better it gets and deeper it goes. This type of approach is about continued exploration and growth.

That mindset is very different than only applying these techniques or getting outside support when things are really bad and you want some relief.

If you feel slow in your progress or trapped in something, work with someone. Work with me. Work with a partner. Seek out a master and work with them if needed. Don’t waste time.

Well, this was quite a bit longer than expected, but I do hope it has at least provided some different angles to explore. If you have any questions, thoughts, or anything else please leave it in the comments below. If you find this valuable in any way, please consider sharing it. Thanks!

 

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Mary

Excellent Evan…thank you❤️❤️❤️

Mary

I loved it so much I shared it with a friend🙏

Johanna

Thank you. While I was reading your blog entry, the expression “be the peace within the storm” kept coming up for me. In the last week, I’ve acknowledged that maintaining my center in everyday life is of utmost value to me. That being said, as you mentioned, incorporating some sitting meditations (without an agenda) and using EFT would help. Do you think this is because we are retraining our nervous systems to be less reactive?

ildiko Haag

Hi Evan, this really resonates and matches my experience. It seems that the “between”, the relationship itself is the essence of life, healing, and evolution. Loved reading your words describing a mysterious, yet very real inner world and movement.

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