How Long Do I Stay with a Feeling?

by | Jan 16, 2020 | Inner Work | 13 comments

One of the mottos of my approach to inner work is “feeling is healing.”

“Feeling” in this case means to consciously, intentionally put our attention on something we are experiencing. An emotion, a sense of dissatisfaction, perhaps something more intense and primal. To be present with them, despite the flurry of thinking and distractions designed to pull our attention away from these often uncomfortable feelings. 

When we give ourselves a moment to stop resisting those feelings like sadness, boredom, pent up frustration, and myriad other feelings within us, it sets the foundation for them to actually process through the system.

Sometimes the feelings simply release, sometimes they reveal insights to us about changes to make in our lives. They may point to deeper layers that will require additional attention – maybe even your life’s work.

Supporting the body with breathing, physical activity, actions like EFT tapping, journaling, or whatever you find that works for you, while consciously staying present to what you are feeling, enhances this process.

As we begin on this journey of inner work and resolution, and even as we are further along the adventure, a practical question often arises:

How long do we proactively stay with, ‘work’ with, be present with an unpleasant feeling that is arising?

Is the ideal approach to be there as long as it takes, power through until everything is released and you feel that you have turned a corner?

Do you give it some space, perhaps do a process, then let it go and allow it to unfold on its own?

Like physical exercise, can you overdo it and cause more harm than good? Can you quit too soon and miss out on the benefits?

As with most things, there are case-by-case differences, as well as our own individual uniqueness. Nonetheless, I will do my best to help you navigate this with some pointers, and ways to help you find your own answers.

Treat each experience uniquely

Our minds love the idea of understanding something before we approach it. It wants to have ‘my technique’ that it can simply plug every experience into. It loves when things follow formulas and follow predictable patterns, because a huge part of its job is to map territory and keep you safe.

There is also a lot of value in having your own techniques that you can apply in a step-by-step manner, so those are perfectly fine. I am talking more about a mindset or spirit of openness in this first point.

Let’s explore what it is to treat each and every experience uniquely.

A lot of times the nature of a subject, or the intensity of a feeling, will make us assume many things about it.

Also, our past experiences working with feelings, especially our bigger breakthroughs, can create very specific expectations and assumptions that we will apply to all future sessions.

The next time you take a moment to sit down and work with something, as best you can, do not assume anything about it. Do not believe the image in your mind about how deep seated the issue lies, how long it will take to process, or how much or little it will require from you.

By the way, this assume-nothing posture is a natural byproduct of being fully present in the here and now. This presence, meeting the moment directly as opposed to from our conceptual ideas from the past and of the future, may be the most universally agreed upon premise you’ll find among spiritual and personal advice.

Notice if you find yourself taking any position before you start turning your attention inward. “I’m gonna tackle all of this,” or “this is going to be a really big one, I’m going to have to take it slow.” As best you can, relax these ideas, take a deep breath, and put your feet into the water of the emotional experience.

Once you step into the water, that is where you will feel what the tide is, where it is going to take you. Just like the ocean, it is not concerned, or affected by, whatever your ideas about it were.

Get the Information From the Source

When you are in the midst of inner work, you can experience thoughts very similar to when exercising. “Do I need to take a break now? should I keep going? Am I doing this right?”

There are two places we often direct these questions. One is to our own mind, which can only respond with conceptual knowledge. This certainly can be valuable, but is not the most direct option. Try it right now. Go ahead and ask your mind “what’s the right amount of time to work / exercise?” “what’s a good diet to follow?” You will notice the computer start searching the database of information.

The second is to ask someone else, or read a blog like this one, and hope to get an answer that can be universally applied.

Instead, try asking the question inward. You may even ask to direct it to the part of you that would have the answer. This might sound abstract, but many people I’ve worked with are amazed at the fact that they often do get an answer quite easily, simply by attempting this without over-thinking the how-to.

If you are doing some practice and part of your body starts to feel discomfort or stiff, bring your awareness there (guided awareness), and ask a question such as “do you need a break?”

Direct that question as though you are actually asking the body part(s), and listen there. Your mind will have answers, but simply keep the attention on the body and be more interested in seeing if you get an ‘answer’ from there.

Approach it in a similar way with an emotional discomfort. “What do you need?” The practice is to focus on the ‘response’ you get from the feeling itself, and not from your conceptual thinking. The next point is one of the main reasons for this.

Part of You Will Always Look for the Out

We all have an innate programming to move towards pleasure and away from pain. This mechanism is deeper than your conscious mind, it is at least a nervous system response, and is present in us before we even develop cognitive thinking.

This is one of the main reasons we cannot reduce things to simple, universal how-to steps that will work for each person.

It is also why many people do not get results.

Of course, as a facilitator or someone giving advice, you have to point out to not over-do things or stress yourself out to where you are doing more harm than good. Physical exercise is an obvious example of where we innately know we can do damage with the wrong form or overexertion.

However, we will latch onto this as an excuse to a) not really do anything at all, maybe the equivalent of light stretching or b) stop way, way too soon.

I’ve never seen it happen that you sit with a feeling for 1 second too long and end up throwing your back out.

What I have seen, numerous times, are people barely even approaching a feeling, and then immediately leaving that experience to begin analyzing it, describing it, or any of the numerous ways to eject from the situation.

If you are being present with yourself in the way I like to work, you are always inviting, you are present and persistent but not overtly forcing things.

It is a skill, a muscle of sorts, to stay with your experience, to stay engaged and probing and getting to the center of things.
Like all skills, it improves with consistent practice, and requires that sweet spot of continuing to expand to your edge. You can’t sprint hard once a month to get in shape.

What to do?

These ideas are easy to think about, and trigger that “ok, so what exactly is the right thing to do?” line of thinking.

This is where you return to the premise of getting the answer for yourself, in each case, by tuning in, assuming nothing about it, and inquiring directly.

I will add one component based on the fact that we are always looking for that escape.

Make a commitment.

Decide that you have dedicated to this, perhaps a certain amount of time for the session or to address a particular situation. If things get uncomfortable, do not force, but do stay present and in the zone of the inner work. If it seems like nothing is happening, don’t use that as an excuse to bail out. Honor the time and simply meditate, connect, journal, EFT tap, anything that is intentional. A beautiful thing begins to happen once your system recognizes that you are playing for keeps, and are not going to eject any time it gets boring or uncomfortable.

Assume Nothing.

Treat each session and experience uniquely.

Get information from the source.

Ask internally what is needed, if you can go deeper or to be still (while maintaining your commitment,) if your body needs to take a walk or drink water, if it’s time to dig in or focus on relaxing and integrating. The main thing is you are practicing the art of listening to the actual responses from your body, nervous system, and not your interpretation of a piece of information or simply following steps.

I hope this is useful to you, and am happy to hear any thoughts, suggestions, experiences, or anything else you have to share by commenting below.


  1. Perola duprat

    Thank you very much for this is a very helpfull answer for all my questions about inner work.

    • Evan

      Thanks Perola, and thanks for the thoughtful question you sent!

  2. Sean Ten

    This was very helpful. My biggest takeaway was staying with the feeling, not backing out and staying committed, really brought up that part in my practice. Like right now, I’m going through a weird discomfort because a training partner tweaked my knee during jiu jitsu and asking my body I might have to sit out a day or two and sitting through the feeling of the knee, the anger for towards the partner and not being able to train, the anxiety of having a close call, the boredom of wanting to back out from all of this… But all of these are just words for this moment

    • Sean Ten

      and the interesting thing is having this close call really did bring up a deep feeling of vulnearbility and anxiety that some over-zealous guy can put my body in serious trouble in a second.

    • Evan

      That’s an excellent scenario to expand on in some more depth. It was actually working with a pain in my arm that really sold me on this type of inner work.

      There are a few different aspects to work with here, though they don’t necessarily need to take long at all to see big benefits. One is to focus on that feeling on a purely physical level, and see if there is tightness and resistance going on that you can consciously deep breathe and relax into. A lot of times there is excess tension, especially from an impact type of injury, that is still bracing from it.

      Then there is the emotional component as you mentioned, the frustration, any wishing it didn’t happen or replaying the scenario. Putting the attention on that consciously, allowing that to play through and release itself can also have some really positive benefits.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Sean

        This happened again today with a guy doing an illegal technique on me. I felt my knee buckle inwards and whip back into normal. Maybe because I’m in my early twentys, my knee had a bounce to it. I know people that had their ACL ripped by that. The emotional replaying of the close call is more intense, definitely deserves more exploring and beginning to take practical steps such as setting boundaries on who I want to train with, open to riskier positions during training.

  3. Johanna

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question during yesterday’s live call. This article expands on what was already an excellent answer for me. I have been frustrated in my inner work journey by not finding the “perfect formula” to plug into each unpleasant experience. Your explanation of focusing on the feeling, and less on the thoughts about the feeling, is very helpful. I tried using EFT today without saying anything rehearsed or having expectations, and that worked very well. That “assume-nothing posture” really is quite powerful. I look forward to your next live call!

    • Evan

      Thanks so much Johanna, I’m glad that was helpful for you. I have found this to be the case more and more, and the less I look for the ‘formula’ or ‘system’ to plug everything into, and more like a real-time relationship with thoughts, emotions, etc., the better things get. Formulas and systems are useful to give us a framework and there are definitely best-practices of sorts, but they are not the totality.

      That relates in many ways to this discussion: – where a lot of times, our approach can become more about the particular method and whether or not it works, on some type of objective level, then searching for the next one that will, or will work better. That can be an endless hamster wheel, vs. the mindset of us learning to navigate our own territory and learn ourselves better. To me, that is the ultimate goal, and techniques are essentially to facilitate that process

  4. anne kofman

    Thank you sooo much for working with me on the call yesterday! It feels so good not to want to die as only option to finding peace as enjoy in deep sleep….very freeing. Actually have moved into deep peace as meditated since! & brought much joy to another community and close friend as shared the shift that occurred! 🙂 Will there be a replay and where do I access it??

    • Evan

      Really glad to hear that, Anne! Thanks for working live on the call. Replays of those calls, as well as YouTube content, are always added to this page:

      • anne kofman

        Thanks for replay…after listening to it did a meditation. Usually meditate for 15 minutes but went into state of bliss and stayed there 1 hour. Yes the Universe has my back and I need not die to reach inner peace and bliss! 🙂 <3

        • Evan

          That’s a big one. Very happy to hear it!

  5. anne kofman

    PS…adding post comment notification


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