I learned this equation from one of my heroes, Shauna Shapiro (who had learned it from one of her teachers): suffering = pain x resistance. When I worked in hospice, this equation played out in front of me over and over. Those patients and families who could not accept the reality of the situation and met it only with resistance, who spent all of their time and energy railing against it and wishing things would go back to the way they used to be in the past so they didn’t have to feel any pain in the present, they are the ones who truly suffered.
When we resist feeling our feelings, they just dig in their heels. They expand, puff themselves up, learn to be devious. We may succeed in chasing them away, but they just hide out for a while, only to resurface somewhere else, complicating our lives to get our attention. There’s really no going around them, only through.
In grief counseling we talk a lot about allowing the waves of grief to wash over you and dissipate naturally rather than trying to hold back the tide. As paradoxical as it may sound, allowing your feelings to flow without having to do anything is truly powerful. Letting go of resistance sounds passive, like giving in, but it actually offers the deep strength of equanimity that will allow you to stay standing strongly in the surf as the tides change around you.
Recently, one of my grief counseling clients told me she had finally gotten to a place where she could just allow herself to feel her feelings and be okay. This was an empowering shift, and I was delighted to hear it. It dawned on me in that moment, though, that maybe we could take it a step further. What if we could not just allow our feelings to move through us, but also be an active, compassionate companion to ourselves through that process? What if we could learn to show up for ourselves like a caring friend and take a more active role? What would that look like?
Standing on the shoulders of giants, I thought a lot about this idea of providing self-companionship through big emotions (not just grief) and realized that there are so many ways to do this. I drew on Sarah Peyton’s concept of “resonant self-witness” and Tara Brach’s approach to “radical acceptance,” some elements of Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model, Gitanjali Help’s Syntara System, and Kristin Neff’s work on self compassion. I threw in a little bit of the Sedona Method. I brought in some somatic work and nestled it all in a setting of mindfulness.
My clients often feel better at the end of a session and ask me how they can make that kind of shift on their own between appointments. That question inspired me to start making videos to help them companion themselves through overwhelming emotions. I’m sharing the beginning of this project here with you now, because we all have times when we need a way to relieve our distress. Remember, by relieving distress, I do not mean that we need to get rid of our big feelings. On the contrary. The work is to calm our nervous systems enough to make space for our emotions. Instead of resisting our emotions, it’s about being intentional about how we want to show up for ourselves when our emotions feel distressing. Companioning is the opposite of resisting.
Here are links to the videos I have made so far. I hope you find them helpful. The first one is foundational, using mindfulness to help you be present with and curious about your feelings. The second is a little quirkier, but experiments with the idea of inner hospitality* and welcoming your feelings. The third is a way to shift the relationship you have with your feelings. Ultimately, I hope these videos will support you to learn how to release resistance and accompany yourself with deep care, a feeling of safety, and a loving presence. More to come!
If you haven’t read Rumi’s poem The Guest House, please Google it (AFTER you watch the videos!) to better understand what I mean by “inner hospitality.”
December 7, 2022