It often feels like our feelings, the painful ones in particular (of course), will never go away. It’s as though you’ll feel this way forever.
You will forever feel a crushing, suffocating kind of sadness.
You will forever feel anger simmering and pulsating through your veins.
You will forever feel an electrifying anxiety—an anxiety that vibrates from your head to your feet.
When you’re experiencing these type of emotions, when you’re in the throes of them, it does feel permanent. It does feel persistent and perpetual and unrelenting. Which is a big reason why so many of us steer clear of our emotions. We avoid feeling them because we think once we crack the window open, they’ll come rushing in and flood the entire house.
And at first they might (or at least dampen the carpet). That’s because we haven’t felt our feelings in a while, and there’s simply a build-up.
There’s the sadness from last week when your spouse said something hurtful, but you ignored it because everything is fine. There’s the sadness of missing your family, who live many states away, a fact the holidays always highlight. There’s the sadness of not being invited to an important event. There’s the sadness over seeing happiness splashed all over social media.
But, build-up or not, for the most part, feelings are fleeting. They fluctuate. They are intense, and they subside. They peak, and they dip.
In other words, their magnitude melts, their strength weakens, and their volume lowers. Naturally.
I was recently reminded of this, of the impermanence of feelings, by the beautiful words of Thich Nhat Hanh from the book Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh:
Feelings are born, take shape, last for a few moments, and then disappear. As with the physical form, birth and death of feelings occur in every moment. In meditation, we look mindfully at this river of feeling. We contemplate their arising, their remaining, and their disappearance. We witness their impermanence. When we have an unpleasant feeling, we say to ourselves, “This feeling is in me, it will stay for a while, and then it will disappear because it is impermanent.” Just by seeing the impermanence of feelings in this way, we suffer a lot less.
When you’re hesitant to feel a feeling, to go there, remind yourself of this. Say these words to yourself. Jot them down in your journal. Use these words to spark an art project. Re-read them regularly. Meditate on them. Because this helps us to honor our feelings.
It helps us to welcome our feelings (yes, welcome). It helps us to acknowledge what’s bothering, hurting and frustrating us. Which is vital, because our feelings can be signals. They can point to what we want. They can point to what we don’t want. They can serve as starting points on the way to meaningful action.
But they can only do this for us when we actually look at them, when we both take them seriously and take them less seriously; when we don’t entangle ourselves in the anger, for instance, but we observe it, and let it flow through us, and then we intentionally listen.
Of course, if it feels like your feelings are staying for too long, consider seeking help. Because maybe the sorrow is one symptom of clinical depression. Maybe the anger needs more examination because it feels like it’s bubbling inside the very core of you like lava. Maybe you’re feeling anxious ten-too-many times. All of this is OK. Your feelings may be telling you it’s time to seek outside support.
Either way, we don’t need to be intimidated by our feelings. Sure, sometimes, they are hard to feel. Because who wants to be uncomfortable? But when we acknowledge that our feelings rise and fall in fierceness, we can start to feel them.
We can ease in. We can observe the sensations swirling through our bodies. We can breathe into our blues. We can note the first, subtle signs of anger. We can write about what’s happening.
And we can, eventually or quite soon, feel better. But first we have to turn toward our feelings instead of the usual response of turning away.