Anxious about the future? Angry about the past or the present? Have pressing problems? Is someone you love hurt? Have you lost someone you care for? Are you stuck in a rut, unable to produce or create? Are you feeling sad, or overcome with boredom?
Whatever it is and whatever you feel, there’s three words that will help you overcome or make the most use of it:
Sit with it.
The only time we don’t want to sit with something is when the intensity of the feeling threatens to overwhelm us. When what we feel is dangerously potent. The first time we realise we won’t see someone again, a profound sense of loss occurs. The first time we realise we love someone, a radiant sense of joy spreads from our heads to our toes. But both these feelings are fleeting. Not because they go away, but because we go away from them. Or we chase them away by seeking distraction and trying to sidestep the feeling. We remove ourselves because we cannot bear to fully inhabit the moment in all it’s richness and power.
At times of such intense emotion we try to draw our focus elsewhere, like the Fellowship riding out to the Black Gate to keep Sauron’s eye off the Ring Bearer. We try to replace the intensity of feeling with the exhilaration of action or stimulus.
But what if, rather than turning, sidestepping or fleeing, we stayed put? What if, instead of getting out of the way, we stayed in the way? What if, rather than discarding the moment or removing ourselves, we welcomed and sat with it?
There’s a reason mindfulness’ chief practice is meditation. Mindfulness, at it’s core is about awareness and receptivity. It is deliberate stillness in the face of internal movement. Mindfulness teaches you to, quite literally, sit with whatever it is you feel and are trying to flee.
But sitting with it, whatever “it” is, feels insane. It feels like stepping into the path of a lorry screaming down the hill towards you. Illogical. Irrational. Stupid. All you want to do is get out of the way of the oncoming juggernaut. But if you stand still, if you hold fast, you realise the lorry is an apparition. At the moment of the most fear and terror, you realise that the juggernaut isn’t real.
Our feelings and problems magnify and maximise themselves. They make themselves seem bigger than they actually are. In reality, they are small, manageable, approachable. And often the things that present themselves as the biggest and the most ferocious are the ones most in need of your time, attention and energy. But you can only give it these things if you sit with it.
So whatever feeling or problem you’re currently wrangling with, stop. Don’t fight. Don’t flee. Don’t distract yourself. Sit with it and you’ll see that the monster isn’t really that monstrous after all.