How to Deal with Difficult Emotions? Say Yes to What Is

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.  —  Rumi

How do you deal with difficult emotions? When they knock at your door, do you invite them in, as the poet Rumi suggests in the poem above? Or do you pretend that you are not at home? 😉

Painful feelings can be very challenging. Our natural reaction is to numb them out. Unfortunately this approach can guarantee us only a momentary relief. In fact, soon the same emotion knocks again at our door, wanting our attention. Why does it happen? When we avoid a feeling, we unconsciously store its energy in our body, as described in detail in Moving From the Head to the Heart: Let Emotional Energy Flow.

Is there a healthier way to respond to an unwanted visitor? In How to Release Your Emotional Baggage? Feel Your Feelings in the Body we learned that it is important to feel the emotion in the body and then let it go, avoiding judgmental thoughts about it. In this post we are going to learn a specific mindfulness practice that can guide us through this process 🙂

Tara Brach, a well known meditation teacher and psychologist, defines mindfulness and compassion as the two wings of awareness. Both are fundamental when dealing with challenging feelings. In other words, we need to both be aware of the emotion and accept it with compassion. In her guided meditations, she uses often the following steps, originally developed by Michele McDonald:

Recognize what is happening
Allow the experience to be just as it is
Investigate the inner experience with kindness
Nurture with self-compassion,

identifying them with the acronym R.A.I.N. Let’s have a look at each of them in more detail 🙂

Recognize What Is Happening

When we perceive an uncomfortable feeling arising in us, for example grief, anxiety, shame, anger, sadness or fear, we pause and name it. To be able to recognize what is going on inside us, it is fundamental to have trained the observer, namely the part of us that witnesses without judgement our feelings and thoughts, preventing us from getting lost in them. This is the reason why having a regular mindfulness practice is so important. Would you like to learn more about it? You can find more details in Mindfulness Meditation: Why You Should Seriously Consider Giving It a Try 🙂

Allow The Experience to Be There, Just as It Is

When discomfort arises, our tendency is to fix it, push it away or ignore it. In this practice, instead, we open up to whatever arises. We say yes to it, accepting it as it is and befriend it, as Tara Brach puts it. In other words, we open the door to the unwanted visitors and invite them in, as Rumi suggests. Another beautiful image used in Buddhism to illustrate this concept, is having tea with Mara, the personification of our personal demons. Acceptance is fundamental for the release of the emotion, because it allows its energy to flow through us, without getting stuck.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. — Carl Rogers

Investigate The Inner Experience with Kindness

This step does not refer to a rational problem solving investigation. Instead, it consists in observing non judgmentally but with curiosity and care the energies moving through your body. Where can you feel this difficult emotion? In your belly? In your stomach? In your shoulders? What are the sensations arising? What thoughts are you thinking? What wants your attention right now? Being anchored in the body is fundamental to avoid getting lost in the wave of emotions and in the thoughts you have around them. If you feel numbed and disconnected from your body, you can train using body scan meditations. You can find more details and a guided example in How To Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation: Some Ideas to Help You Establish Your Own Practice 🙂

Nurture with Self-Compassion

When we connect with the part of us that is suffering, we can sooth it through self-compassion. For example you can relate to yourself kindly by saying I’m here with you, It’s ok sweetheart, I’m sorry and I love you. Ask yourself: What does this vulnerable part want from me? Maybe love? Or attention? While nurturing yourself, you can also put your hands gently on your heart, on your checks or hug yourself. These gestures release oxytocin in the blood, that counteract the stress response and lower the level of cortisol. This way you are going to feel safer 🙂

Would you like to try R.A.I.N.? 🙂 In this video you can find a guided meditation offered by Tara Brach to start practicing with.

Would you like to learn more about the topics discussed in this post? Have a look at Tara Brach’s books Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart 🙂

This is very important: Always remember to be gentle with yourself. If something feels too much, for example if you are currently going through very strong and dark feelings or if you had deep trauma in your past, it might be better not to do the work alone. Look for a meditation teacher or a therapist that can guide you through the wave of emotions in a safe way.

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11 thoughts on “How to Deal with Difficult Emotions? Say Yes to What Is

  1. savannahfromaustin

    I love the way you organized this and brought some of the emotional issues I’ve felt in my own life together in such a thoughtful way. Keep it up!


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