“Just sit with it”, is a familiar phrase in the world of wellbeing. When we experience something that’s difficult, we’re often advised to sit with any uncomfortable feelings that arise.
Sounds like a simple enough instruction, but what does it mean?
It means to really feel those feelings. It’s very normal for us to push uncomfortable feelings away at the first sign of discomfort. In fact we often try to do absolutely everything we can to avoid them: distracting ourselves, denying, numbing, being falsely positive.
Brené Brown goes as far as to say: “The need to tap out of discomfort and pain, as opposed to feel our way through it, is probably at the root of everything.”
Which (unfortunately) sounds about right.
But before we get into the nitty gritty of how we just sit with it, let’s take a moment to ask WHY?
I mean, why on earth would we want to feel the feelings that feel bad? The ones that make us squirm, feel sad, angry, shameful etc? Surely, pushing them away to NOT feel them is a brilliant strategy…?
It’s because pushed away and/or numbed feelings unfortunately don’t just go away. Pushing away is a temporary fix. A temporary relief.
Those feelings persist. Maybe they fester, maybe they come up later in a different form, causing collateral damage later. There are lots of possible ways they will re-emerge, but they unfortunately don’t just go away. And we also miss out on the chance to address or understand their underlying message. Which is a huge waste of valuable information.
So now for the HOW
As in most things mindfulness-related, it’s with Awareness.
Firstly, noticing any discomfort or resistance, which I sometimes call icky-ness. Icky-ness is when something doesn’t feel quite right, it lurks and feels stuck somehow.
Sometimes the discomfort feels obvious. Maybe it’s caused by something specific: an argument, a tricky event, difficult news. When this is the case, sensations in our bodies can feel clear and raw and our thoughts more obviously jumbled and messy.
And sometimes it’s more subtle. Maybe we feel a bit off about something, a bit tight in our bodies without really knowing why. Just a little unclear. A little icky.
And it’s when we become aware of any icky-ness, that when we can choose to take a moment, to sit with it, using this:
Grounding: Feeling our feet and the weight of our bodies on the ground/chair/floor underneath us. Turning our attention to the feeling of the breath, just being.
Sensations: Noticing any sensations in our bodies: eg. tension, tightness, physical discomfort, tingling, restlessness. Turning towards the sensations with an attitude of curiosity and investigation. What are they like? How do they feel? Can I breathe into them?
Noticing our thoughts: Can we watch them coming and going, bringing our attention back, when our minds wander off. Trying not to judge the thoughts we don’t like or have an opinion about. Just noticing and redirecting.
Noticing resistance: Perhaps this noticing gives you the immediate urge to get up and do something else; to distract, to numb (we all have favourite go-to numbing mechanisms, like food, tv, work, alcohol, social media). Try resisting that urge and going back to the sensations or the breath.
Knowing you are safe: Reminding yourself that you are safe. You are grounded. The discomfort will pass. Allowing it to move through us. To release it, if possible.
And with love and compassion. Being accepting and gentle with ourselves. Especially on the days we choose to numb or distract instead. Remembering it’s a practice, not a fix.
Discomfort doesn’t mean something is wrong. Discomfort, if we can learn to sit with it, can be a beautiful gift.
If we can, instead of pushing it away, learn to welcome it in with an attitude of curiosity and compassion, we can experience that not only do the feelings pass, they can also open the door to places we have previously been scared to enter.
Which can lead to deep and lasting healing.