Sitting with our feelings

“Depression is like a woman in black. If she turns up, don’t shoo her away. Invite her in, offer her a seat, treat her like a guest and listen to what she wants to say” says Carl G. Jung. This reminds me of Rumi’s poem, The Guest House. There is wisdom in lending a certain curiosity to our inner life, to all the feelings that arise. The impulse is often to run, look away, cover, and find all and any possible ways to make the feelings stop and go away. We all have had that lived experience, to different degrees; the difficulty of extracting ourselves out of bed, the continual churning in the stomach, the bee-like buzzing of thoughts in our head… I imagine feelings “sitting” on the body, slouching our posture towards earth as we try to go about our day.

Jungians view feeling symptoms as signposts; it’s one way that our inner world, psyche, knocks on our door, demanding us to pay attention. We make room for feelings with an attitude of curiosity and explore what these hold. For me, it’s the process of going beneath the layers of the layers of the layers…. It’s difficult, no doubt, and often, for some, it’s rewarding, enriching, and transformative.

When exploring these difficult places in psychotherapy, I often ask my patients/clients, “if depression (or anxiety) could speak, what would ‘it’ say? If we imagine the feeling in a color, shape, texture, what would ‘it’ look like?” We explore, non-verbally, by way of lines, colors, and shapes. We draw the feeling. “If we imagine the body carrying the feeling, where in the body could we locate the feeling? what is the sensation of the feeling in the body? Is there a movement or a gesture that we could imagine representing the feeling?” And we explore the body’s expressions.

Week after week, in psychotherapy we form a relationship with the feelings and stay curious to what they hold and to what needs revealing to our conscious awareness. Week after week, we form new ways of relating to ourself, and may be, as Rumi says, we then begin to cultivate the capacity to stay open “for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”