Compassionate abiding

A way to approach unwanted feelings by Pema Chödrön

Man and woman holding hands at a table

Pema Chödrön writes with deep compassion about the challenges we face in the modern world. Pema and Thich Nhat Hanh are two of my favourite reads, as they bring the philosophy of Buddhism to the people in a practical way. The practices do not need to be considered spiritual, instead ways to gain insight, patience and build compassion toward ourselves and the world. They offer a great deal more than that too!

My Pain Coach Programme is a range of simple and practical skills that you use to overcome your pain and live your life meaningfully. These skills are based on understanding your pain, the key foundation from where new healthy habits emerge. Here is a wonderful practice from Pema, compassionate abiding, which is a way to bring warmness to your feelings of discomfort. We all experience uncomfortable emotions and feelings, yet we are rarely trained how to face them, instead encouraged to avoid them. These feelings are a NORMAL part of life and hence unavoidable. Therefore, having the skill to be open to these feelings is a way to ease suffering.

In relation to pain, we have many associated feelings and emotions that increase suffering. There is the pain itself and then the suffering we live from the way we think about it. When you realise that you have a choice, it is hugely empowering. ‘How am I choosing to think about this pain?’ is the question to pose to self. As you step back from being embroiled, you gain insight and actualise the opportunity to make a choice to think differently and feel better. This is why it is so important to understand pain. To understand pain is to know that you are safe and free to make choices, and to live.

The practice

When you realise that you are hooked, which is that familiar feeling you have when a habit is about to arise, you use this practice. We all have many hooks that lead to the unpleasant or unwanted emotions and feelings, from seeing that the loo seat is up to the way a partner says something, from Monday morning blues to the craving for a cigarette. Other examples include addictions, phobias, fears, prejudice, shame, and rage

The embodied feeling emerges often with a familiar inner dialogue. However, we can choose to write a new script, a positive script. Interestingly, our self-confidence is determined by what we are telling ourselves and listening to (these are different) in this moment ~ watch here. Remember though, it is normal to feel the range of emotions. We need them all, even if we don’t enjoy some of them. No-one ever said life was wholly enjoyable!

In 2 parts

Breathing in

Being in touch with and open to the feeling of being hooked, breathe in deeply, allowing the feeling to really be there. Allow the feeling to exist. We can be tempted or in the habit of pushing away. You will be aware of the urges and discomfort, and that is normal. You can be ok, you can be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You abide with the feeling.

Breathing out

As you breathe out, you ease the tension that is part of and surrounding the discomfort. The out-breathe frees us from this tension as the space in which the embodied feeling exists becomes apparent.

When to practice

There is no limit to how much you can practice. I think a useful start point is to sit somewhere familiar and practice for a few moments and over time gradually increase the length, or blend with other mindful practices. Of course, drip-feeding our selves through the day, so little and often, has a really beneficial effect because we form a healthy habit. We can also practice as we become aware of the feelings of discomfort as they arise, touching the experience with our own natural warmth and compassion. You will notice how your typical reaction softens.

We are not pushing the feeling away. Instead we are fully there and present as the feelings transform, as all feelings, thoughts and emotions do. Nothing is permanent. No matter how ‘bad’ you are feeling right now, it will change because we change, every moment, like the water of a river that continues to pass by. This fact and the science of pain that gives us a new understanding of our potential, gives great hope and reason to be optimistic. Be inspired to live well, because we can.

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