Feelings are important, but they shouldn’t overwhelm you. They are part of experience, but they are not experience itself and they can’t hurt you in the way that physical pain can.
Think of it this way; sitting on a beach and watching the waves is different from sitting IN the sea, getting wet, and struggling against the waves. Waves come in all shapes and sizes; they can pound the beach aggressively, or they can lap gently along the shoreline, almost caressing it.
So it is with feelings. They can roll over you and submerge you if you get too close, but if you move away a bit up the beach, even in the most stormy conditions you can watch them comfortably from a safe distance.
The RACE Technique
If feelings begin to overwhelm you, you can use the RACE technique to help manage your feelings mindfully:
R – Recognise the dominant feeling. Give it name.
A – Accept the experience you are having. You may not LIKE it, but you can accept the reality of what is happening as it happens. Do this without judging, and don’t look for meaning. It’s just a feeling, it doesn’t MEAN anything.
C – Be curious. Give it your attention as you would if you were inspecting an oddity. Where in your body do you experience the feeling? What other sensations go with it? Imagine that you are watching this from a distance. For example, watch the feelings as they come and go as you would a parade; different aspects come into view, they pass you, and move on into the distance. As a feeling passes, give it a name so that you can identify it another time.
E – Expect to have to do it again. Keep practicing, without judging or criticising yourself. If you get frustrated, that’s just a feeling, so treat it is the same way, with the RACE technique.
The aim of the exercise is to train yourself to see feelings in a detached way; as passing events you observe rather than actions you are involved in.
Remember the names you give to different feelings, and as one arises, say to yourself “Oh, I’ve just noticed the (name) has come into view”, and focus your attention on your breathing, or a task you are involved in.
You’ll soon learn to notice, identify and observe your feelings without them intruding. From this detached vantage point, you can then decide, calmly, whether you need to act in response to the feeling.