Q I try to follow your advice of being present to myself, especially my feelings, which I have always run away from. I find sometimes I just start day dreaming and get easily distracted. At other times I will experience a lot of different feelings and they will change as I try to be with them. Then I get confused and bored and start doing other things. Is there a way to be more focused in connecting with myself?

A Having access to our feelings in an open and spontaneous way is a key element in experiencing the fullness of our being. Most of us have been trained not to value our feelings, for “survival” reasons. We live in a time and culture where thinking and the rational mind are paramount. There is very little understanding and training on how to explore, understand, enjoy, and share our feelings with others. Our parents’ generation was not equipped to help us be comfortable with our range of emotions as children; we were most likely rushed and talked out of our feelings, quickly pacified or shut down.

Some people have a block protecting them from painful childhood memories. If there was abuse, loss, or trauma without the support of trusted adults, those reactions of fear, hurt, loss, and shame are also stored away and denied in order to simply function in life. Thus, parts of ourselves get shut down and become inaccessible due to these numbing responses. When we observe children who have ample support and are in safe relationships, they display an array of feelings unabashedly. This is the natural state. As we get socialized we tighten up and have plenty of inhibitions.

A healthy relationship to our feelings allows us to be aware, feel, and let go. The first step in getting through the denial and boredom is to notice these reactions without judgment or even trying to change them. Then take a minute and inquire into them. What else might be going on? What was coming up when you got distracted? By breathing into the belly and the chest we feel more connected to our experience in the moment and are less likely to wander.

The body is the home of our experiences and the breath gives energy and support for our being to flow again. This releases the constriction. Learning to name our feelings is helpful. This connects us to them and invites them to come to the fore.

By using a combination of sensing your body (areas of tension, warmth, heaviness, shaking, tingling), inquiring into your experience, and deep breathing, you can connect with your feelings. Be open to any shifts that may occur in these areas. Journaling your experience can be very helpful as well. This will help you be present, inquire more deeply, and track your process. Some people prefer to have another person sit with them while they are exploring these inner experiences. This can be very supportive and  can help you stay focused. Such explorations are a vital component of counseling and psychotherapy.

Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com

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