Just A Feeling: Being With Difficult Emotions

By June 28, 2010 30 Comments


A remarkable thing happened to me on Friday. One of those graced moments when the light bulb goes on, when the click clicks.

I had a solitary week. I had aimed to clear a lot of time for writing, but I cleared too much.

Around 4pm on Friday, I started to crave people, bigtime. Social connection. Community. Belonging. Friends. Interaction.

We had no real weekend plans. Often we don’t. I’m not sure what I’ll be in the mood for so I plan nothing, and then I get stuck in a kind of resentful loneliness.

As I wrapped up my work, I started to worry. What would we do tonight? Many of our friends were out of town. Others were already booked.

We live in a big city. There’s no Cheers-type bar we can walk into where everybody knows our names. We don’t go to a church, or synagogue, or roller rink. There’s no way we can access insta-community.

I was walking home, full of longing for connection, frustrated and worried about our lack of plans. This is usually the moment where my train of thought launches way out into space, like a rocket ship, visiting pseudo-relevant subjects like these: Why don’t we belong to a spiritual community of some sort? What will we do about that? Why didn’t I make plans earlier? Why don’t I know more people? What will we ever do about the fact that my husband is an introvert and I’m an extrovert? Those are the kind of helpful places my mind goes.

Today, something different happened. Just like a split hair, as one train of thought started to go into that painful litany of questions and complaints, another train went somewhere else. It said, “Oh well, this (craving to see people) is just a feeling. It will pass. Maybe it will be satisfied tonight or maybe not, but it will pass. And you’ve lived through many a feeling not being satisfied before.”

Just a feeling? I had read that phrase in Zen books here and there, but I had never spontaneously thought the thought before. Certainly not in a moment of emotional difficulty. This “just a feeling” consciousness was relaxing, it came from somewhere in my spine, not from my head. It was felt, not abstract.

I was free, I realized. I could work to address the feeling or not, but I wasn’t all caught up in it. I wasn’t identified with it. I didn’t think it was anything bigger than a feeling. I could see it was temporary, unpredictable, rather arbitrary and, get this– kind of unimportant – not because it was about weekend plans, but because it was just a feeling. One more like or dislike, one more desire or aversion, in the grand, life-long parade.

As I walked home, exploring my new discovery, I thought, this is why I read the spiritual books. The ideas go into us, in their own way and in their own time, and they make a difference. They really do.

It’s just a feeling. You are so much bigger, more still, more vast than that. There is the wind, and there is sail, and there is the ocean floor.




Join the discussion 30 Comments

  • Uzma says:

    Wow. Tara. What a liberating feeling.. I write ‘feeling’ and smile to myself. A wise teacher tells me often, the key to inner peace, to watching the ego, is to be aware of our feelings, to watch them, and soon they loose their grip on us. It isn’t easy for me and I keep flitting in and out of watching and being taken hostage. Your post reminded me of creating awareness of our feelings, then noticing our thoughts and then smiling the peace. Thank u so much for sharing. God bless

  • Dia says:

    Hi Tara,

    Being aware of our emotions is important. If we are not aware of how we feel, then our thoughts whether negative or positive will conquer us. Thanks for sharing

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thank you Uzma. You are so right – it’s not easy! It’s the human condition to be taken in by our feelings, to remember we can step out of identification with them, and to begin again. Just as in meditation.
    Simple and a life’s work at the same time.
    I love your phrase, “smiling the peace.” Love it!
    And yes, so true, it’s all about becoming aware of feelings, aware of thoughts, and in that consciousness, unhooking from them…then we get to smile and feel that peace.
    Thanks for being here.

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks Dia. Yes, awareness is the precursor to being able to step back from identification with our emotions. There is some interesting brain research that shows that the cognitive act of labeling an emotion reduces its intensity.

  • Jay Schryer says:

    Hi Tara,

    Thank you so much for writing this. I just recently (well, about 3 months ago) moved to a new town, and I haven’t really had a chance to meet anyone yet. Just like you, I don’t have a spiritual community or any other kind of “insta community” to access, so I’ve been very lonely these past few months. I have a girlfriend here, but she has been so busy with her own life and her own friends that I haven’t had much of a chance to spend time with her, so that has been difficult, too.

    I’ve read the zen books and self-help books, too, but I haven’t had this “aha” moment that you describe. So thank you for writing about it, because now I, too, can see that it’s “just a feeling” and that it shall pass. You’ve given me some good encouragement here, and I deeply appreciate it.

  • stephanie says:

    HI Tara!

    I have been enjoying your postings for about 2 months now! I like this post about feelings. I think feelings let us know how our ego is doing… and I don’t think that word ego is as bad as ultra “spiritual” people tell us! The bible calls it the creature… the devil.. .angels… it contains the duality of this present reality so I think it is imperative to work with it. It is both beautiful and horrendous at the same time… we are all capable of great love and sacrifice and also murder if but only by the tongue.

    So, feelings are a barometer to how our ego is feeling today, this week, this moment… I do think it wise to pay attention since this ego seems to have priority over the spirit in our minds. We are working toward what the bible calls the lion (ego) laying down with the lamb (spirit) and I think true enlightenment comes when our spirit has priority over the ego in our minds.

    But until then we must consciously be aware of what our emotions are doing and also making us think. As emotions are great indicators they can also lead us down the wrong path… when we are jealous, scared, hurt or fearful our emotions can send us incorrect thoughts that can send us headlong into error! We may do things and say thing because of this miss-perception fueled by incorrect information being sent to our brains by our emotions.

    So, the long and short of it is this: emotions are helpful in perceiving how our ego is doing… but take them at times with a grain of salt always attempting to filter them by our spirits. Conscious awareness! Practice conscious awareness every chance you get!


    Love, stephanie

  • Beth says:

    Hi Tara – I can so relate to what you have shared here. I have had those same feelings and experiences many times over the years. Like Jay I recently moved am starting over in a new city and adding to that my partner and I ended our relationship of two years so I am really on my own now. I find myself with lots of time on my own and many of the feelings and thoughts you describe bubble up. The feelings eventually pass though or intensify until I am able to shift my perspective. Often it is in those moments that I break open and have a moment of truth…..the shift in perspective may be “its just a feeling” or it may be “I can choose something different”, Knowing that I have a choice brings me back into balance and I am peaceful with what is.
    I attended a weekend retreat with a Buddhist monk and he described the process of choosing our experiences like clicking on a new page or changing channels on the TV. So now I find the inner remote or mouse that allows me to have a different experience simply by changing the picture to something different even though I am still in the same place.


  • Jenn says:

    Tara, this was refreshing to read and something many of us can relate to.

    I really liked how you acknowledged but were able to let it pass.
    I think these things can happen so subconsciously that we don’t even realize what just happened even in a breakthrough, until sometime after when a new result forms.

    I like your ending. so right on!

    “It’s just a feeling. You are so much bigger, more still, more vast than that. There is the wind, and there is sail, and there is the ocean floor.”

    namaste! blessings to you,

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this – and for your honesty.
    I thought I was writing a post about “just a feeling” but from the comments I’m getting – here and over email – I can hear that what struck a chord most with people was the feeling of craving community and connection, and of sometimes feeling lonely. Maybe we all need to “out” our loneliness more.
    And yes, it was so empowering for me to know that “its just a feeling” because that feeling has knocked me over before. I am really curious to hear what evolves for you if you try bringing this angle to it.

  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi Jenn,
    Thank you. It’s interesting how in order to move through our feelings – even to let them go – we first have to be aware of them. We think the opposite- that if we don’t look at or fully experience what’s happening, it will be more likely to pass. Not true.
    And glad the final words resonated with you. May you feel that still, deep ocean floor within you as take every breath.
    Thanks for reading and for being here.

  • sophiashouse says:

    I love your perspective. Thank you so much for sharing. I share your sense that within us there are two domains – the smaller, fear-based, ego self and the spirit self. Many different traditions – psychological and spiritual – have different terminology for these two components, but so many hold this view of the self, and it certainly resonates with me personally. And yes, I see spiritual work and personal growth as getting wise about the tricks of the ego, how it can mislead us – as you so skillfully describe it in your comment…and also as the work of cultivating that higher self.
    I’m really intrigued by your idea of emotions telling us how the ego is doing and can’t wait to try that out in my life a bit. Love the distinction that they are a helpful barometer of what’s happening with ego, but then to be mindful about what we do that.
    I’m moved and delighted and honored that you’ve been reading and enjoying my work for a couple months now. Really, that means so much to me. I hope you’ll keep visiting and sharing your insights.

  • Topi says:

    Hi Tara,
    Your posts always make me THINK! I often think that my feelings come from my inner child, and then I also have a inner parent that sort of directs how I process those feelings. So, the sorrow and helplessness (yes, and anger) I felt recently when leaving my daughter at daycare for the first time came straight from my inner child – pure, raw, unaldulterated, physical feeling. But then, my inner parent tells me that it will all be ok, I need to return to work (on several levels), my other children have thrived at daycare, my daughter is with kind, caring, nurturing individuals in whom I have the utmost trust, it will all be ok, it will all be ok. So, I guess for me feelings are the raw sense of where I’m at in any given point in time, before they get watered down or processed by my inner parent. But, as you say, they are just feelings, they do pass. Picking my daughter up, I felt pure joy, delight in seeing her again, happiness at the report that she’d had a good day…and so it goes on. I do think it’s important to recognise that feelings do pass, moods move on, thoughts redirect themselves towards new topics. Thanks as always for making me think!

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks Beth, for reading and for sharing a comment.
    It’s so true – its unbelievably powerful (and sometimes not that difficult either) to change our experience through a conscious shift in perspective. We can feel so stuck…but simply trying on a different perspective can unstick us – even if we don’t “believe” that perspective or find it to be rational.
    Glad you are adding that tool to the conversation here. Along with “just a feeling” it helps us get out from being caught in feelings that don’t serve us.
    Look forward to “seeing” you again here.

  • Melanie says:

    Hi Tara,

    Important post. I was just talking to my husband last night about how simple life is, but we make it so complicated with the gobbledygook in our heads.

    I recently dealt with a tremendous loss and felt completely upended and disoriented by it. All of my previous coping mechanisms seemed like cheap consolation prizes.

    Then I found this fabulous book by Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart. It rocked my world with it’s beauty and simplicity. I learned the power of stepping out of the desire to avoid pain and seek pleasure to just sit and breathe with my feelings.

    What unbelievable relief and healing I found in that simple concept. Feelings are simply energy. You don’t have to do anything about them or fix them.

    Now, when the pain comes, I acknowledge it respectfully, give it space, let the tears come, then move on to the next moment.

    Thank you for lighting up this topic.


  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi Topi! Thanks so much for sharing this. Another fabulous tool to add to the mix others have shared here. I love this, and think that in your approach there is so much “just a feeling” sentiment – really taking a step back from the child, and knowing that we all have that child part of us within. I remember vividly one day when I was about to go into a repeated destructive thought pattern and another voice answered back in my head that was sane and loving and calm. And the words popped to mind, “there’s an adult in the room now.” That phrase sounded so loudly and clearly through my whole being – there’s an adult in the room.
    The room, of course, being my head!
    So I can really relate to your words.
    Thank you for reading and for sharing your words here. I love your regular presence here!

  • sophiashouse says:


    You write so beautifully! This is a post in itself, my dear.

    I love your concept that “feelings are simply energy” – and I think it relates to what many others have written here about what works for them in terms of dealing with feelings.

    It’s interesting – just as we often seek to fix or change our own feelings, we do the same when others express their feelings to us. What if we gave the people in our life that same gift of just acknowledging and giving space to the feeling -without seeing it as something to fix or change?

    It’s tricky….there is one level at which action and choice and changing how we feel is important. And yet so often, that’s not the wise path.

    Pema Chodron is on my reading list, thanks for the reminder. I’ve listened to some of her talks, but not read her work yet. Excited to do so!

    Melanie, thanks so much for sharing, and for doing so with such exquisite writing.


  • Wow Tara,

    “Oh well, this (craving to see people) is just a feeling. It will pass. Maybe it will be satisfied tonight or maybe not, but it will pass. And you’ve lived through many a feeling not being satisfied before.”

    This is what I call the moment of self realization.

    Good to have found your blog.

  • uzma7 says:

    Tara, my pleasure to be here. Am learning and being reminded of much lost wisdom. Thank u.

  • This is such a beautiful post, Tara. This one phrase says it all: “I was free, I realized.”

    It is so simple. All you did was step away from the story and realize the feeling was just a temporary occurrence. And unimportant. How amazing!

    What do we usually do with feelings? We freak out about them, resist them, hide from them, make them important – anything but see them for what they are.

    “Oh, it’s just a feeling.” This is the song of freedom.

    Love, Gail

  • […] Monday, I wrote a post called “Just A Feeling: Dealing with Difficult Emotions.” I thought I was writing about the freedom that comes from knowing that a difficult feeling is […]

  • wolflinda says:


    I love this saying, “Feelings are not facts.” However, they are valid and it’s healthiest for me to acknowledge them. That’s how I heard your story – you noticed the feeling, stepped back from it, accepted it, and allowed it to pass. It’s when we hang on to the feelings, stuff them down, deny them, refuse to deal with them, that they become real, and negative, and dangerous. They can hang on and on, until we find a way to let go. Some of us never do. I feel extremely lucky to have found a way to process feelings, so that I no longer have to carry them around for years, feeling them fester inside my body. Today I have feelings and allow them, let them pass through, and know that I’ll feel better pretty soon. Reminds me of Mr. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, he says something to Elizabeth like, “Don’t worry, the feeling will pass, and likely sooner than it should.”

    Really enjoyed your post and finding your blog through Topi-Tour.


  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks so much. I’m with you – there is no way to skip over acknowledging and feeling our emotions. Becoming aware of them, naming them, makes a huge difference. I love your words about “letting them pass through” knowing that you’ll feel better soon. That’s so the spirit of “just a feeling.” Lots of liberation in not taking our feelings too seriously, and not hanging on to them.
    Nice to hear you found me through Topi! I’m a big Topi fan.
    Warmly, Tara

  • Tara says:

    There’s nothing I could want more than people feeling like they recover their own lost inner wisdom while reading here. So thank YOU.

  • Tara says:

    Thank you. Exactly! “Just a feeling” is the pathway to freedom. So liberating. We dont’ realize how not-free we usually are…running around run by feelings.
    Hugs to you, t

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Abubakar. I love that summary – “the moment of self-realization.” Yes.
    I’m glad you found the blog too, and hope you visit here again.
    Warmly, Tara

  • maja says:

    Tara, from my experience with exactly the same feeling: it’s related to what we are deep inside and what our purpose in this life is. If you are meant to achieve your purpose & fulfillment through communication – for, to and with people – and you are a born communicator – then your longing for people may be more than “just a feeling”. It could be a message telling you that you need people to feel ok because it is the environment in which you thrive. You might have been isolating yourself too much.

  • Tara says:

    Ooooh Maja, very insightful! Thank you. I think it’s both, and I didn’t mean to imply that our feelings are “just a feeling” in the sense that they have no significance or message. I agree that they always do – they have important information to share with us. At the same time, I think we can move through difficult emotions (and actually find the capacity to hear the information they carry and take action on it) when we find a space to separate ourselves from the feeling, and to remember that all feelings will pass. But you are absolutely right that this feeling came up for me because I long for and thrive with a lot of connection.

  • maja says:

    You are such a discovery for me Tara. It seems I needed to stop working (and else)to find something so loving and compatible with myself. I enjoy your texts and your blogs. I thank you deeply for your work and for the love you are sharing with us.

  • Tara says:

    Thank you! I’m so honored by your words!

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