“Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering.”

A few years ago I attended a 5 day retreat led by a spiritual teacher. The nature of the event was such that from the first day I felt bonded to the 89 other attendees, and by the end I had the visceral sensation that every person there was my very best friend.

Such a warm setting of course led to very open sharing and healing over the course of the week. On the last day I sat near the back, feeling as if I had been emotionally and physically wrung out, with every possible problem released, leaving me in stillness.

It was in that space of feeling more safe and loved than at perhaps any other point in my life that I experienced the words “people don’t like me” float up out of my heart. I would describe it as though I had relaxed to the point that a painful belief unhooked itself and rose to the surface on its own.

In its process of release I felt the feeling of being disliked as keenly as I have ever felt it. For several minutes every time someone looked in my direction I felt judged and I became intensely self-conscious. It was as real an experience as any other time I have felt unwanted by others.

Then it passed. I returned to my previously relaxed state, more keenly aware of a phenomenon I’d only understood intellectually before:

We feel emotions on their way out.

The setting of the retreat emphasized that it was a purely internal process, for there was no external trigger I could blame feeling unwanted on. Rather it was the process of being loved that made it safe for this very vulnerable and painful feeling to be expressed and safely released.

Since then I have still felt disliked from time to time. Feeling unwanted is a deep pattern in my psyche that has found occasions to come to the surface.

Each time it does I remember how it felt the same at the retreat, and I breathe through it. Maybe someone said something in a certain tone of voice to me, or looked at me a certain way, or gave me negative feedback. In each case it is not the event that caused my feeling, it is an inner part of me that said, “I am ready to let go of this now”.

Maintaining the view that any felt emotion is in the act of being released prevents feeling trapped or caught in a relentless pattern. If you can feel it, it is already changing.

The work is to allow and not create a story about it being a problem. Relax in response to emotions and they will release, tense and they will stay trapped inside.

I have spent the last ten years living as though this is true, and in that time my baseline of happiness has continuously improved, as have the circumstances of my life.

If it doesn’t seem true to you right now, and you feel trapped in an unproductive cycle, try breathing slowly for 5 – 10 minutes a day. It is the act of relaxation more than anything else that allows patterns to shift and emotions to release. Breathe, relax, see how you feel.