Becoming familiar with a difficult emotion means getting interested and curious about it, like you might do when visiting a new city. Take it slow, uncovering new “territory” a bit at a time instead of trying to get to know it all at once. As you do, you learn that you can sit with uncomfortable feelings, and that they will eventually pass. Over time, you develop resilience, self-knowledge, and trust in yourself—the best antidotes to the self-judgment that shame inspires.
Thoughts and feelings are larger and scarier when they’re left unexplored and kept in the shadows.
Whether you’re experiencing feelings of shame right now or have buried shame that you’ve been avoiding, are you willing to get to know it a bit better? Remember, thoughts and feelings are larger and scarier when they’re left unexplored and kept in the shadows.
Mindfulness Practice: Be an Explorer
1) Take a comfortable meditation posture, eyes closed if comfortable. Begin by bringing attention to the body sitting. Attending to the base of the body as it makes contact with the surface you are resting on. Allowing the jaw to soften, shoulder blades sliding down the back and hands at rest in the lap or on your thighs.
2) Turn your attention to the sensations of breathing at the level of the belly. Attending to the in breath and the out breath, the rising and falling of the abdomen. Perhaps letting the breath move in and out of the body naturally, as best you can.
3) And now, gently bringing to mind an experience or memory, a time in which you felt shame. Maybe it was something you did or something that someone else said about you or to you. Whatever it is, turning toward this memory, experience, or situation gently, as best you can, checking in with what thoughts are present, what emotions, and what body sensations. Without needing to change or fix anything, beginning to explore what is arising or what is here right now.
- If there are specific thoughts, as best you can experiencing them as sensations of the mind, as events that come and go.
- If there are emotions, naming or labeling them as they make themselves known. Saying to yourself shame is here or fear, anxiety or guilt, whatever it is and staying with these for a few moments.
4) And now, shifting your attention to any associated sensations in the body. Investigate these with friendly interest, getting curious about them, even if they’re unwanted or intense……really getting to know them if this is possible in this moment.
If the sensations are particularly intense or strong, saying to yourself, “this is a moment of difficulty. I can be with this, it’s already here.” If it is helpful breathing into the sensations, expanding on the in breath and softening on the out breath, staying with these sensations as long as they are capturing your attention.
If this is too difficult or feels overwhelming there is always the choice to return your attention to the breath at the belly or to open your eyes, letting go of this practice. Otherwise, continuing with this attention to the sensations in the body…
And now, returning to the sensations of breathing in the abdomen to the rising and falling of the belly with each breath, breathing in and breathing out…
And when you’re ready, bringing attention to the entire body, to any and all sensations, resting here in a more spacious awareness if this is available…
5) Then gently with this shameful experience in the background now, asking yourself:
Can I let this be as it is?
(It’s already here, after all.)
Can I let it go? (It’s already happened.)
Does it need addressing? Do I have to take an action? If so, what?
Can I shift my attitude, bringing a different perspective to this experience?
And then gently opening the eyes if they have been closed and letting go of this practice…