We are at the cusp of Winter, when the longest night meets the shortest day. It may feel very dark indeed, but this moment also marks the precise moment when light finally begins to creep back in. This awareness has brought me to consider how the darkness outside does find a companion in the darkest parts of our Soul, those places that we shy away from because they feel dangerous and scary.
A big part of the way I work with people these days feels like bringing light to those dark places by moving into one’s body and feel what arises from within, not in terms of naming that which comes up, but rather witnessing and becoming aware of the physical sensations. This is not something we are familiar with, especially if and when the sensations are unpleasant. To describe what we feel (and at times even to be aware that we feel something), requires a language that is at best unfamiliar.
On paper it may seem self explanatory to just notice the sensations, but when an unpleasant feeling arises, usually the mind launches into whatever inner story/narrative accompanies this feeling (a few examples would be: "I am not good enough", "I am a looser", "I am unlovable"; all self-representations that have become associated with certain unpleasant feelings as a way to 'explain' or justify them). When this happens you are NOT feeling the sensations, you are thinking them based on old thought patterns. At this point redirect your mind away from the thoughts and back into the body sensations, naming and describing them (it will sound something like: my chest feels tight, there is a knot in my stomach, my left shoulder is tense, I feel breathless and sweaty ...). It will be helpful to breathe into the sensation to allow it to exist. You may even feel the need to cry, shake, panic...just allow that and keep breathing.
The mind will likely seek refuge in the old stories again (after all they came about to avoid feeling the feelings); when this happens just redirect your awareness and breathing to the sensation, trusting that it will leave and observe as it does that, without actively trying to change anything (we cannot will sensations away, we can only witness them as they slowly go). It is important to notice in the end that you have survived the experience and were able to stay with that which was unpleasant and difficult.
Do not get me wrong, this is not easy and, like anything new, it requires practice and patience. Be kind to yourself if at first you seem to be unable to feel anything, or if you go straight back into 'thinking' mode; just allow that to happen. The next time it may be slightly easier. Just know that getting familiar with your inner states is time well spent which will repay you with more presence, self regulation and a sense of belonging into your body.