In the classic cowboy movies there always seems to be a danger of someone falling into quicksand. As the watery mud sucks them further and further under, the person struggles to get free. And they sink even deeper.
It’s a natural instinct to struggle in quicksand, it’s human nature. But you won’t get out of quicksand unless you do the opposite of your instincts. The secret to surviving quicksand (which is mostly water) is to lay on your back, relax and float on the surface.
We have the same instinct to struggle when we experience ‘negative’ or what should be more accurately called uncomfortable feelings. There are nine basic emotions of the human condition and only one-third of them give us pleasure. It is sobering to think that we spend up to two-thirds of our life trying to avoid, ignore or alleviate ‘bad’ feelings. Here is the list of emotions that most scientist agree on (although there is considerable debate):
And to add to that, our thinking self inflames the experience by telling us stories about our uncomfortable feelings. We judge ourselves – to feel this way means we’re bad, dangerous, irrational, weak, defective and lack self-control. We get sucked further and further into the quicksand of misery and despair.
When we feel bad, instead of doing what we instinctively do – struggle – we must learn the art of laying back and relaxing.
Acceptance is such a loaded word
Through my research into body image and self-love issues, I have discovered that the most problematic word in the English language could very well be acceptance.
Our common understanding of acceptance involves looking at something with favour, wanting it, endorsing it or receiving it as a gift.
I am not asking you to like, want or enjoy uncomfortable feelings. In fact, let’s get rid of the whole acceptance word altogether (here and in the self-love world as well).
Let’s make room for uncomfortable feelings instead.
Only for the brave
If you’re up for a bit of discomfort today, let’s practice how to make room for our emotions together.
First of all think of something that makes you really sad. Fuse with the thoughts and get swallowed up in the emotion.
Notice where you feel sadness in your body. Is it in your chest, your stomach, or your throat? Is the sensation hot or cold, rough or smooth, light or heavy? What shape is it? What colour is it? Think of yourself as a curious child who has never felt this emotion before … how would you describe it?
Breathe deeply now, and send your breath to the part of the body that’s hurting. Breathe all of the air into your chest, stomach, throat or wherever else it is located.
Now give this emotion a name. Acknowledge it by saying ‘Here’s sadness.’ Don’t say ‘I feel sad’ just see the emotion as separate from you.
As you keep breathing into the discomfort in your body, imagine making room for the feeling. Expand the area around it with space, air and light. Instead of feeling like the emotion is pressing against the inside of your organs and skin, open up some space. Notice that the feeling can’t get any bigger than you.
Acknowledge that feeling pain is the price all humans pay for feeling love and joy. You can choose to not feel anything at all and be numb to your emotions, but you would have to give all of them up. Decide that having love and joy in your life is worth the pain that accompanies it. Know that you’re not broken or defective, just a person who loves deeply.
Place your hand on the part of your body that is hurting. Feel the warmth of your palm against your skin. Imagine that it’s the hand of someone you love giving you comfort. Hold this feeling gently like it’s a crying baby or a frightened puppy.
Now expand your awareness and feel your feet pressing into the floor. Look around and notice something that is beautiful in the room you’re in or outside the window. Listen to the sounds around you and connect with being here in the present moment. Connect with me talking to you and sending you love from the other side of your computer screen. Realise that feelings are one part of life, but like a single actor on the stage (who you’ve been shining a spot light on), you can also bring up the lights and see the scenery, the other actors and hear the music.
You have just learnt how to survive quicksand by going against your instincts. You didn’t struggle. You didn’t ‘sit’ with the emotion (thinking about it, dwelling on it, ruminating on it and investigated all the whys of it). You noticed it, acknowledged it, made room for it and the expanded your awareness back to being in the present moment. You can remember the process with the acronym N.A.M.E.
N – notice
A – acknowledge it by name
M – make room
E – expand awareness
It’s not a ‘feeling better’ technique
Probably, the feeling subsided or went away. Although this is a lovely bonus it is not the point of the exercise. The point is to have the skill to make room for whatever you’re feeling whether it stays or whether it goes. You are transforming your relationship with ‘symptoms’ so they no longer appear as ‘symptoms’ but as a normal part of life.
It’s all about living a rich, full and meaningful live by being present, opening up and doing what matters.
Lay back and enjoy the view
I still have many opportunities to make room for the sadness, fear, guilt and anger that gets triggered when someone brings up the subject of suicide.
Each time a wave of emotion threatens to knock me off-balance I practice the N.A.M.E. process. It doesn’t make the emotions disappear and I’m not filled with joy and delight, but with this technique I can make room for the pain without it overwhelming me.
I’d love to hear if this technique makes any difference to your life. Please let me know in the comments.
16 thoughts on “How to survive quicksand : a guide to uncomfortable feelings”
Truly, this post from you is God send to me. I was having an extreme moment of despair today, a deep deep sense of betrayal and the anger and pain associated with it. It was not only a moment of mental agony but the physical symptoms were severe as well. My hands and legs were shaking and a tightness in my chest, pain in stomach et al.
I had checked my mail this morning and read your previous one but logged in again just a few mins ago and lo and behold! I see this post from you. I went through the steps you mentioned and minutes later, I am okay enough to post a comment!!! 🙂 🙂
Love you Katie.
Wow – that’s amazing B. The Universe must have known exactly what you needed today. Take care of yourself x
What a powerful and useful technique, Katie. Thank you so much for sharing it and giving it a name for me. It’s very similar to my own practice (when I remember to use it) but I love the acronym.
Thanks Tina. It’s lovely to hear you have the same kind on practice. From now on you can call it the quicksand technique and N.A.M.E. your feelings 😀
I teared up while reading this, and it really came at a great time because I’ve been feeling sad the past couple of days.
I love this technique, and I love that you never make people feel guilty for feeling what they feel. I hate when we’re taught to believe that feeling shitty is wrong. I often think there is something wrong with me because I love hard and hurt harder, but experiencing those emotions is what keeps me expressive and creative. Making room for them instead of resisting them really is the way to go.
My favorite quote in this post is, “Decide that having love and joy in your life is worth the pain that accompanies it. Know that you’re not broken or defective, just a person who loves deeply.”
I needed to hear that.
Thanks Madison — I love that you love hard and hurt harder. You’re right, it does keep us expressive and creative. Sending you love x
I love this! Katie, NAME is a beautiful process, thank you for sharing it. I will use it for myself and in my own work.
Happy to be of help, Sue. Let me know how it all goes.
I needed this today. <3
I think I might actually love you, Mizz Chaotic Katie P 🙂 You’re awesome and this is brilliant and something I might try to see if it works.
I tend to get caught up, and I definitely add ‘dirty pain’ (beating up for feeling that way) to ‘clean pain’ (whatever explainable thing it is I’m upset about at the time). And then I over-think and it all goes utterly pear-shaped.
I’ll try it.
In the past I’ve focussed on just looking at colours of things around me and naming them out loud – kind of a distract and run (especially good for body anxiety – not so good for most other things).
I love you too, gorgeous. Anything is worth a try. It definitely helped me x
Oh gawd Katie – I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole tonight reading post after post and saying ‘oooh this ones better than the last’ -so much love for you and your words – I want to be you when I grow up ????
I’m a 48 year old prostate cancer survivor who is struggling with the emotional and physical distance I’m experiencing from my wife. The feelings of abandonment and betrayal are feeling a lot like quicksand. I’m screaming out for help and everyone I thought I could count on has backed away in fear. They seemingly standing off at a safe distance, watching me sink.
This situation is the most “uncomfortable” feeling I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been working on being “mindful” and noticing my feelings, but I struggle with not struggling(ha). Just noticing and letting that emotional float away, like a leaf on a stream, seems so negligent, detached and indifferent.
N.A.M.E. may help me realize the true size and weight of my feelings. I tend to make “uncomfortable” feelings very weighty and suffocating. Maybe that isn’t realistic. Maybe I’m not being honest, loving or helpful be perceiving them as glacial. Maybe they are just as significant as a leaf on a stream.
God has given me word to be the rock. I had no idea what that meant until, as I was walking in a park, saw a huge rock in the middle of the stream and was compelled to sit on it. As I sat and felt the weight and stability of the rock I closed my eyes. I could hear the water rippling around the rock. I opened my eyes and say the force of the water, moving sticks and leaves, eroding the earth on its banks. I became aware of the waters strength and constant pressure downward towards the river, then the river to the sea. I was overwhelmed by the certainty of its function. It has always and will always do the same thing. There’s no stopping it. I felt fear. Yet, my rock sat in the middle of this powerful and unrelenting stream and was unmoved. At that moment I felt a peace and resolve to be the rock. But I find this peace and resolve to be a state which must be nurtured and maintained. The larger the object I see the stream throwing downstream, the more I need to center into the stability of the rock. I’m understanding this in my mind now. I hope to work it down into my heart. I hope to trust this stability and become unshaken by the force of the stream. Uneffected as the stream swells from the storm and logs are swept along and bounce off it. I believe NAME gives me some tools to get a better grip on the “how” to develop my faith without being so bent out of shape by the stream of my life, with all its swelling and force. Thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing this technique and for the helpful acronym. I’m going to try using it in the future whenever I experience uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. 🙂
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