What am I feeling right now?

This is an exercise designed to help you get in touch with your emotions and listen to what they are trying to tell you. You can use this exercise if you are dealing with a difficult situation, or you can retrieve an episode, situation, or theme that is difficult for you and use that as a starting point for the exercise.

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Focusing instructions

Start by getting comfortable in your chair. See if you can sit up straight while at the same time relaxing your back and shoulders. Take a few deep breaths to calm down your body a bit. Direct your attention to your body and ask your body how it is doing in these times of distress. If you’re mind is racing or you ruminate and worry a lot in this very moment, then imagine that you have an empty shelf in front of you. Imagine that you are placing the intrusive thoughts — one by one — on to the shelf in front of you. They are on a shelf so you can pick them up again later if you need to. Now try again to direct your attention to your body and what’s going on there right now.

Then ask yourself the following questions: “What is standing between me and my well-being right now?” See if you can let your body answer the question rather then searching your head. Ask again: “What is standing between me and my well-being right now?” What bodily sensations do you notice? What are the physical sensations of your distress or pain? Whatever comes up, try to draw attention to the bodily sensations that are there. Almost as if you were saying to the feeling: “This is important to me and I want to figure out what it is all about.”

Then try to describe to yourself your bodily sensation in more detail. What would the sensation look like if it were an object? Where is it located? What shape does it have? Is it hard, soft, small, large? What color does it have? Is there any movement? Is there any energy there? Can you describe it as an object, a thing or other words that capture it? For example, “It feels like a hard grey lump in your stomach that is uneasy” or “It feels like a beam pressing down on my chest and making me upset.”

Once you have found some words or symbols to describe the sensation, see if you can check whether the sensation matches the words. Check out the words by saying them to yourself: “It’s just as if …” and then check in your body if you can get a small signal whether it fits or not. If it fits, the sensation might increase slightly, or in other ways letting you know it fits well. If it doesn’t fit completely, or you can find another picture or word that fits better then try using that one. “It’s just like …”, and then listen to your body. If the physical sensation changes, that’s fine, then you can try to find words that fit the new sensation.

Then ask that sensation or feeling some questions. Ask questions with an open, friendly and curious attitude and be receptive to what the feeling tells you. Sometimes you get clear answers, other times it’s more unclear or even quiet. Just be patient and stay with each step for as long as you need.

Start by asking: “What is the main theme of this feeling?” Wait and see if your body gives you some answers. “What is the most important thing about this feeling?” Try not to answer too quickly with your thoughts, but rather let your body find the answer.

Then ask, “What’s wrong?” Think of the emotion as a shy child sitting in a chair. It needs careful encouragement to speak. Imagine you approach the child, sit down, and ask carefully, “What is wrong?” Wait and let your body respond.

Then ask, “What is the worst thing about this feeling?” Give it time. “What makes this feeling so bad?” Let the body respond.

Once you get a sense of some essence of the feeling, ask yourself: “What do I need when I feel like this?” See if any words appear. “What does this feeling need?” Try to put words to what you need.

If you get a sense of what you might need, try asking your body if it fits. Maybe you need comfort. Strength. Self-respect. Safety. Or maybe it is a more complex need, like dealing with a difficult situation, seeking out a long lost friend, or something else.

We are approaching the end of the exercise. Now spend the next minute just as you want and need. Some find it useful to go through the steps they’ve come to, as to summarize for themselves. Some people like to stretch and relax. Some find it useful to emphasize how far they came in the process or where it might have become difficult. Become aware of where you arrived at in your process, so that you can come back to it and continue or just to become aware of what this was like. Use the next minute how you want and come back to the room and the present when you feel ready for it.