‘Feeling’ is not a dirty word 

By Sarah Cannata

In modern society, intellect is typically valued above all else. However, as per the name of the best-selling book by Bessel van der Kolk, the body always keeps the score. Think back to a time when you were gravely unwell. Your mind yearned to continue checking things off your never-ending to-do list but your body wasn’t on the same page. Maybe it was the thumping headache, the wooziness, the dizziness, the lethargy. Ultimately, the body always wins.

As a collective, how have we reached a place where so many of us are robot-like and moving around on autopilot for the majority of our day? I’m not pointing fingers here; every now and again, I recognise my autopilot mode is in full control.

What does living on autopilot feel like?

Although I dislike driving (it’s a huge energy drainer for me), it’s the perfect example to demonstrate how we all slip into autopilot mode at times. When you first start learning to drive a car, you’re mindful of every move. Everything is mechanical and thought-out. With time and experience, we lose that hyperfocus while driving. We’re almost lulled into a false sense of safety by the all-too-familiar sounds and visuals. We likely take the same route and pass the same landmarks each day.

Have you ever reached your destination, turned off the car and thought to yourself, I have no recollection of that car ride? In my early 20s, I often found myself with these thoughts when pulling up to my driveway in a state of complete exhaustion. 

Living life on autopilot is not living; it’s existing

This disconnection from the wisdom of our bodies is having adverse impacts that are far-reaching. We’re almost trained to switch off and override what we’re feeling from an early age. How else can one survive in our fast-paced world where there is always another email to attend to, always another message or call to answer, always another social media post to organise, always more work to do and so on? 

Words are wonderful; however, feelings are the language of the body, and they are being neglected in a world consumed with doing more, being more and having more. Feelings help us to connect with others and to be in a state of connection and engagement. As anyone who has lived long enough will understand, feelings can also hurt like hell. Particularly when we attach stories to our thoughts and feelings.

Solace lies in simply being present with feelings and allowing them to be

This is a practice, and it’s not one I have necessarily mastered in every situation. However, I can say from personal experience that when I find myself in a state of anxiety—when I’m imprisoned in a fight or flight survival response—acceptance and allowing feelings and sensations to simply be, is the best way forward. Yes, it’s incredibly hard to do. When you are in a fight or flight state, one’s natural instinct is to fight against the reality of the body. That feeling your heart is going to beat out of your chest, the churning in your stomach and the shallow breathing that results in breathlessness. Allowing all of these ‘uncomfortable’ sensations and feelings to simply be is a practice. Over time, you’ll find that they peak and inevitably subside. Almost like the ocean—an ebb and flow.

You are your own medicine

There are several modalities that act as entry points to simply being. Over time, you can build on and cultivate these resources so that, when you’re faced with an impossible situation, your reflex is to go within. Embodied writing is the modality that enabled me to reach the point where I can be with my body without the need to attach any stories to what is taking place.

What is embodied writing?

Embodied writing is not journaling or diary writing. We are not simply spilling out our thoughts onto a blank page. Instead, we allow ourselves to be in a state of flow, to write whatever needs to be expressed, to remain curious and drop into the body, noticing the sensations as we write. You may feel specific sensations as you hit on certain words or sentences. Play the detective and remain inquisitive. And most importantly, if you find yourself in a state of overwhelm and disassociation, listen to your body. Note down the sensations and feelings, and step away, allowing yourself to return to an activity that returns you to feeling safe and supported (for example, going on a gentle walk, meditating, or mindfully watching something—this looks different for everyone). 

Got questions about embodied writing? Reach out, and I’ll respond or cover your questions in an upcoming video or article.

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