Susan Young Mindful Coaching logo

5 Steps: Leaning into Difficult Emotions

I find myself laughing with ease and enjoying time with friends and family again as we move into a post pandemic world this spring of 2022…the birds are chirping, the sun has been shining and I’m ready to move forward. 

But at the same, I’m also carrying sorrow and grief: for the people dying and fighting in the war in the Ukraine; for those who died in COVID and their families and friends; for folks right in front of us, on our streets, struggling with homelessness; or you yourself might be struggling with or have people in your life with mental or physical health issues…or so very many other things.

I find holding the complexity of all of these difficult emotions challenging, as you might too. So I’ve created a structure that allows me to both be tuned into the world and what’s happening (even when it’s horrible!) and also be connected within and content with my life and what I’m doing day by day.

I know that self-care is such an important part of leaning into difficult emotions. So in early May, I went to this fabulous retreat centre, Wintergreen Studios. It was a spacious, warm straw bale lodge just north of Kingston. Totally off the grid, I felt wrapped up in care on this wonderful land with ponds, lakes and porcupines. 

Bravo to Rena Upitis, warm and welcoming founding president along with the most delightful chef and gregarious Monica Capovilla . The food was scrumptious and they catered to our dietary needs. 


Musings after the retreat 

After this wonderful meditation retreat, where I felt calm and connected, happy and safe, I returned to the ongoing horrors of the Ukraine and other terrible news. On my daily walks in the woods, I’ve been musing about how to lean into difficult emotions while also holding the steadiness of retreats, of compassion and love, and feeling the grace of gratitude for just being alive.I find it a challenge to hold difficult emotions like grief and sorrow while moving through my days doing the small, simple tasks like dishes, cooking meals and doing laundry.

One of my clients told me recently that she couldn’t stay connected with the world (like listening to the news) and be happy at the same time. She got overwhelmed. So she felt she either needed to follow what was happening in the world, but when she did she felt hopelessness and despair. Or she found she could withdraw, be alone and then be happy in her own small world.

I might at times feel the same tug of ignoring the larger world, but I’m aiming for the middle path: tune more deeply inward with compassion while also staying attentive to what is happening in the world. Tara Brach has been such a great teacher for me around this and she explains it so clearly in her YouTube video here…

So I’ve created a structure from my studies and practices in mindfulness that supports me in the middle way and wanted to share it with you.

5 Steps: Leaning into Difficult Emotions

  1. Acceptance
  2. Naming Emotions
  3. Compassion
  4. Allow
  5. Let go

  1. Acceptance: by turning to the emotions we are experiencing with acceptance, we can begin to be with the body’s sensations. This is much harder to do than it seems. When you feel sorrow, grief or loss, how does your body respond? Does it tighten or contract? Do you tense through the jaws or do your shoulders rise up to your ears? Learning not to push the physical sensations away and letting the emotions show up is one way to acceptance.
  2. Name the emotion once you tune into it: Is it anger, grief, sorrow, loss? When we name it, we can often feel empowered because then we can know it to be true for us. If it’s too intense, sometimes we can Imagine the emotion away from us so we don’t feel overwhelmed: on a tv screen or outside in the tree!
  3. Compassion: allow what is here to be here; think of a friend who might be struggling and who you might say to them; You are not to blame, i am here for you, you did the best you could. Say these same things to yourself with compassion.
  4. Allow: knowing that emotions will pass. this is the true nature of emotions, of all events really. The Buddhists call this Impermanence. The great Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh used to say: Imagine your emotions and thoughts like clouds passing, creating a sense of space. Become the spaciousness of the sky, allowing the passing clouds of the reactivity. As you witness the feelings, bring kind attention and turn toward the feelings.
  5. Let go of controlling your emotions: allowing them to be as they are, arising and falling…like clouds passing on a summer’s day.

Let me know how this fits for you and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!


Here's your download!