Roger sat on the couch and looked extremely uncomfortable at my suggestion that he fully feel the anxiety that was coming up, related to a work situation. Instead of talking about the situation, I was asking him to focus on the experience of anxiety itself, in his body. "I don't really want to do that," he said, looking a bit sheepish. "Good, so we're touching on a belief about actually feeling . And we don't need to push anything here." He noticeably relaxed at hearing this. "What is the belief about what would happen if you fully felt the anxiety?" He paused for just a beat, then said, "It would be like backing up to my house a cement truck full of toxic sludge, and pouring it all in through a window." "If you open it up, then you're stuck with the sludge forever." "Yes, forever toxic."
Imagine, though, if Roger really believed, without a doubt that it would not only help him to get that truck cleared out (it's leaking sludge on the lawn continually, say), but that if he had to let it into his house, the process would inevitably lead to the sludge being washed away totally, and his house being even cleaner and more comfortable than before (no more fumes wafting in the windows). If he clearly knew this, wouldn't he dive in to the process of emptying the truck?
So the problem with our stuckness very often is not the feelings per se that we're afraid of, but the intensity of the feelings against our belief that we cannot (or should not) let these feelings pass through. If we knew ourselves to be a Teflon coated pipe, then we wouldn't care particularly what flowed through us, because it wouldn't get stuck and it wouldn't be mistaken for who we are.
We need experiences of "throughput" in order to brave our own scary places, and it is these experiences over time which build the belief in our ability to not only survive, but thrive from encountering these places.
Adyashanti , one of my favorite wise folk, gives a simple but powerful exercise in one of his talks. He was addressing a man, a physician, who quit his work because he found that he was very open to his patients' suffering, but unable to let that suffering go once he experienced it. In other words, their pain was becoming his (even physical) pain, without clearing out.
What Adyashanti suggested was an imaginal and energetic exercise. First, you feel the front of your chest, where your heart is, and imagine it opened fully, receptive to who and what is around you. At the same time, you imagine the same is true for the area of your upper back directly opposite from your heart. It's as if the shutters are full open, but anything that comes in is going to be felt and then fly out the back. Regardless of what visits, it will leave out the back soon enough.
If you give it a shot, you'll probably see pretty quickly how relatively unfamiliar having the back shutters open, even if the front shutters are often not even there (that was the doctor's dilemma). And you'll also notice, once you experience feeling things acutely, but then them passing through, that your willingness and trust in feeling your experience fully grows, because the belief about being " toxified " is chipped away.
You'll also notice when it's particularly appropriate to shut the shutters, like around people who are particular toxic and you are getting to upset by exposure to them to keep the shutters open. This is a practice in making more subtle your openness, and of building trust that you can survive full feeling, whether of your experience inwardly, or of the outward world.