My partner and I came around a corner and nearly stepped on this baby rabbit —he was that close. Who can resist a baby rabbit? His fur looked so soft…but I held still, not wanting to scare him off.

Our rabbit-human interaction reminded me what it’s like to approach touchy, jumpy, tender places inside. In fact, in Focusing classes we sometimes visualize meeting a shy animal in the woods: it’s a lovely way to evoke the qualities of Presence you need in order to hold raw, vulnerable feelings.

There are three essential steps to this process of “being with” your inner rabbits, and the real rabbit encounter makes them easy to see:

1. Pause

When I run into a rabbit, I instinctively pause and hold still. Likewise with a tender or raw feeling: pausing to notice it is the essential first step. It’s not that I have to hold still to process feelings, but being still is a first step to being present.

Pausing gives me a chance to become aware of myself, and aware of the rabbit. With this dual awareness, I can move to Step Two:

2. Come into relationship with “It”

To have a relationship with “It”—whether It is a rabbit or a vulnerable feeling— I need to experience a bigger “me” that is here with the feeling. With my baby rabbit, this step is easy. I immediately feel a relationship with the rabbit. I’m here, and he’s right there. And it’s the right flavor of relationship: I feel affectionate, curious, and attentive towards him. Now I’m ready for Step 3.

3. Sense how It wants me to be with It

The streetwise urban rabbit pictured above decided in a glance that we were harmless and resumed his nibbling. He could tolerate close-up company. The baby rabbit who lives in our yard, on the other hand, is much more sensitive. If I come within 15 feet of him, move too abruptly, or startle him with a noise, he bolts. Likewise, different parts of me have different tolerances for my company, even when I’m in Presence.

No wonder Presence is trickier with feelings than with rabbits

These steps are simple with a real rabbit because— 

  • I easily experience myself in relationship to him: I’m here, and the rabbit is clearly “over there.”
  • I find it easy to want a relationship with him: he’s small and adorable.
  • I don’t have an agenda with him. He poses no apparent threat. His presence doesn’t make me miserable or anxious or scared.

With vulnerable feelings, it’s trickier: 

  • The more raw and vulnerable the feeling, the more I struggle to experience myself in relationship to “It.” In other words, I get merged with the feelings. When that happens, there is no “rabbit” and no “me watching,” just the experience of being jumpy, anxious, and vigilant. The “I’m here, and the rabbit is over there” feeling of Presence is harder to come by.
  • I find it harder to want a relationship with a painful or overwhelming feeling. It looks more like porcupine or a skunk or a shark to me—anything but cuddly and adorable.
  • It’s harder not to have an agenda with “It.” I can easily get merged with a “feeling about the feeling:” an inner “fox” that wants to get rid of the rabbit because it doesn’t like feeling scared.

My “real” rabbit to the rescue

In my inner world, parts are expressions of needs, wants and life-forward energy. A snarly, ugly, scary part is expressing that energy in the best way it knows how.  I may not be able to see the rabbit it is protecting. In fact, my toughest inner places are those where the rabbit hid deep in his hole long ago and left a a surly porcupine to guard the entrance. In that case, I need to be Present with the porcupine first, before the rabbit will come out.

What’s important is to remember that no matter how surly the porcupine may be, there is always a baby rabbit underneath—some tender place in you that the snarly part is trying to protect.

Here’s where imagination is key to Presence. Calling to mind a real-life rabbit (or whatever small animal makes you melt inside) is a powerful way to remind yourself of what is really going on in you. And grounding yourself in any way that helps you feel your whole physical body is another powerful tool to “get bigger” than all those feelings.

In the end, whether they look cute or scary, my internal wild animals are all needing the same thing: a relationship with me. They need my attentive presence. They need my compassion, which doesn’t mean I have to love them, but does require me to maintain the attitude that “I know there is a reason you look/act/feel this way.” And they need to be approached and accompanied in whatever way works for them.