A four letter word that will help you to manage stormy emotions.
I am totally taken with mindfulness, as you may well have gathered if you’ve read any of my previous ramblings. Over the years I have attempted Vipassana retreats and mini-meditation days. More recently I have attended a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course and have been listening to some amazing talks by people who have studied and practiced this way of life for many years. And this handy acronym for engaging with my experiences in a healthier way keeps popping up: RAIN. So I thought it was time to share it with you.
RAIN is not just a useful tool for managing difficult emotions. I am focusing on emotion here however you could apply it to your thoughts or your physical pain. You may even like to use it with pleasant emotion!
I have briefly outlined the steps that make up the RAIN acronym below. While I haven’t been able to identify an original source, practitioners Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield both provide an account of how to utilize each of these steps to deal with difficult emotion.
Recognising what’s happening: so the first part sounds simple, right? Recognise what’s happening? I know what’s happening I’m so mad I could hit something.
You might be surprised to learn that many people find it difficult to identify the beginning stages of fear, jealousy or rage. Imagine if you were more in-tune with those early stirrings of emotion, and you could extinguish the flames before the raging inferno?
Some of us even find it extremely difficult to identify exactly what it is that we are feeling.
So this first step involves an awareness that, yes, I am feeling something right now. And this is the quality it takes: it’s hot, sharp, dull, aching, wrenching, gut-turning, shivery and it’s sitting right in my gut, or in my neck and shoulders, or my jaw. And this is the story my mind is starting to tell me about these sensations.
Allowing this moment to just be: one of the biggest discoveries I made during the recent MBSR I attended was that during the meditation I had a strong desire for my impatience to just go away! I wanted to be able to be quiet and calm, with focused attention, every evening that I attended the course. Allowing is all about just accepting each moment as it is, whatever you are feeling, whatever activity your mind is engaging in, whatever sensations are happening within your body. This is not the same as liking the experiences, or even just putting up with them, it really means being able to open up and accept what is happening right now. I learned that if I could notice sensations and just stay with them, rather than trying to fix them or reacting, I began to feel a sense of calm.
Investigating the experience: this part is all about making an inquiry into what is happening right now in this moment. Many of my clients soon become quite comfortable with questioning their mind, they understand the helpfulness in being able to create some distance between their values and their thoughts.
However most of us have a notion that while our thoughts are not always trustworthy, our emotions are completely true and honest. I often explain that both thoughts, and emotions are not necessarily true to the current situation. Imagine someone who has experienced a severe car accident and then feels engulfed by fear and dread when at a later date they must drive past the scene where the accident occurred. Is the emotion true to the current situation of them driving along in another car on another day? Or has your protective brain/body tricked you by triggering some messed up fear signal belonging to the past in an attempt to protect you from a mistaken possibility of further danger? Has someone really done something big enough to justify that rage that you are feeling? Or is your mind feeding a sense of righteous indignation that stems from a past experience with other individuals?
Or perhaps you are identifying with the anger, and yet if you stay with it rather than reacting, you start to notice that there is a little sadness there as well. Or maybe even some hurt.
So investigating means just taking some time to tune-in completely to what’s happening: what sensations do you feel throughout your entire body, what stories is your mind engaged in, are there any other emotions hiding out beneath that powerful anger?
Investigating an experience helps you to begin to identify and understand patterns, habitual ways of reacting, and to be able to choose to respond rather than react.
Non-identification: in the literature that I've read and the talks that I've heard this step is said to be the easiest. Apparently you don’t have to do anything, it just happens. I disagree, I believe that being able to somehow separate that sense of who you are from the feelings, sensations, or thoughts that you are experiencing is incredibly difficult for human beings.
Our brain is too fond of making associations, and clutching at a sense of identity. This step is really about being able to let go, really relax into that space created by recognizing, allowing and investigating. And it requires a lot of practice. None of this stuff is going to work for you just because you've read about it!
Remember: you are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not your sensations. I believe you are much more than that. And to me this final step is all about recognizing that the bigger part of you involves your values combined with your experience right now, in this moment.
I hope you find this acronym for engaging with your experience as helpful as I have. If you feel as though you might need a little more support to apply this in your life, you may like to consider booking an appointment with a psychologist. Please feel free to send me an email, or write me a text message, or even give me a call.
Posted: Wed 15 Oct 2014