As we open to the experience of emotions, sometimes, it’s enough to label them, to get a gap between the experience of the emotion and our habitual response.
There’s a poem by Rumi, “The Guest House,” that reminds us that emotions are normal:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,Coleman Banks, The Illuminated Rumi, as shared here
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
But then Rumi continues…
Welcome and entertain them all!
Sometimes that’s not so easy.
One technique that can be helpful is the practice of RAIN, an acronym developed by Michele McDonald and popularized by Tara Brach. Tara’s most recent book delves deeply into the practice, so if you want to learn more, I recommend you check out Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN.
Here’s a short synopsis!
R stands for Recognize. This is the simple labeling mentioned above – anger, fear, sadness.
A stands for Allow. Some teachers also use the word Acceptance. This doesn’t mean that we like the experience or that we want it to continue, but that this is what is happening. So instead of saying, “Argh, I hate it when I get angry!”, we can acknowledge that anger (or whatever emotion) is happening, and that’s part of being a human.
And if we can’t allow the emotion, can we allow the fact that we’re not allowing? That’s also a very human response. You might find you have to go through a few layers to get to this point… (There is anger. Can I allow that? No – I hate being angry! Okay, can I allow the hatred of anger? No – I am disappointed I hate that. Okay, can I allow the disappointment? Well, okay…)
You might consider this as being present for yourself the same way you would be present for a small child: “I understand you are sad, and I’m here for you.”
I stands for Investigate, although that word often conveys a cold, analytical attitude. When some of my teachers share this practice, they will use words like Intimacy or Interest for this step. We are trying to get a felt sense of this emotion in the body.
Anger might be a tight, hot knot in my chest. Sadness might be a heavy, sinking feeling in my belly. Anxiousness might feel buzzy. Depression may feel like a deep, thick, goopy tar. Or whatever you notice!
What’s interesting is sometimes the label I come up with – oh this is anger – doesn’t end up matching the experience in the body – and so I might discover that there’s something deeper going on. (Actually, there’s some sadness here, and I don’t like to feel that sadness, so I’m getting angry instead.)
Early in my practice, I didn’t know how emotions were felt in the body. So my early steps were just to notice that there is something going on and to just tune into the body’s experience – is there heat, coolness, pressure, buzzing, etc. Eventually, I was able to start to relate emotions to the body – and vice versa. (And this is still an on-going process!)
Investigation can also help us notice how the emotion changes, what conditions might be in play (is it angry or maybe “hangry” because I skipped breakfast), and how we are relating to the emotion (big girls don’t cry… so I’m gonna stuff this sadness down).
One more note… the investigating isn’t meant get into the intellectual why this is happening – what past event or upbringing may be at the root of this… This is a great thing to do with your therapist or health care professional, but when we’re being mindful of emotions, we are trying to become aware of how they manifest in the present moment in the body, with our open, kind, curious attention.
N stands for Non-Identification, in Michele McDonald’s original acronym. Tara Brach now uses the word Nurture. Other teachers may use other terms like Need (as in what do I need right now), Nourish, or similar kinds of variations.
The Nurture, Nourish, Need aspect is looking at how we can skillfully respond to the emotion. We may give ourselves a gentle touch or kind words. We may find ways to have a broader perspective about the experience and not take it so personally.
With nurturing, we may tune into the fact that we’re not sufficiently resourced in this moment, and skillfully turn the attention towards something neutral or less activating. (More on this in the days ahead.)
The Non-Identification (or not taking things personally) is a way we can be less hooked by the emotion. Instead of thinking “I am an angry/sad/___ person, and I’m always going to be this way.”, we can start to have a bigger perspective. They aren’t “my emotions” but “the emotions” – a human experience – something that is passing through the body.
Tara Brach has numerous talks on her website, as well as various resources related to this practice.
You can find a 20 minute guided meditation by Tara here:
Have you tried RAIN? What resonates with you? I invite you to share your reflections here on the blog or by email.
With gentle wishes,