This month, as I continue my exploration of staying mindful and sane during a month that will deliver change like it’s blasting out the end of a fire hose, I’d like to share this simple and powerful mindfulness tool for riding out the hardest of emotions.
I learned to practice RAIN when I first started treatment for my PTSD. The moments when I felt the sort of terror that would masquerade as anger, the claustrophobic panic simply because someone was standing in a doorway that I needed to use, or the hours of unexplained irritability after watching a movie with scenes of abuse and exploitation — they all answered to this simple approach.
A number of meditation teachers offer a variation on the RAIN technique. Two of my favorites are Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. They use slightly different words for the acronym, but the approach is the same. Here’s my version:
Recognizing the feeling. Name it if you can. “This is anxiety.” Or, “I’m feeling panic.” If this sounds overly simplistic, you’ll be surprised what a powerful step it can be. When you’re in the grip of a strong emotion — especially one that hijacks your nervous system the way PTSD triggers can — it can be surprisingly difficult to name what’s happening. Stopping to concentrate on the feeling and give it a name, you’ve already slowed down the cyclone of feelings and reactions. You’re well on your way to peace.
Allowing the feeling. Remember, much of our suffering and stress come from fighting what is. Allow the feelings. Opening the door to your feelings might seem frightening. It can feel like things could become too hot to handle. Hang in there. Say to yourself, “This is a feeling. It’s okay.”
Investigating the sensations associated with the feeling. Here’s where you make peace with whatever’s happening to you. After recognizing it and making room for it to exist, you can turn your friendly curiosity on your state. It’s like you’ve found an usual piece of beach glass in the sand, and you’re going to pick it up, hold it up to the sunlight, run your fingers over it, and really explore it. “Anxiety makes my stomach knot up.” Or, “I’m feeling angry, and now my jaws are clenching.” “I’m in a panic and I can feel my breathing get rapid and shallow.” Where does this moment manifest in your body?
Not identifying with the feelings. This step can seem difficult, but if you’ve followed the first three steps, it will feel almost automatic. These feelings have a way of picking us up and carrying us off. This is different. You’re taking control. In R, A, and I, you’ve examined the feeling as a phenomenon, almost like a weather system. It’s something passing through, and you’ve allowed yourself to approach it with gentle acceptance and curiosity. Now, simply remind yourself that you are not the feeling. You may be feeling rage right now; you are not the rage. You may be feeling panic or grief or profound sadness, because thoughts and feelings happen. They arise and they leave.
These coping skills can help us manage anxiety, stay calm during a harsh conversation, or be compassionate with ourselves when we’re feeling fatigued. It develops a safe and structured way to process emotions if you’ve been accustomed to numbing and avoiding them with intoxicants or food or distractions.
Let it rain. Take a deep breath. Step outside and wiggle your bare toes in the grass. Be here, now. It’ll all be okay.