Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor.
RAIN is a common practice in secular meditation and it is an acronym for:
Recognize the emotions
Allow the emotions
Investigate the emotions
either Non-Identification with emotions
or Nurture the emotions, depending on the version.
Recognize might not come easy as we are not used to identifying and naming challenging emotions or thoughts. And yet, learning new words for emotions, becoming more skilled in emotional literacy is only the first step towards better well-being. As Brach says, “agreeing to pause in the face of what’s here, and just acknowledge the actuality.”
Allow is the part where we lean into our emotions instead of wishing them away. When the waves of sorrows, fears, cravings, guilt, anger, jealousy, despair, self-criticism hit the shores of our beings, we tend to avoid them, control them, hide them, lie about them, deny them, ignore them. We try to check all the other options except listen and acknowledge them.
In the Allow step, we are willing to turn toward our experiences and explore the unpleasantness of these sensations. Instead of trying to let go of difficult emotions, we try to let them be.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear describes the Pointing and calling safety system that reduces errors by pointing at crucial indicators and telling their status. The Japanese railway system, regarded as one the safest in the world, implements this efficient method as shown in this video.
Clear notes that “pointing and calling is so effective because it raises the level of awareness from a nonconscious habit to a more conscious level. Because the train operators must use their eyes, hands, mouths, and ears, they are more likely to notice problems before something goes wrong.”
Similar to pointing and calling, the investigate step is where we point or explore the physical sensations in our body and call them: “What can I feel in my body now? Where do I feel this? Do I feel clenching in my belly or butterflies? Is my face hot? Do I feel restless?”
When thoughts arise and come, as thoughts usually do, acknowledge them and note them.
Dan Harris mentions in his 10% happier book an example of this step:
I tried Brach’s RAIN technique, especially the bit about investigating how my inner turmoil was playing out physically.
Noting: chest buzzing. Head pounding.
Flophouse in Duluth in six months, guaranteed. Noting: worrying.
Chest buzzing, pounding. Earlobes hot. I did not try to stop it; I just felt it. I was “allowing,” “letting be,” and “investigating.” Buzzing. Tension. Buzzing.
I am doing it! I am being mindful of my angst! Noting: self-congratulation.
Depending on the technique, N can be non-identification or nurture.
Non-identification with our emotions means understanding that I am not my thoughts. I am more than my behaviors. A bad habit is not an identity. The English grammar is beautiful in this regard with its difference between present simple tense and present continuous tense: I am being jealous (passing state of mind) versus I am jealous (permanent state of mind). Feelings are sensations morphing over time. They might start more intense, but eventually, they will move to others parts of the body and dissolve.
Donald J. Robertson, cognitive psychotherapist and author of several books that describe the relationship between modern psychotherapy (CBT) and classical Greek and Roman philosophy, writes that “anxious feelings abate naturally if we let them”, and this is
arguably, the most robustly established finding in the entire field of psychotherapy research. It’s also something that ancient authors, including the Stoics, seem to have realized. Strong feelings, particularly anxious ones, tend to naturally fade over time, under the right conditions. Psychologists call this “emotional habituation”, and it happens even in simple organisms. It’s so basic that it’s almost more like a physiological process than a psychological one.
Nurture our emotions is treating yourself with the same kindness, openness, and understanding you offer to a good friend. What would you say to them if they were experiencing discomfort? Perhaps “I am sorry you have to go through this. You can count on me. I will be here if you need me.” Then, can you say these phrases to yourself?
I asked John how he reacted to his eldest daughter when she got angry. He said that in those situations when she was really upset, all he wanted to do was put his arms around her. He said that if she let him, he would just hold her. He knew from experience that there was nothing he could say that would make her feel better, it was just a case of being there to reassure her. I asked him to take a moment to think how it might feel if he approached his own anger in this way, to just allow it to be, without judgment or criticism. It was at this point that John started to cry.
Although it was uncomfortable and even embarrassing for him, it was quite uncontrollable. He said he had not realized how hard he was on himself, how he constantly beat himself up about the way he was feeling.
RAIN can create the space Frankl alluded to by practicing awareness of our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors without being caught in their narrative. It can guide our journey of self-discovery, of moving from human beings to inner beings.
I wrote this article primarily for myself, to (re)read it when the waves of life might seem to crash me, and I am drowning under all too familiar faces of anger, anxiety, fear, and others.
A reminder that I can, and I will learn to observe the negative thoughts as they arise, allow them to be, and then watch them disappear. A reminder that I already started to experience a space between action and reaction, between stimulus and response, when I let my feelings wash through me.
And after each wave, I can stand up and walk again. Of course, the waves will come again and knock me down. It doesn’t matter. I will stand up and walk again.
Then, after some time, I will see the waves getting smaller.
Previously published at https://www.roxanamurariu.com/rain-a-meditation-technique-to-mindfully-handle-emotions/.
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