RAIN: CULTIVATING MINDFULNESS IN DIFFICULT TIMES
Adapted from “True Refuge” by Tara Brach, Ph.D, Bantam Books, 2012
RAIN is an acronym for a four step mindfulness/healing process that can support us in working with difficult or intense emotions such as fear, anger, shame, hopelessness.
The RAIN process below can be used:
- During formal meditation practice, whenever difficult emotions arise.
- While taking some quiet time for contemplation about a particular troubling issue or a difficult emotional
- “On the spot” in daily life, just for a couple of minutes, to help us work with difficult emotions that arise
throughout the day.
IN ANY OF THESE SITUATIONS, THIS PROCESS CAN BE LIKE A HEALING RAIN IN DIFFICULT TIMES.
THE FOUR STEP RAIN MODEL:
R Recognize what is happening
A Allow life to be just as it is
I Investigate inner experience with kindness
N Non-identification: Resting in Natural Awareness
RECOGNIZE WHAT IS HAPPENING:
Recognizing is seeing what is present in your inner life right now. It starts the moment you focus your attention on whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations are arising here and now. It can be useful to ask yourself: “What is in awareness right now?” “What emotions are there? What sensations are there? What thoughts are there?”. Be curious and listen, in a kind and receptive way, to your own body and heart.
ALLOW LIFE TO BE JUST AS IT IS:
Allowing means “letting be” the thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you discover. You may feel a sense of aversion, of wishing the unpleasant feelings would go away. Yet, in allowing ourselves to be present with “what is”, a new kind of healing can take place. Some people find it helpful to whisper an encouraging word or phrase to themselves during this step. For instance, when in the grip of fear or of grief – and you might whisper a “yes” to yourself, or maybe “this too”. You may need to say these words many times to yourself, as you breathe and let your thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations just be. Even a small amount of this kind of allowing, can begin to soften the harsh edges of your pain.
INVESTIGATE WITH KINDNESS
The first two steps may be enough to provide some relief. However, at times, it can be helpful to investigate what you are experiencing more closely, with as much kindness towards yourself as possible. You might ask yourself “What about this most wants my attention?” or “What most wants my acceptance?” Pose your questions gently, with your inner voice kind and inviting. You can also ask yourself:
– “What about this most wants my attention?”
– “How am I experiencing this in my body?” “Is there heat, tightness, aches etc.?”
– “What emotions am I aware of here – Fear? Anger? Shame? Grief?”
– “What beliefs do I hold about this?”
– “What does this suffering part of me need in order to heal? Recognition? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Love?”
Pose your questions gently, with your inner voice kind and inviting. You might then offer yourself a message from the wise part of yourself, or perhaps put your hand on your heart and just breathe, and as much as possible, offer yourself kindness and unconditional caring.
NON-IDENTIFICATION: REST IN NATURAL AWARENESS
Non-identification suggests that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations or stories. As you loosen your identification with these narratives, emotions and beliefs about yourself, you can begin to live more from an expanded place of openness – a sense of “just being”. You can become like an ocean – the thoughts, emotions, sensations and beliefs are simply passing waves, while your natural awareness is the quiet, peaceful, infinite depth beneath the surface. Take a few moments, as long as you like, to simply rest in this spacious and kind awareness, allowing whatever arises in your body or mind to freely come and go.
This meditation is normally done in a sitting position, either on the floor or a chair. Begin by sensing the support you have from the chair or the cushion, paying attention to the actual sensations of contact. Find a position of stability and solidity, paying attention to your posture, trying to embody alertness, but also softness and comfort. Actually sensing into your body, feeling your feet… legs… hips… lower and upper body… arms… shoulders… neck… head…
And when you are ready, allowing your eyes to close, bringing awareness to breath, the actual physical sensations, feeling each breath as it comes in and goes out… letting the breath be just as it is, without trying to change or regulate it in any way… allowing it to flow easily and naturally, with its own rhythm and pace, knowing you are breathing perfectly well right now, nothing for you to do…
Allowing the body to be still and sitting with a sense of dignity, a sense of resolve, a sense of being complete, whole, in this very moment, with your posture reflecting this sense of wholeness… (long pause)
As you sit here, letting an image form in your mind’s eye, of the most magnificent or beautiful mountain you know or have seen or can imagine…, letting it gradually come into greater focus… and even if it doesn’t come as a visual image, allowing the sense of this mountain and feeling its overall shape, its lofty peak or peaks high in the sky, the large base rooted in the bedrock of the earth’s crust, it’s steep or gently sloping sides…
Noticing how massive it is, how solid, how unmoving, how beautiful, whether from a far or up close…(pause)
Perhaps your mountain has snow blanketing its top and trees reaching down to the base, or rugged granite sides… there may be streams and waterfalls cascading down the slopes… there may be one peak or a series of peaks, or with meadows and high lakes…
Observing it, noting its qualities and when you feel ready, seeing if you can bring the mountain into your own body sitting here so that your body and the mountain in your mind’s eye become one so that as you sit here, you share in the massiveness and the stillness and majesty of the mountain, you become the mountain.
Grounded in the sitting posture, your head becomes the lofty peak, supported by the rest of the body and affording a panoramic view. Your shoulders and arms the sides of the mountain. Your buttocks and legs the solid base, rooted to your cushion or your chair, experiencing in your body a sense of uplift from deep within your pelvis and spine.
With each breath, as you continue sitting, becoming a little more a breathing mountain, alive and vital, yet unwavering in your inner stillness, completely what you are, beyond words and thought, a centered, grounded, unmoving presence…
As you sit here, becoming aware of the fact that as the sun travels across the sky, the light and shadows and colors are changing virtually moment by moment in the mountain’s stillness, and the surface teems with life and activity… streams, melting snow, waterfalls, plants and wildlife. As the mountain sits, seeing and feeling how night follows day and day follows night. The bright warming sun, followed by the cool night sky studded with stars, and the gradual dawning of a new day…
Through it all, the mountain just sits, experiencing change in each moment, constantly changing, yet always just being itself. It remains still as the seasons flow into one another and as the weather changes moment by moment and day by day, calmness abiding all change…
In summer, there is no snow on the mountain except perhaps for the very peaks or in crags shielded from direct sunlight. In the fall, the mountain may wear a coat of brilliant fire colors. In winter, a blanket of snow and ice.
In any season, it may find itself at times enshrouded in clouds or fog or pelted by freezing rain. People may come to see the mountain and comment on how beautiful it is or how it’s not a good day to see the mountain, that it’s too cloudy or rainy or foggy or dark.
None of this matters to the mountain, which remains at all times its essential self. Clouds may come and clouds may go, tourists may like it or not. The mountain’s magnificence and beauty are not changed one bit by whether pe
It just sits, being itself.
At times visited by violent storms, buffeted by snow and rain and winds of unthinkable magnitude.
Through it all, the mountain sits.
Spring comes, trees leaf out, flowers bloom in the high meadows and slopes, birds sing in the trees once again. Streams overflow with the waters of melting snow.
Through it all, the mountain continues to sit, unmoved by the weather, by what happens on its surface, by the world of appearances… remaining its essential self, through the seasons, the changing weather, the activity ebbing and flowing on its surface…
In the same way, as we sit in meditation, we can learn to experience the mountain, we can embody the same central, unwavering stillness and groundedness in the face of everything that changes in our own lives, over seconds, over hours, over years.
In our lives and in our meditation practice, we experience constantly the changing nature of mind and body and of the outer world, we have our own periods of light and darkness, activity and inactivity, our moments of color and our moments of drabness.
It’s true that we experience storms of varying intensity and violence in the outer world and in our own minds and bodies, buffeted by high winds, by cold and rain, we endure periods of darkness and pain, as well as the moments of joy and uplift, even our appearance changes constantly, experiencing a weather of its own…
By becoming the mountain in our meditation practice, we can link up with its strength and stability and adopt them for our own. We can use its energies to support our energy to encounter each moment with mindfulness and equanimity and clarity.
It may help us to see that our thoughts and feelings, our preoccupations, our emotional storms and crises, even the things that happen to us are very much like the weather on the mountain. We tend to take it all personally, but its strongest characteristic is impersonal.
The weather of our own lives is not be ignored or denied, it is to be encountered, honored, felt, known for what it is, and held in awareness… And in holding it in this way, we come to know a deeper silence and stillness and wisdom.
Mountains have this to teach us and much more if we can let it in…
So if you find you resonate in some way with the strength and stability of the mountain in your sitting, it may be helpful to use it from time to time in your meditation practice, to remind you of what it means to sit mindfully with resolve and with wakefulness, in true stillness…
So, in the time that remains, continuing to sustain the mountain meditation on your own, in silence, moment by moment, until you hear the sound of the bells.
The Power of Self Compassion
By Bonnie Cleaver Preventionmag.com.au March 2014
Your family and closest friends aside, there are few relationships that last a lifetime. But imagine you were committed to one such relationship for the long haul, where, instead of being loved and appreciated, you were berated for every little slip-up and imperfection, from the gym class you skipped to what you ate for dinner to the work presentation you weren’t prepared for. Still, you never spoke up, meekly accepting every criticism as valid, vowing to try better next time.
Highly dysfunctional, right?
Here’s the thing: many of us are in that relationship right now—and it’s with ourselves. And while self-flagellation is practically a reflex for many women, we’d never dream of treating others that way. “We all know the saying ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’, but we certainly wouldn’t want to do unto others as we do unto ourselves—we wouldn’t treat anyone that badly!” explains Kristin Neff, associate professor in human development and culture at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind (William Morrow).
Neff is a pioneer in a burgeoning new field—self-compassion psychology—that experts believe is set to have a hugely positive impact on our life, health and happiness. At its heart is a simple but powerful proposition: cut yourself some slack. Far from being fluffy ‘self-help’, it’s science-backed, with studies linking self-kindness to everything from better mental health and improved relationships to stronger motivation.
The New Positive Psychology Trend
If the thought of easing up makes you feel a little, well, nervous, you’re not alone. After all, we live in a world hungry for high achievement. And for many of us, the internal ‘tough talk’ seems to be a vital ally for keeping us in line. “When people first hear about self-compassion, they are usually suspicious. They say, ‘Hey, isn’t that self-pity or self-indulgence?’ says Neff. “They think that being a kind, supportive friend to yourself is somehow not going to work, even though we know it works if you’re a parent or a coach.”
But as a growing body of research affirms, self-compassion does work—in fact, it could well be the key to blitzing your goals and surmounting setbacks, whether your aim is to slim down, drink less or overcome procrastination. Case in point: a series of experiments done by University of California researchers. “In four studies, we found that people who were prompted to take a self-compassionate approach to personal weakness reported greater motivation to improve and change their behavior for the better,” says study co-author Juliana Breines, PhD. Her theory? “Being understanding towards yourself can make failure seem less threatening and provide hope that change is possible, rather than leading you to give up or avoid taking risks.”
Sure, having your own back delivers more faith in yourself—but doesn’t it also encourage you to let standards slide? Far from it, explains Mark Leary, self-compassion researcher and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in the US. “If you’re compassionate to another person, you wouldn’t let them off the hook so much that they start misbehaving—out of compassion, you’d make sure they were doing the right thing, you just wouldn’t be harsh,” he says. Similarly, self-compassion is one of the most effective ways to keep your own greatest good in mind.
The Secret to Emotional Wellbeing
But bolstered motivation is just one of self-compassion’s psychological perks. “It’s also strongly related to mental wellbeing, lower rates of stress, depression, anxiety, perfectionism and procrastination,” explains clinical psychologist Tal Schlosser, director of My Life Psychologists in Sydney (mylifepsychologists.com.au). “On the flip side, it’s associated with happiness, optimism and increased life satisfaction.” It’s also one of the best skills you can master to help cope with life’s curve balls. “Self-compassionate people don’t get upset by as many things and it doesn’t last as long when they do,” Leary adds.
And while self-help experts have been fixated on self-esteem for years, self-compassion is now emerging as a superior strategy for feeling good about yourself. Why? Because strong self-esteem hinges on being successful in areas that matter to you, from career success, to being married or slipping into a size 10. “If how good you feel is contingent on those things, then you automatically set yourself up for feeling bad,” says Schlosser. “Self-compassion provides a much more stable sense of worth that isn’t based on achievement: you have worth because you’re human.”
As well as fostering self-love, self-compassion can lead to a more loved-up relationship. In a recent study, Neff rated couples for self-compassion, and then quizzed them on how they felt about each other. “We found that people were much happier and more satisfied in their relationship if their partners were self-compassionate,” she reflects. “Self-compassionate partners were more caring, had greater ability for intimacy, were less controlling and less verbally aggressive.” The reason? Folks who give themselves emotional support and validation don’t rely on their partners to meet all of their needs and, in turn, are more emotionally generous. They’re also better able to own up to their mistakes, rather than needing to be right all the time.
Why Compassion Boosts Health
Enhanced motivation and an ability to ride out setbacks and calmly face foibles (rather than ignoring or obsessing over them), are all facets of self-compassion that experts believe go a long way towards creating a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few simple ways it could help fast-track your health goals.
- It Makes You More Motivated
There’s no question exercise is one of the best all-round health tonics. But it can also be a minefield for feelings of imperfection. However, a Canadian study suggests self-compassionate women are less driven to get fit by negative factors like guilt, pressure to lose weight or to win people’s approval. Instead, they tap into intrinsic motivation—the type that has you doing something for the sheer love of it. “My guess is that it’s the mindfulness component of self-compassion that’s particularly important to the link to intrinsic motivation because of its emphasis on being present, rather than focused on the past or future,” says study co-author Professor Kent Kowalski.
- It Curbs Emotional Eating
It starts with one biscuit. Then, before you know it, the entire packet’s vanished. Sound familiar? A little self-compassion could be the solution, according to a study led by Leary. He asked a group of women to eat a doughnut, then some were given a pep talk (along the lines of ‘Everyone eats poorly from time to time, so don’t beat yourself up’) before taking part in a ‘taste test’ of sweets. “That 15-second pep talk was enough to make restrained eaters not overeat junk in the taste test, whereas women who didn’t get the talk ate an excessive amount of sweets,” says Leary. So, the next time you overindulge, stop, forgive yourself and move on. “That way, it doesn’t create ongoing implications for the way you eat the next day, and the next and so on,” explains Professor Tracey Wade, a researcher from Flinders University in Adelaide.
- It Promotes Healthier Habits
It’s easy to neglect your health when keeping a vicious to-do list at bay—but not if you’re self-compassionate. In another study by Leary, he found that self-compassionate people take a proactive approach to their health: they seek medical attention sooner for suspect symptoms and if they’re ill or injured, they try harder to follow the doctor’s orders. And other research suggests they’re better able to tackle health vices. “We know with stopping smoking or substance abuse, people do have setbacks, so self-compassion is a real friend when faced with those kinds of challenges,” says Schlosser.
The Three Elements of Self-Compassion
Beyond simply treating yourself as you would a friend, self-compassion can be broken down into three key dimensions, according to researcher and author Kristin Neff.
- Self Kindness
This involves being kind, caring and encouraging towards yourself when you slip up, fail or feel inadequate, rather than being self-critical or judgmental, Neff explains.
- Common Humanity
We often view our failings in stark contrast to the seemingly perfect lives of those around us. Self-compassion puts things in context, helping us recognize that others feel inadequate at times too.
Our typical response to negative thoughts about ourselves is to either ignore them or agonize over them. Self-compassion fosters a mindful response, whereby we can observe our flaws in a calm, balanced and more non-judgmental way.
Cultivate Kindness in Four Easy Steps
If you’ve spent decades being self-critical, shifting to a more self-compassionate mindset may seem like a momentous leap. Still, it’s easier than you may think. Try these four, expert-approved ways to cultivate a more forgiving outlook.
- Commit To Self- Compassion
Deciding that self-criticism is not serving you is the first important step. “The second is giving yourself permission to change, and admitting, ‘Okay, I’m tired of the suffering caused by my self-criticism; self-compassion will not only benefit me, but others too’,” explains Neff.
- Tame Negative Self Talk
Notice how you speak to yourself, how often judgments crop up and the tone of voice you address yourself with— is it kind and comforting, or harsh and scathing? “Be aware of how this makes you feel, and whether it’s helpful or not,” adds Schlosser. Turn negative self-talk around by imagining what you would say to a friend in the same situation. “It’s a matter of developing phrases you can turn to, like ‘I know you messed up but it’s okay’,” advises Schlosser.
- Call On A Guru
Finding it challenging to generate compassion? Delegate the task to a guru—seriously! “Visualize an interaction between a figure such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama and yourself, imagining what sort of things they’d say to you,” advises Wade. And if your inner critic is still on a rampage? Challenge it! “One way I practice self-compassion is by stopping and asking whether I’m feeling worse than I actually need to,” reflects Leary. “It’s a hard question, but makes me realize I’m criticizing myself more than I should.”
- Spread the Self Love
“Part of the reason we resist self-compassion is because we’re concerned about what others will think,” says Leary. “But if we could encourage one another by saying things like, ‘Hey, don’t beat yourself up, it’s not that big a deal’, it would become the norm to handle our difficulties in that way.” Next time a friend or colleague berates or belittles herself, interject with a few kind words, urging her to put things in perspective. And resist the temptation to share your own self-denigrating war story (“Don’t worry about the extra weight—I’ve stacked on three kilos this week!”).
As the saying goes, before you speak, ask yourself: “Is it true, is it necessary, and is it kind?” Try it and soon a subtle but seismic shift could change the way you look at life forever.