This is a time of difficult emotions. We are scared, anxious, angry. We might be grieving everything and everyone who has been lost, or we might be frustrated by the slow chaos of progress. It doesn’t matter that we’re all feeling these things, or that it is very natural to have turbulent emotions in the midst of so many threats. Difficult emotions are difficult because they hurt; and so one way we might cope with them is by finding various ways to ignore them, to put on a brave face and hide from our feelings. The problem with that is that emotions are here for a reason. They carry messages about what our bodies and minds need to be healthy. We may ignore those messages, but that doesn’t make the underlying conditions for them go away. Instead, they tend to find louder ways to express themselves, until an emotional crisis forces us to confront them.
The psychologist and Buddhist teacher Tara Brach popularized the acronym RAIN to describe a simple four-step contemplative process that we can do, either on the cushion or in daily life, to come into a different and healthier relationship with difficult emotions. RAIN stands for Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and Nurture.
Recognize. The first step in RAIN is to see the emotion as it arises, and to be aware that strong emotion is present. This may be the hardest step of RAIN, because we are often so caught up in whatever situation is triggering our emotions that we don’t know they’re here until we have already been carried away by our reactivity. This is why practicing RAIN on the cushion is important – by bringing into our imagination situations that have triggered difficult emotions in the past and noticing how those emotions manifest as physical sensations in the body, we can more easily recognize them when they appear in our day to day lives.
Allow. Accept that the emotion is here. It’s what the body is doing right now. Often, when strong emotion arises, we want to turn away, to ignore it, to distract ourselves, or to numb it out. It takes practice to turn toward our emotions, to recognize that they are part of us, and even to welcome them into our awareness with curiosity.
Investigate. What is this emotion really like? As much as possible, slow down and look. Where in your body do you feel the emotion? How big is it? Is it solid, or does it move and change? You might even ask more imaginative questions. Does this feeling have a color? Does it have a texture? When we investigate, we might find that there is more to be seen than might first be evident. We might find fear beneath our anger, or sadness with our anxiety. The way the felt sense of the emotion moves and changes can help reveal the message the emotion has for us.
Nurture. Finally, offer yourself some kindness and compassion. Because strong emotions are so painful, often our first reaction is to avoid feeling them. Holding our emotion with some kindness can help us be with our feelings long enough to get to know them. If the emotion is concentrated in a particular place in your body, you might gently place a hand there. Caressing your cheek or giving yourself a hug can also be ways to offer care. If it feels right, you might speak to the sensation. Say that you recognize that suffering is here, and that you want to create a safe, accepting space for it. You could try offering loving kindness wishes for ease, healing, or whatever else this feeling might need. And honor yourself for the courage and wisdom you have shown in turning toward what’s alive in you.
When Practice Circle meets again this Sunday, June 28, at 8 pm Central, we will practice bringing RAIN to difficult emotions. Since 2012, the SBA has offered Practice Circle, our online practice community. We meet on the second and fourth Sundays of every month at 8 p.m. Central. It’s free, and everyone is welcome. Just click on this link Sunday evening to attend.