2020-11-19

Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"

As Joseph lies in the pit, in his rejection and suffering, the way of forgiveness comes over him. It begins not by forgiving those who wronged him. This does not occur to him. It begins with a prayer that he be forgiven.
“Forgive me, he prayed [silently], not to God but to his brothers, though he knew this was absurd. There was no way out. There were no solutions. There was nothing to do, nothing to pray but May your will be done. . . .” (Stephen Mitchell, Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness)
It’s a prayer to let go of the ego’s thoughts about what should be, to open fully and unreservedly to reality just as it is.

Joseph finds it a helpful device to personify this reality as God. “Not what I want,” he prays:
“but what You want. I am not doing any of this, nor are my brothers. Whatever we think we are doing, we are all doing what is best in Your sight. We are all doing Your will, dear Lord, because we are all the work of Your hands.” (Mitchell)
Whether reality is personified in this way or not, the way of forgiveness is the ongoing recognition and re-recognition that control is an illusion. Yes, we have responsibilities, and we must tend to them, but this is the narrower context of our lives. In the wider context, there is no control. This is the transformational awareness that, it seems, must have come over Joseph in the pit.

Thus, when he is pulled out and sold to Ishmaelites, he doesn’t speak up.
“He could have cried out against his brothers and, with his considerable eloquence, tried to move the Ishamelites’ hearts to take him home, where his wealthy father would pay them a large ransom. But he didn’t utter a word.” (Mitchell)
The lesson here for us isn’t that we shouldn’t speak up in our own defense, protest injustices. Rather, it’s an invitation to feel our way into a more intuitive and receptive way of being. Joseph somehow intuited that what was happening was more – let us say, interesting – than being released back to his father. He could not have said why he felt that way.

Thus Joseph comes to serve Potiphar for some years. He rises to a position of being in charge of Potiphar’s affairs. He is falsely accused, and thrown in prison. Yet here again he does not speak up in his own defense.

He counsels some people in prison, and does so so shrewdly that at last Pharaoh seeks his counsel – his ability to see the sense in what doesn’t seem to make sense. And this, too, is a feature of the Way of Forgiveness. It is the way of hope – not hope in the sense of a thing wished for – but hope as the understanding that things make sense, however they turn out.

Joseph is made the Pharaoh’s viceroy, and his job is to plan for the future. Even as he spends his days in the complex calculations and strategies of food storage for a time of famine, he does so without a sense of rejection or resistance to what will come, but simply a sense of compassion for people that they be provided for, and not come to starve. Even as he plans for a future, he is living in wonder of each present moment.

The famine comes, and his brothers show up begging for food. After testing them with some devices, eventually he reveals himself to them. First, he has to prove he really is their brother Joseph. So he recounts to them their crime of throwing him in the pit, then selling him into slavery. It’s not what he wants to dwell on, but it’s something he would only know if he really were their brother Joseph.
“The next thing was to let these terrified men know that he had forgiven them, that he felt no anger or resentment, no residue from the event, and that he was standing before them with an open heart. Actually, forgiveness was an inaccurate word for what he was experiencing, since it implies that a magnanimous ‘I’ grants something to a not-necessarily-deserving ‘you.’ It wasn’t like that at all. He wasn’t granting anything or even doing anything. He realized that his brothers were guilty, but he also saw the innocence in that guilt.” (Mitchell)
The Way of Forgiveness is distinct from a discrete act of forgiving, for it is grounded in:
“the realization that there is nothing to forgive. His brothers simply hadn’t known what they were doing. And given the violence of their emotions, there was nothing else they could have done.”
He tells them, “don’t be troubled. Don’t blame yourselves.” He knows this reassurance won’t do much.
“His brothers would have to blame themselves; they wouldn’t be able to see their own innocence until their minds slowed down enough to understand their crime in the greater scheme of things. In the meantime, they would necessarily be grieved and angry at themselves, and they would suffer needlessly from a remembered – that is, from an imagined – past that they could neither retract nor change.”
So he speaks to them in terms they might understand. He says, “God sent me ahead of you to save lives.”

This is the language available for that time and culture for pointing to the illusion of control. The brothers never decided to hate the young Joseph’s arrogance – they simply found that they did. There was never a point of conscious decision to resent the particular selectivity of their father’s love – but resentment had arisen and consumed them nonetheless. Ultimately, it wasn’t they who had thrown Joseph into the pit, or sold him to Ishmaelites, but all the forces that made them into the sorts of human beings they were.

The Way of Forgiveness is the way that never needs to perform specific acts of forgiving, for it is based in the awareness that everything is always already forgiven.
“Everything, even the most painful experience, turns out to be pure grace.”
The Way of Forgiveness is thus also the Way of Hope – the only Way of Hope: the way of being present to the ineluctable wonder, beauty, mystery, and glory we cannot make and cannot mar.

May it be so. Amen.

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"

Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

Some people say, everything happens for a reason. It feels to them like there’s a divine plan. They say, there are no coincidences. They like such sayings as: "Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end."

I don’t talk that way much. It seems to me to make just as much sense to say: "Nothing works out in the end. If it seems to have worked out, it’s not the end." Which sounds like one of those corollaries of Murphy’s Law, but what I mean is: it’s never the end. Whether things seem all neat and tidy or a total mess, it's never the end.

And there are coincidences. I don’t think events are part of a divine plan, and, while everything happens for causes, only some things happen for reasons – let alone a reason. But those who are drawn to speak that way are, I think, in their own way, pointing to something underlying, something important.

In this world of grief, loss, and pain, there is a glory somehow shining through. In the midst of all the oppression and injustice, there is a fundamental rightness about life and this world. Yes, wrong really is wrong. It’s also always in a wider context – a context within which everything is all right.

Take, for example, predation. The Fox hunts the rabbit – kills it and eats it. There is an inherent tragedy here: painful death for the rabbit, or else painful starvation death for the fox. Every day I vow to save all beings. How do I save both the Fox and the Rabbit? To save one is to doom the other, isn’t it? At least one well-known ethicist – Martha Nussbaum – argues that we should provide textured vegetable protein – fake meat – to all the predators, and perform enough vasectomies on prey animals that they don’t overpopulate. Then prey and predator alike could peacably live out their days. The lion could lie down with the lamb, without either of them fearing. I have yet to meet anybody who agrees with Martha Nussbaum about this.

Some years ago, trying to come to terms with this issue, I wrote this poem. It’s titled: Prayer to the Rabbit God.
the rabbit god made bunnies
as morning brightened into day.
she gave them a green planet to eat,
made them love to hump
like rabbits
and love their babies.

bunnies make bunnies faster than plants grow, she noticed.
so, as evening darkened into night,
the rabbit god made foxes.

predation, she said,
will give my lovelies
sharp ears,
beautiful speed,
a touch of cleverness.
let them be grateful for the red fur death
and the fear that makes them so alert.

thus the rabbit god became the fox god too.

bodies are made of nutrients,
there being no other way to make them.
there can't not be carnivores.

dear god of hunter and of hunted,
i, too a body made of food, pray
to be eaten
rather than outconsume providence
and to love
the beauty of my fears.
So that’s me expressing the glory shining through the tragedy, pain, and death – and without complacently exempting myself from that tragedy. There is, we might say, a kind of intelligence in the cruelty with which natural selection shapes species and ecosystems. I say “intelligence” without meaning to suggest intention. Natural selection has no intention, has no aim, no aforethought of where it’s going, yet through the passing of eons, the arms race of predator and prey – that cooperative competition of pushing each other to ever more sophisticated abilities – it brings forth ever more wondrous and unpredictable beauty: the sharp eye of the hawk, the graceful speed of the gazelle, the rabbit’s ear, the fox’s nose, the turtle’s shell, the porcupine’s quills, the skunk’s spray. It brings forth human bipedalism that makes us not as fast as our quadruped prey, but able to run longer distances, and our loss of body hair so we can dissipate heat while our prey succumbs to heat exhaustion over a long chase. Who could’ve seen that coming?

And it brings forth our big and ultrasocial brains – that allow us not only amazing cleverness, but the capacity to share it, preserve it, and build on each other’s discoveries and strategies. All of this took massive heartless cruelty to bring forth.

Joseph’s way is to think in terms of a divine plan – but I offer to you that that is but a rhetorical flourish for orienting toward the beauty of life inseparable from its harsh pain.

Stephen Mitchell writes of the transformation that came over Joseph as he lay in that pit where his brothers had tossed him.
“The stone cistern where Joseph lay was the womb of his transformation. He had to descend to the depths of himself and stay there, in that inner darkness, without refuge, without hope. This was the only path that could lead him upward. Then he had to find his way through a world of paradox, where exile is homecoming, slavery is freedom, and not knowing is the ultimate wisdom. No one, of course, wants to suffer. And yet the fortunate among us manage to learn from our suffering what can be learned nowhere else. We become – clearly, joyously – aware of the cause of all suffering. The remembered pain drips into the heart, and an understanding dawns on us, even against our will, that there is a violent grace that shapes our ends. Humility follows as a natural result. We learn how to lose control. We discover that we never had it in the first place. . . . There is no humiliation or shame in any of this. It’s total surrender to what is. You discover that you have let go into an intelligence that is incomparably vaster than yours. . . . You stand in what’s left of you, and you die to self, and you keep on dying. It’s like a tree that lets go of its leaves. That beautiful clothing has fallen away, and the tree just stands there in the cold of winter, totally exposed, totally surrendered.” (Stephen Mitchell, Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness)

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

2020-11-16

Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness, part 1

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

I come today to re-tell an old story – to look again at what it tells us about being human and being animal. Before I get into Joseph and his brothers, let me say that I think a lot about stories – how we need them, and what happens when we don’t have them. Stories tell us who we are and make us who we are: individually and collectively.

Shared stories make a people a people. “I” and “me” are made of narrative – as are “we” and “us.” In these polarized times, where division rives the land, we don’t have shared story about who we are.

This contrasts sharply with the decade I was born in: the 1950s. The 1950s were, in many ways, an awful time. Jim Crow segregation and the racist attitudes that went with it were virulent. Gender oppression was stifling. LGBTQ folk largely stayed in the closet for their own safety. Anti-Semitism was worse.

It was also a time of cohesion. Very low income inequality, very low political polarization, tremendous levels of emotionally stable civic participation – churches, PTAs, civic clubs and bowling leagues had sky-high memberships.

In the mid-1950s, 89 percent of the US population was white. Moreover, the white numerical and cultural dominance was the settled norm: from the 1910 through the 1960 census, the percent of the population that was white never got below 88.6% or above 89.8%. Today the Census bureau says 60% of the population is nonhispanic white – which is a big change. It’s projected to fall below 50% before 2050.

We had a story. It was, frankly, a racist story. The history of humanity as I learned it in grade school was a mostly-Western history of Europeans accumulating great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance, the printing press, Western science, and democracy with a free press, independent judiciary, and a bill of rights. In the rap battle of cultures, Europeans, it seemed, need only say, “Plato, Shakespeare, Newton” – and drop the mic.

The story – in the version it came down to me – did not ever say "white people are genetically superior," or "white people are God's favorite." But the story also provided no other explanation for why these "great ideas and innovations" did not appear in the pre-Colombian Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, or East Asia. We now have some available stories that do address how the dominance of Europeans came about: stories that elucidate how European ability -- and willingness -- to cruelly subjugate the globe were products of particular conditions. Jared Diamond points to geography: the uniquely temperate climate, availability of multiple domesticable grains and multiple domesticable animals which allowed for accumulation of wealth and the rise of cities, which became hubs of innovation as well as centers of communicable disease (and, eventually, immunities). Other conditions include unintended effects of the sort of power dynamic that happened to develop between a centralized Christian church and decentralized secular rulers, which led to the Crusades, which provided the template for conquest and colonization all over the world.

Stories that identify the conditions that made one group of people interested in and capable of world domination are rather complicated, and they aren’t t broadly or well known. A lot of the general populace clings to the old story, tacitly accepting that there must be something special about white people. Among scholars who have looked most closely into the question, there’s disagreement about how much weight is carried by each of the various conditions, and the folks that approve school textbooks are even farther from consensus on a new story to tell.

We definitely needed to drop the racist, patriarchal story. The thing is: now we don’t have a shared story, which means we don’t know who we are as a people. Without knowing who we are as a people, the sense of belonging grows thing. We have more loneliness, more distrust, more isolation, alienation, depression, suicide. We need stories.

I don’t know if the people of the US will ever again have a unifying story that tells us who we are as a people. Yet we can tap into the vein of shared stories and keep them alive, even if they aren’t the sort that tell us who we are. So we come to the story of Joseph – which ironically is a chapter in the origin myth of the Jewish people. It has been, for millennia, precisely a story telling a people who they were. And it has come to be a part of the cultural storehouse for Christians as well as Jews, and for black, Hispanic, and white Americans – and some indigenous folk as well. Less so for Asian Americans, but many of them have been willing to learn the stories central to the mainstream culture of the nation they have moved to -- just as this mainstream culture has been willing to learn (some would say, appropriate) some Asian stories. (Perhaps you saw the latest Mulan movie?)

In other words: telling and re-telling stories from the Torah helps in the maintenance of a common narrative vocabulary. This won't do much to keep us from fighting each other. After all, the European powers warring which each other for a millennium and a half after the fall of Rome, and the two sides in America's Civil War, shared a common narrative vocabulary. But things are even worse when there isn't a shared narrative vocabulary.

In this case, it’s a story about what we might call the Way of Forgiveness. That’s what Stephen Mitchell calls it in his imaginative retelling and expansion of the Joseph story titled: Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness.

There are many kinds and levels of forgiveness. You can say it – “I forgive you.” You can say it and not mean it. You can say it and mean it, but still have not fully done it because a part of your heart continues to harbor a resentment.

Also, you can mean it, but never say it. Or neither say it, nor mean it, but nevertheless let go of your grievance – release all the resentment. Felicia Sanders, the mother of one of the nine victims killed by Dylann Roof in a Charleston church in 2015, told Roof, "I forgive you." I have no reason to doubt that she meant it. I just know that there are some times when forgiveness hasn’t actually happened just by being said – even when it’s meant.

The Way of Forgiveness though isn’t about the necessary and sufficient conditions for a single act or utterance to qualify as truly forgiving someone. The Way of Forgiveness is about a whole approach to life that isn’t about blaming – that isn’t about identifying specific wrongs and healing from them. Such identifying and healing might sometimes be necessary, but that's not what we see happen in the Joseph story.

Joseph never says, “I forgive you.” When his brothers come to beg his forgiveness -- which they don't do until after Jacob's death leaves them feeling vulnerable -- Joseph says to them:
"Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Gen 50: 19-21)
He reassures them he won't be seeking punishment or revenge, but doesn't say he forgives them. His own brothers were close to killing him. They sold him into slavery instead because, by a fluke, the opportunity to do so happened to arise. Joseph would seem to have a lot to forgive. But Joseph sees life as working out for the best – as under a divine plan. All things happen as they should, so there’s never a grudge, and never a need for a specific process of releasing the grudge. How does that work? And how does Joseph's story tell us something that will help us make sense of our world? I’ll look into that in part 2.

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Intro

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2 "
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

STORY (adapted from Genesis, illustrations by R. Crumb)

Jacob had 12 sons -- Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin – and one daughter, Dinah. The eleventh son, Joseph, was Jacob’s favorite.

When Joseph was seventeen, one day, after shepherding the flock with his brothers he brought a bad report of his brothers to their father. So his brothers didn’t like Joseph.

Jacob made for Joseph a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers, they felt bad and further disliked Joseph.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us?”

One day when many of the brothers were tending flocks far from home, Jacob sent Joseph to see how things were going. From a distance, the brothers saw Joseph coming, and they made a plan to get Joseph out of their lives.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit.

Then they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming by. This gave them the idea to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites to be their slave. And that’s what they did.

The Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt, where they re-sold him to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard.

Joseph was a good thinker and planner, and helped Potiphar prosper. Potiphar trusted Joseph to manage almost all his affairs.

Then one day, Potiphar’s wife wanted Joseph to do something that Joseph knew Potiphar wouldn’t want him to do. Joseph refused. Potiphar’s wife told Potiphar a lie about Joseph, which cause Potiphar to have Joseph thrown in prison.

Joseph was so inherently helpful and talented, that soon he had earned the complete trust of the chief jailor, who put Joseph in charge of managing the prison.

Joseph could interpret dreams. He gave such insightful interpretations of the dreams of some of the other prisoners that word even got back to Pharaoh about it.

So when Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams one night, he sent for the prisoner Joseph to interpret them. This was Paraoh’s dream: seven fat cows were swallowed up by seven thin cows. In the second dream, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were swallowed up by seven ears thin and blighted.

Joseph told Pharaoh that the seven fat cows and the seven plump ears of grain represented seven years of plenty, which would be followed -- swallowed up -- by seven years of famine. What Pharaoh needs to do, said Joseph, is appoint supervisors to make sure food is stored up during the good years to see Egypt through the lean years.

Pharaoh released Joseph from prison and appointed him the overseer of the preparations for the famine years. Suddenly, Joseph was very powerful, and heaped with the riches corresponding to his station.

When the famine came, it affected all the surrounding areas, including Canaan, where Joseph’s father, brothers, and sister were. When Jacob heard that Egypt had storehouses of grain, he sent his sons to Egypt to buy some.

When the brothers came before Joseph seeking food, they didn’t recognize Joseph – though Joseph recognized them. When Joseph threatened to have Benjamin thrown into enslavement, Judah begged, “let him go – take me instead.”

Then Joseph, weeping, revealed himself to his brothers. He had them and their father, Jacob, moved to Egypt, where he ensured their survival through the famine.

The brothers finally came to Joseph to beg forgiveness for their crime. They offered themselves as his slaves. Joseph and all the brothers were crying.

Joseph said, “Do not be afraid! Even though you intended to do harm to me, it has put me in position to preserve a numerous people. I will provide for you and your little ones.”

See: "Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 1"
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 2 "
"Joseph and the Way of Forgiveness: Part 3"

2020-10-14

UU Minute #15

Enter Giorgio Biandrata



Six years after Transylvania’s first edict of toleration, with conflict between Lutherans and Calvinists growing, the Transylvanian Diet, in 1563, renewed and confirmed its earlier decree, ordering:
“that each may embrace the religion that he prefers without any compulsion, and may be free to support preachers of his own faith, and in the use of the sacrament, and that neither party must do injury or violence to the other.”
This didn’t help ease the conflict much until the next year, when King John, now 24-years-old, ordered the parties to separate into two distinct churches, each with its own bishop. Transylvania now had three officially recognized religions: the Catholic, the Lutheran, and the Calvinist.

Recognition of a fourth – the Unitarian – would soon follow, for the seeds of Unitarianism had begun to grow. The writings of Miguel Serveto were being read, and his ideas had gained scattered followers. Probably not much would have come of it without the backing and leadership of some person of considerable influence. In fact, it would take two.

The first one arrived in Transylvania that year – 1563 -- in the person of Giorgio Biandrata – erstwhile court physician to the royal family of Poland – and a sharp defender of anti-trinitarian views.

2020-10-13

UU Minute #14

Literal Body and Blood? Or Symbols?



Europe’s first proclamation of religious tolerance came out of Transylvania in 1557 – a product of the Diet led by Queen Isabella.
“In order that each might hold the faith which he wished, with the new rites as well as with the old, that this should be permitted him at his own free will.”
“The faith which he wished” meant either Catholic or Protestant – there were only two choices. By that time, the vast majority of Transylvania had become Protestant -- Catholic priests had been driven out, church property confiscated or given over to the Protestants -- so it was the Catholics who had more reason to be glad of the protections of official toleration. In fact, the greater and growing religious conflict in Transylvania was between two Protestant factions, over the Lord’s Supper.

It’s hard for us today to imagine how fierce and vicious a quarrel over something like that could be. The Lutherans held that the body and blood of Christ are present in the bread and wine; the Calvinists held that these are only symbols, and each side saw no worth or dignity in the people who didn’t affirm what they affirmed.

Queen Isabella died in 1559, leaving her then-19-year-old son, John Sigismund, to rule Transylvania. King John was Catholic then, but he would later convert to Lutheran for two years, and then to Calvinist for five years, before finally becoming the Unitarian King.

NEXT: Enter Giorgio Biandrata

2020-09-29

Make it RAIN, part 1

These are stressful times. Under stress, we are apt to be reactive. Anger, fear, and sadness all have an important role to play in our lives. We wouldn’t want to become unable to feel those things. Anger is fiery energy for insisting on justice. Fear heightens our awareness of danger which helps us stay safe. Sadness slows us down so we can adjust to a loss or disappointment.

Under conditions of stress, these feelings overfunction, and go beyond their usefulness. So today I just want to offer us some tools for approaching stressful moments -- because, I know we’re facing them.

The first tool is Yom Kippur itself. Make amends. Our relationships with family, friends, and any acquaintance you regularly interact with -- or could interact with -- are the key of a good life: our greatest pleasure in good times and our best security in hard times. Yet it’s the nature of relationships that they sometimes fray. Now we’ve got this wonderful occasion, Yom Kippur, to attend to relationships that may be frayed. Who in your life are you on the outs with? Who is on the outs with you? You could go on being estranged from each other. But maybe there are some people you have fallen out with, and that relationship could be mended.

I don’t want to deny that you may have encountered people that are so toxic that you have just had to walk away. I’m not here to urge you to make yourself available to be sucked into every dysfunction you’ve ever seen. Just take a little time this Yom Kippur -- and every Yom Kippur, and maybe from time to time throughout the year -- to reflect on what relationships are a little more distant that they need to be. And then reflect on what you might do to make the relationship closer. Call them up, or write to them to set up a zoom. Apologize for wrongs done, and offer forgiveness for wrongs done to you.

If that feels awkward, you’ve got this holiday to help get past the awkwardness. If you or the other person are Jewish, you just say, “Hey, it’s Yom Kippur, and I’d like to make amends.” If you’re not Jewish, you can still say, “It’s Yom Kippur, which is this Jewish holy day for atoning, and even though I’m not Jewish, repairing relationships seems like a really good idea, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

You can never have too many friends.

In these stressful times, our relationships are what will get us through. I also want to offer a tool you can use by yourself for dealing with tough situations. It’s an acronym that spells rain -- R-A-I-N.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture.

Tara Brach
If you can remember those four words, then they’ll help you remember what I’ll say about how to use them. Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. It’s an easy-to-remember formula, and an effective practice. Insight meditation teacher Michele McDonald introduced the RAIN practice about 20 years ago. Psychologist, and also insight meditation teacher, Tara Brach, modified and popularized RAIN. I’ll be sharing with you today the version from Tara Brach.
  • Recognize: what is happening;
  • Allow: the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate: with kindness;
  • Nurture: with self-compassion.
First, recognize what is happening. Maybe not as easy as it sounds. Recognize what you’re feeling in that moment.

Often we get angry without taking a moment to recognize to ourselves: I’m angry. Or: I’m having some anger about this. We get scared, but often don’t acknowledge to ourselves our fear. Bring attention to whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you’re experiencing at that moment. If you're mad, recognize that you're mad. If your sad, recognize that you're sad. If you're nervous recognize that you're nervous.

Recognize also your body’s responses. Is there a squeezing, pressure, or tightness somewhere -- in your shoulders? Throat? Face? Gut? You might recognize anxiety right away, but not notice the bodily sensations.

Or, you might notice the body, but not notice that underlying assumption of your thinking. You might notice, for instance, a jittery nervousness of the body, but not recognize that this is being triggered by your underlying belief that you are about to fail.

To recognize what’s happening, explicitly ask yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Be curious about yourself. Curiosity is the antidote to judgmentalism. Whether it’s judgmentalism directed at yourself or at someone else, curiosity is the antidote. Never mind what you think you SHOULD be thinking and feeling. Trust that whatever you in fact are feeling in your body, feeling emotionally, thinking and believing is worth recognizing.

Second: Allow. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Allow life to be just as it is. This doesn’t mean you don’t think about what strategies for creating change will be effective. It means you’re not going to be in denial about how things in fact are right now. It means acknowledging that you and the world are OK in just this sense: you and the world have the capacity to move through this.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
-- as Martin Luther King said.

You won’t make positive change by hating what is. You make positive change by loving what is. Allow that it is exactly as it is -- even if you’re only allowing it for a moment while you calm yourself and think clearly and lovingly about how to move forward.

Whatever thoughts, emotions, sensations you discover and recognize, let them be. Whatever they are, they’re allowed. Maybe you don’t like the emotion, sensation, or thought. Maybe you wish it would go away. But your willingness to be with yourself, just as you are, is crucial.

One of my favorite Rumi poems is The Guest House, which you may know:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
What Rumi is saying is: allow. Allow the experience that has come to visit you to be your guest. Allowing is part of healing. Having a key word to say to yourself can help with allowing the experience to simply be what it is. The word might be “yes.” You recognize that fear is present, and you feel its grip, and whisper “yes.” Or, say you’ve recognized that grief has swelled up – a strong feeling of loss. Whisper, “yes.”

Maybe instead of “yes,” you use the phrase, “this too.” Anger arises, say, triggered by a co-worker’s incompetence. “This too” you whisper – recognizing that life also includes this. Or perhaps you say, “I consent” to allow yourself to be with what is.

It does tend to be true that when we recognize an unpleasant feeling and allow it to be, it will dissipate. What we don’t recognize, and try to deny, or repress, is likely to stay around. What we recognize and allow will TEND to go away. And knowing this, we might find ourselves using our word as a strategy to MAKE it go away. You may catch yourself rather mechanically saying “yes” to a feeling of shame when you aren’t really allowing it to be there, but are hoping that going through this motion will make it magically disappear.

Allowing doesn’t always make the feeling go away. It TENDS to help the feeling dissipate, but not always – and particularly if you aren’t sincerely allowing it to be just as it is. Often, we have to allow over and over. Yet even the first move toward allowing -- whispering “yes” or “this too” begins to soften the hard edges of the feeling. You have at least ratcheted down your resistance to what is – and that resistance tends to make things worse for you.

Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture. In the second part, I’ll talk about how and why to Investigate and Nurture.