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.

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