let it RAIN

How can I drop into my mindful life? 

Let it RAIN.

RAIN is an acronym used for informal mindfulness practice. It’s an insightful form of self-inquiry you can cultivate in daily life, especially when you find yourself encountering moments of strong emotional reaction.

RAIN cultivates a mindful attitude of just noticing before you tip into driven-doing reactive mode. Using it reminds you that your mindful life comes from patient persistence and that mindful awareness is not some overnight thing you get to acquire: we all know that strong healthy habits need time to grow – which is a difficult concept to get your head around in this ‘fix-it-now’ world of ours - therefore letting things RAIN is a good place to start, as it’s sort of a boot camp for kindness, curiosity and self-compassion. You’ve got to put in some time training this capacity for responsiveness. I try to use it a lot. And here’s the thing: I fail and fail and fail many times. But I think I’m learning to fail better, if you know what I mean. *

In its simplest form RAIN is:

R = RECOGNISE when a strong emotion is present.

A = ALLOW, ACKNOWLEDGE, or ACCEPT that it’s there.

I = INVESTIGATE your bodily sensations as the emotions and thoughts build up.

N = NOTICE, NAME and NON-IDENTIFY with whatever it is that is arising.

So let’s look at it in more detail:

R = RECOGNISE when a strong emotion is present. This is a kind of “hello” moment where you unpeel yourself from the emotion arising. It’s a tricky thing to do because a strong emotion can hit you like a wave and before you know it you’re caught up in a current of reactivity. You’re drowning in the emotion. However, if you can cultivate the skill of just recognising the emotion as an emotion - a separate entity to you - then that’s an empowering first step. This is where a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help because meditation is a training ground in recognising what’s beating at the door  of your mind, and knowing that in essence it’s a surge in conscious awareness. Nothing more, nothing less. It really is just sensory phenomena: data-cues awaiting your mind’s evaluation. Just being able to recognise this is a significant step. In fact, it’s a potential lifesaver.

Next is R for RELAX, kind of opening the door to the emotion. Just letting it in. But letting it in with an attitude of relaxed kindness, curiosity and compassion. This might seem counter-intuitive but it is an effective way of tricking your brain. By saying “hello” and relaxing into your recognition you’re putting a dampener on habitual reaction; or, to get all neuroscientific, dampening neural action selection reactivity, which basically means the habits you have conditioned yourself to default to in situations of strong emotion. It’s believed that it is the basal ganglia of the brain that is responsible for these habits of action selection. I don’t know about you, but I find a bit of knowledge of neuroscience helps here. Knowing about the mechanics of neural activity helps with the process of uncoupling yourself from a debilitating emotion.

Then we have A = ALLOW, ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT. So continuing our theme here of counter-intuitiveness: it is wise, I think, not to fight an emotion in its moment of arrival. I’m sure you want to but you’re not going to win. It’s better to be the branch on the tree that bends with the storm rather than the branch that resists and snaps. Remember, you have no control here. You’re up against approximately 657 million years of brain evolution. So cultivate an attitude of acceptance because this is actually happening now. This emotion cannot be ignored. And don’t try Stiff-Upper-Lipping it either, or doing something about it. Evolution will just laugh at you. As Dr Judson Brewer says, find a way that works for you, such as a word or phrase, or a simple nod of the head (I consent, here we go, this is it, etc) or, as mentioned above, something like, Hello: I see you coming. 2 By doing so you are allowing yourself some much needed space between the stimulus of your emotion and deploying a patient, wiser response.

Next up is I = INVESTIGATING the experience this moment is having on your body. As Brewer tells us, this moment is building right now, so ask yourself: “What does my body feel like right now?” This is the curiosity part; really take an objective interest in what’s arising in the body. And where in particular in the body? Let this curiosity be part of cultivating a more responsive attitude to difficult emotions.

N = NOTICE, NAME and NON-IDENTIFY with the experience. Again, this is buying you time and space for a more responsive attitude. We do this in our mindfulness meditation practice where we label sensations and investigate with them curiosity. So again, if you practice mindfulness meditation you’ve already had some training with this. But now you want to bring it into this informal moment. As Brewer tell us, keep it simple by using short phrases or single words. For example: restlessness in stomach, rising sensation, burning, etc. Follow it until it completely subsides. If you get distracted, return to the investigation by repeating the question, what does my body feel like right now? For Brewer it’s like surfing a wave. 

So, see if you can ride it until it is completely gone. 

Ride it to shore.

* Inspired by Samuel Beckett's line from his short prose piece, Worstword Ho! The full Samuel Beckett quote reads like this (and by “full,” we really mean the part that gets repeated): “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

* Judson Brewer, The Craving Mind, page 32. https://www.amazon.com/Craving-Mind-Cigarettes-Sma...

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Every month or so I'll send out ideas and resources - what I think might be of interest and use to you, such as links to books, articles, podcasts, quotes, stories, art, music, meditations - that I hope will help inspire you to cultivate your own mindful life.