Mindfulness and Compassion offer us a way out of the anxiety habit loop because upon investigation they turn out to be more rewarding than our previous anxiety behaviors. In this article I want to introduce a tool for dealing with anxiety and difficult emotions called RAIN or the RAIN of self compassion. This acronym has been popularized by meditation teacher Tara Brach and I have found it to be the single most effective aid in working with anxiety that I have found in a decade of exploring different traditional and alternative healing modalities. Stepping out of our anxious habit loops is all about changing our behaviors. With RAIN we learn to replace our old anxious behaviors with the new internally rewarding behaviors of investigation and compassion.
RAIN helps to teach us that all of our emotions have a cycle and that we can learn to ride out the cycle. It’s all about turning towards our difficult experiences and befriending them with kindness and care. It’s not a one off fix, but if we practice regularly, over time we start to see the freedom (and rewards) that come from not resisting our experience. We start to see that getting curious and caring for ourselves and our emotions actually feels pretty good. It feels good to welcome our anxiety when it comes to visit and explore the felt experience of it as it lives in the body. The anxiety and difficult emotions like fear and sadness that we experience are not our enemies. They are not beasts that we need to banish from our minds. With RAIN we learn to come into contact with them and meet them with the care and friendliness we would offer to a good friend.
All of this requires a certain degree of courage and commitment. In previous posts, we have practiced mapping out our anxiety habit loops and seeing that obsessive thinking and distraction behaviors are really not that rewarding. This aids in doing the hard work of RAIN. Turning towards the difficult may not always be pleasant, but as we better understand how the mind works, we start to see that we cannot think or avoid our way out of painful habit loops. The only way to the other side of difficult emotions is to go through them. To allow them to come and go without resisting them. The more we do this the more courage we gain to befriend these difficult emotions during really trying times.
The RAIN of self compassion (R and A)
-Start by taking a few deep breaths and pausing. Feel your body and your feet on the ground. In order to practice RAIN we have to be aware that we are caught in an unskillful habit loop. Just noticing this means that we are bringing awareness to our experience. Where we may have in the past been habitually caught repeating the same behaviors over and over, now we are able to recognize that we have a choice. We can pause, and in that pause we can choose to practice RAIN.
The R of RAIN is all about getting out of the mind and going into the body. We can ask ourselves “What’s happening in my body right now?” and simply note what comes up. If there are emotions like fear, anger, sadness, or anxiety present we can note these emotions. If we notice pain or other strong sensations in the body, we can be aware of these as well. The R is just getting present with what we are experiencing. It’s perfectly normal that we may have multiple emotions and body sensations happening at once. Turning inward we might recognize anger, sadness, warmth, itching, and pain are all present. Great! Just notice!
*One note on recognizing emotions is that we may be labeling our emotions wrong. For decades I thought anger was anxiety and I didn’t recognize that the sensations I have felt in and around my eyes since I was a kid were sadness. It sounds so simple to be able to label our emotions but this often isn’t that case. I will do a post on labeling emotions correctly and why it matters, but for now just get curious about what you feel and how you label it.
With the A of RAIN we let whatever is happening in our body to just be there. We practice accepting that this is our experience in the present moment and we allow it to be just as it is. If it’s hard to accept what’s happening or we notice the mind resisting, we can offer ourselves a simple phrase like “Yes” or “This belongs” or “Thank you anxiety”. When I had panic I would use the word “welcome” to send my mind the signal that everything was ok. That being said, don’t worry too much if your mind resists these phrases as well. It’s not about having complete acceptance at the beginning. It’s more about having the intention to accept our experience and being kind to ourselves. With the A of RAIN we accept and allow the anxiety or difficult emotions to just be with us in our experience. Additionally, we make the intention to accept any judgements our minds may have about these unpleasant experiences.
Often the first two steps of RAIN is a good place to start. Sometimes we will be able to step out of an anxious habit loop by simply recognizing that we are triggered with an anxious thought, and accepting the anxiety in our body. Every time we practice the Recognize and Allow of RAIN we are training our brains to go into our bodies when a difficult emotion comes to visit. We are making a new habit of checking things out in our direct experience. At the beginning we may not be able to hang out in our bodies for very long, but we are starting down the path towards befriending our emotions and our life.
In the next post I’ll discuss the I and N of RAIN-Investigate and Nurture. In these steps we actively investigate and get curious about the felt sensation of the anxiety and difficult emotions as they live in the body. Then we offer those hurt places care and compassion. There is freedom in engaging with our inner life and getting to know our difficult experiences. This turning towards ultimately opens the door to a life of less resistance and more love and belonging.