Dealing with Difficult Emotions
There are times in our lives when difficult emotions (anxiety, worry, fear, irritability etc.) affect how we relate to every day challenges. When we begin to practice mindfulness, it is often the case that these difficult emotions seem to arise in our awareness more often. It is good to remember that even though it is not pleasant at the time, this increase in awareness of our emotional life is in fact mindfulness in action.
In a recent article in Tricycle magazine, Teah Strozer (2015) introduced a way of working with difficult emotions first introduced by Insight Meditation Society teacher Michelle McDonald. The method of working with difficult emotions and thoughts is brought to mind by the acronym RAIN. Each letter in RAIN stands for an action we can take at the time we become aware that we are experiencing suffering.
R stands for recognizing what is happening in the present moment. It is enough to just notice what is happening. That you are experiencing anger, or fear for example. It is about just paying attention to whatever reaction is occurring.
A stands for accepting. You are just acknowledging what is happening, you don’t have to like it. It is the simple recognition, that whatever is happening is here now, because it actually is. You have probably noticed that when we resist what is happening, there is a real likelihood that it will increase the level of suffering being experienced. Acceptance is about relaxing into whatever is happening and perhaps labelling the experience; “There is worry here now.”
I stands for investigating. When we accept what is happening we are in a better position to actually explore where we are encountering in our emotions or thoughts. We might ask the question, “Where do I notice anxiety in my body?” The shift in attention here is a subtle one, we are encouraged to focus not on our thoughts, but rather to explore the sensations in the body. What does anxiety feel like? As Teah Strozer explains this can involve a process of repeated cycles of feeling, relaxing and investigating until we arrive at a non-reactive state of awareness.
N stands for non-identifying. Non-identifying is one of the more important lessons in mindfulness. It is the idea that we do not need to take our thoughts or feelings as saying anything about “me”. My emotions are just happening and do not tell a story about who I am. Being mindful means that we are aware and observing without taking our experiences personally.
Be gentle with yourself in this practice. It is not easy and it does take practice. Working with RAIN is an example of bringing mindfulness into everyday life.
Strozer, T. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.tricycle.com/online-retreats/rain) February 28, 2015.