July 28, 2020
Using R.A.I.N. to Change The Game
When facing difficult situations we often become lost in confusion and stress.
R.A.I.N. is a powerful acronym often used in the mindfulness tradition as a way to more gracefully handle intense emotions.
In this podcast, Travis will share the four–step process of R.A.l.N. as a way to change the game.
Hope you enjoy this inspiring episode!
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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The BE ULTIMATE Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited. ]
Welcome to “Using R.A.I.N. to Change The Game.”
So this week, I want to share some powerful teachings, and this teaching revolves around something that’s come out of the mindfulness movement called RAIN, R-A-I-N, which was first coined by Michele McDonald about 20 years ago.
I first heard about RAIN through one of my meditation teachers, mentors, Tara Brach. And Tara Brach, if you’re unfamiliar with her, is an amazing teacher, and I highly recommend her books, and she also has a great podcast.
RAIN is this four-step process that helps us bring compassion to ourselves during intense experiences, challenging and difficult emotions, times of upheaval and crisis.
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
This quality of compassion, as you’ll see, is woven into this process of working through RAIN, and it’s a key ingredient in the alchemy of this powerful tool.
Feeling overwhelmed is part of the human experience — we all move through phases in our life where this is what we’re going through. At the time of this recording, during the coronavirus, during the addressing of systemic racism, we are all, on some level, moving through a crisis. We all to some degree are feeling overwhelmed. We also have the climate crisis we’re moving through.
RAIN is something you could always have in your tool belt to help you move through periods where you don’t know what to do, where you feel lost, where you feel confused, where you feel inundated with stress.
Sometimes subtle, other times utterly profound, RAIN will help you escape the trenches of despair.
Let’s talk about what RAIN stands for.
- -R for Recognize,
- -A for Allow,
- -I for Investigate, and
- -N for Natural Loving Awareness.
If you think about it, after the rain passes, everything is always more clear. Once the storm blows through and wipes away the residual nature of what was previously there, things become more alive and vibrant, and we have a greater sense of clarity. In the same way we see that reflected in nature, also, when we move through this four-step process, when we get to the end, we often feel much more of a sense of peace and understanding and clarity.
It provides a profound shift in reality from where we begin the process and, ultimately, where we end up at the end.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
On some level, that’s what RAIN is all about. It’s about shifting our perspective in those moments of crisis and difficulty and challenge and intensity to, again, have a perspective of understanding of what’s really true — not the illusion of what’s there, not the illusion of what emotions are projecting but what exists through the illusion. As we peel that away, we begin to discover and we begin to see more clearly.
Often, in challenging situations, though, we can’t see clearly because we are inundated with negative emotions and also the chemicals of stress. In our brain, we have the limbic part, and in those moments of crisis, this part of the brain takes over. It’s our fight/flight survival system, and we’re no longer able to access our higher reasoning centers of the prefrontal cortex area. We’ve lost our ability to see clearly. We’ve lost our ability to have higher reasoning.
This is what happens during arguments and fights, and this is what you see going on in the world. You see it all the time where one side is arguing their perspective, the other side is arguing their perspective, and people are just shouting at each other from that limbic part of the brain and nobody’s listening. In order to move through difficult moments and experiences on both an individual level and also within our communities, within a global perspective, we have to learn how to down-regulate the limbic part of the brain so that we can begin to access the higher prefrontal cortex. One of the ways we can do this is through RAIN.
Again, RAIN stands for recognize, allow, investigate, and natural loving awareness.
Let’s begin to unpack each one of the letters, each one of the four stages.
R – Recognize
We’ll start with R, recognizing what’s going on. When you’re encountering a difficult situation, very often, we can have all these adverse reactions. We might want to run away from it. We want might want to deny it.
This is very important, we have to begin to start by recognizing what’s there. Sometimes we use the phrase ‘name it to tame it.’ Name what’s there. By naming what’s there, by naming what you’re thinking or feeling, you begin to open up the doorway of what’s possible when it comes to seeing more clearly what’s really going on.
In shamanism, they often call it ‘seeing the dragon’ in the sense you can’t fight an enemy you don’t know is there, that you can’t see, so first, we have to see it. We have to name it. We have to recognize it’s there because very often, we’re unconscious to what’s there, so what we’re experiencing is existing underneath the radar of what we know to be true.
It reminds me of this cartoon I used to watch growing up as a kid called GI Joe, and they used to always say, “knowing is half the battle.” So half the battle is recognizing what’s there.
Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re making something conscious that was previously unconscious. You’re becoming aware. You’re becoming aware of your thoughts. A lot of us are so identified with our thoughts, especially in times of upheaval and crisis. We’re not able to step away and have the perspective to be aware of the thoughts. We’re too entangled.
So this is a process of disentanglement, same thing with our emotions and our feelings and the sensations that we feel in the body. We may begin to recognize we have thoughts of worry, of frustration, of agitation. On an emotional level we may feel and experience fear, anger, anxiety, grief, overwhelm.
We may notice we have these sensations within our body where maybe certain body parts are gripping, are tightening, squeezing, or maybe there’s a pressure there, there’s a temperature, a fiery heat somewhere in the body. So we can name it. We can name heat, heat; or we can name the fear, fear; or we can name the worry, worry, worry.
This is the process of recognizing, and when we recognize what’s there, we become more present to the moment-to-moment experience of what’s happening. We’re no longer thinking about yesterday. We’re no longer worrying about tomorrow because your emotions and your thoughts and your sensations are happening right now in the present moment, so you’re in the now.
A – Allow
Now, let’s move to the second stage of A. A is allow. Allow life. Allow what’s arising for you to be just as it is. So you’re not pushing it away. You’re not fighting with it. You’re beginning to allow it. You’re beginning to give it space to breathe, to express itself. You’re taking a moment to pause in the midst of the crisis to give space to what is present for you, and you’re doing this for your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, those physical sensations because, again, very often, what do we do? We become reactive, so we want to push or stuff or bury or deny what’s there.
The things you resist persist, but the things you embrace, you move through with grace.
Anything we resist or push away, we give it more power, we feed its energy, so allowing it to be there, it allows us to begin to move through what’s there with a sense of greater dignity.
“The only way out is through.”
We have to move through what’s there even if it’s difficult, even if it’s challenging, to not spiritually bypass where, again, we’re pretending that it’s not there. We’re pretending the anger isn’t there. We’re pretending the frustration isn’t there. That’s the spiritual bypass, and, ultimately, we can never run away from what’s there. It may feel like in the short term, you’re escaping it, but inevitably, the way the law of karma works is we have to deal with our stuff. We have to deal with what’s there, and we might as well not kick the can down the road and deal with it right now in this present moment.
A phrase you can use in this stage of allow is “let go; let be,” this begins to create a pathway where you begin to evolve into a different level of consciousness, of awareness. As you begin to allow a different consciousness and awareness to begin to arise, now, you’re coming at this moment of difficulty and struggle from a different place. Again, you’re shifting from the limbic part of the brain into that higher prefrontal cortex part of the brain, so you begin to say yes to what’s there.
If you say no, you’re going to grip, you’re going to seize up, you’re going to strengthen the armor, but if you say yes, yes to this moment, yes to the emotion of the grief, of the anxiety, of the anger, of the rage, and you can repeat it gently: yes, yes, yes, then you’re giving it space to exist.
Every thought, every emotion, every feeling, every sensation has a beginning, a middle, and an end. None of it is permanent. It’s all impermanent. They come and they go. Eventually, it has to dissolve and subside. The more space you give it, the more you develop a greater understanding and wisdom you’re not the emotion. You’re not the fear. You’re not the anger. It’s like weather temporarily moving across the sky of your awareness.
You can imagine as you say yes to what’s there, softly and gently, each repetition diffuses the wattage of the emotion. It softens the resistance of what’s there. It allows the onslaught of stress hormones and chemicals to begin to diminish.
I – Investigate
Now, let’s move on to the third stage of I, investigate, investigate with compassion. I spoke earlier about the Dalai Lama quote, in regards to the ingredient of compassion, and this is where it’s important we investigate with kindness and compassion.
The first two steps in of themselves are game-changers, but when dealing with very difficult situations, the I in RAIN takes you even deeper into the experience of what’s arising. Earlier, the first stage, R, recognize, we asked or could ask, “What’s happening inside of me? What’s present right now?” Now, we begin to peel those layers away even more so the R is the surface of what’s happening. The investigate, now, we’re going even deeper.
So imagine we’re going to peel the layers away by asking more questions, more inquiry, questions like,
“What most needs my attention in this moment?” or,
“How am I experiencing what’s coming up,”
“What’s arising within my physical body?” or,
“What’s the story or the narrative I’m feeding?”
A lot of us create a story around things, and that perpetuates the conflict and the drama, so having the awareness of, “How am I feeding the narrative” or,
“What does this feeling want from me?”
“What is it asking for?”
“What is it calling out for?”
For example, you may be in a situation where you notice an intense emotion like anger and rage coming up, and as you recognize the anger, R, and then you allow it to be there, the A, you begin to investigate it, the I, and realize what’s under the anger. Initially, on the surface, it’s anger, it’s rage, but as you begin to ask those questions and you begin to peel the anger away, often what we discover to be there underneath, to be the cause of the anger, is hurt, is pain.
It’s like you’re walking through a forest, and you come upon the sound of a dog crying out, and you go and kneel down to help the dog, and then it lashes out to bite you, and you jump back. You’re startled. You’re stunned because here you were, trying to help this wounded animal, and you realize the reason why it lashed out at you was because its leg was caught in a trap.
So the lashing out is the anger, but the anger is there because it’s masking the pain, the hurt, and in the same way we see this within a wounded animal, we also see this within ourselves.
You can imagine as you ask these questions and you begin to investigate with kindness and compassion, it’s like taking care of a dear friend or relative or child, and how do you meet that? How do you meet their struggle and their difficulty? You want to meet it with tremendous tenderness and kindness.
Very often, in the “I” stage of RAIN, we can experience the big release. This is where we might experience a big flood of tears once we realize the anger was masking the pain and the hurt, then we begin to have an emotional release that comes from the pain of what we’re feeling, and those tears are called ‘the tears of the way,’ the way out of suffering into healing.
In the same way you might tend to a small child, we offer that same level of support also to ourselves because, ultimately, we all have this inner child within us, and that inner child needs to be honored and recognized and met with compassion.
We might say, in this moment of this third stage, a phrase. We may say something like, “I love you,” just like you would say to a small child, “I love you. I’m here for you. I’m listening,” and we can repeat those phrases in the same way we repeated gently the word, “yes, yes” to this moment, “yes” to what’s here.
We can also use a physical gesture by placing the hand somewhere on the body where it feels intuitively right. That may be on top of your chest or your heart or your belly or wherever it feels right for you.
You can also use imagery or visualization where you visualize somebody in your life that is a symbol of love and support holding you.
So whatever works for you, whether that’s the phrase, the gesture, the visualization, or a combination of all the above, this is how you meet what’s there. This is how you meet the pain with the compassion.
N – Natural Loving Awareness
The final, fourth phase of N, natural loving awareness, or sometimes described as non-identification.
Let’s go with natural loving awareness in the sense the previous steps, again, disentangle you from the challenging experience and begins to create the freedom in the spaciousness that’s necessary to heal, to transform, and, ultimately, we begin to move beyond the small self of fear, of stress, and to that deeper dimension of who we really truly are, which is that natural loving awareness.
N is like the dessert at the end of the five-course meal. In this case, it would be the four-course meal.
It’s like a liberating homecoming where you come back to your true nature, to who you are underneath the thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations, the dimension of timeless loving awareness. As we begin to access this dimension and touch into it through the process of non-identification, we often experience great, profound moments of clarity, of wisdom, and deep understanding.
The storm has passed, the rain has washed through, and we experience the power of levity, of lightness which comes from letting go. It’s like the space after the exhale. Then we simply rest in our timeless, eternal nature.
In this last, fourth stage, there’s nowhere to get to. There’s nothing to do. We simply allow ourself to just be, and that’s very, very powerful. It’s as if you’re marinating in all of the effects of what you move through the RAIN.
Now, I want to share a story to kind of tie all this in together, so I’ll take a real-life example and show you RAIN in action.
This is a story from a retreat I was on last year, and it was a 14-day silent retreat, and one of the teachers on the retreat was Jack Kornfield. And there was a gentleman, an older gentleman, who was in his 70s, and he had spent the majority of his life as a judge in the court system, and we were probably about six, seven days into the retreat, and I had noticed– and if you’ve been on a retreat, you’ll know what I’m talking about where you just feel other people’s energy. You’re not talking – it’s a silent retreat – but you’re aware of other people on the retreat, and you can pass people coming in and out of the meditation hall or the dining hall, and you feel people’s energy.
This particular gentleman, his energy and demeanor, we could say, was intense. The way he would walk into the meditation hall would often be loud. He would stomp into the meditation hall. He would stomp out. There was huffing and puffing. And during the meditations, a lot of sound, a lot of noise, moving around a lot and just a whole cacophony of sound coming from this particular gentleman. On this particular day where Jack Kornfield was leading the meditation, at the end of the session, he offered a Q&A, and opened up the retreat so people could ask questions, and this particular gentleman expressed to Jack his frustration with his meditation practice. He was explaining how he had been on many other meditation retreats, but for whatever reason, on this one, he just wasn’t able to access peace, and it wasn’t enjoyable, and it was unsettling and very frustrating.
Jack, like a skillful wizard, began to lead this guy through the process of RAIN, and he started out by guiding this gentleman to recognize what he was feeling in the present moment, which was frustration and agitation, and even as this guy said the words, he stuttered them out. It was clear there was stress. It was clear he was stuck in the limbic part of the brain. He was agitated. And then, eventually, Jack took him into the second stage of allow, and he asked this guy, he said, “What would happen if you just allow the frustration and the agitation to be there, to not resist it but to embrace it and to give it space?” And as Jack encouraged him to allow the emotions to be there, this guy began to shake. He began to tremble, and Jack had him name it– he had him name it to tame it, what was there. He was shaking in his physical body like the moment before a storm.
Then he took him to the next step, the step of investigation. So he began to investigate the frustration, the agitation, through those physical sensasions of trembling and shaking, and the guy shared he felt blocked. He felt stuck. And Jack said, “Where in your body do you feel blocked? Where in your body do you feel stuck?” and the guy said, “My heart,” and he began to shake even more, and Jack had him place his hand on top of his heart, and then he asked him, “What’s behind the block?” and then this gentleman began to weep. And then Jack said, “What are you feeling now? What’s there? What’s underneath the blockage?” and after some time, this gentleman said, “Pain and grief and hurt,” and he had to fight hard to even express those words. He was sobbing and crying so much.
Keep in mind, this is a gentleman in his 70s who had been a judge who was intense, and here, Jack was leading him into the experience of reconnecting, reuniting back to his heart. And then Jack asked him, “What does it want to say? What does the pain want to say? What does the grief want to express?” Through sobbing and crying, he replied, “I forgive you,” and then he went on to sob uncontrollably for many minutes. We all just sat there, everybody in the retreat hall, in silence, watching, almost, this miracle taking place, watching a master, a meditation wizard, Jack Kornfield, guiding this person through the process of RAIN. Many of us also crying and weeping as well, bearing witness to this individual’s suffering and blown away. It was breathtaking as we gave it space to all unfold the way that it needed to. This was the last, fourth stage of N, natural loving awareness, all sitting there in aftermath of the storm.
Eventually, the tears subsided, the shaking subsided, and we all sat there, embraced in the timeless, formless dimension of loving awareness.
What we went on to find out was Bob had been estranged from one of his daughters for many years, and he had found out this particular daughter had had a granddaughter who he had never gotten to meet, and he had tried multiple times to reach out to his daughter to make amends. He would send her cards around the holidays, around Christmas, sending his support and sending his love, and would never get anything back, and this was the pain he was carrying, sometimes called the unfinished business of the heart. After this experience, Bob went on to have a powerful retreat because he had moved through the transformative process of RAIN. He had moved through the frustration and blockages and addressed, on a deep level, the pain and hurt that was there.
So you too can use RAIN to change the game. Maybe you’re moving through a divorce or a challenging breakup in a relationship, a chronic illness, a business betrayal, a parenting challenge with a child, with a teenager, or any difficult situation.
Remember RAIN stands for recognize, allow, investigate, and natural loving awareness.
I hope you found this to be powerful, and I hope you take these teachings and this wisdom with you into your life.
And now, we’ll finish with the ultimate prayer.
“May we bring strength where there is weakness.
May we bring courage where there is fear,
may we bring compassion where there is suffering,
and may we bring light where there is darkness.
May we be ultimate.”