originally posted 21/10/18. updated 13th January 2020
There is an acronym from the practices of Insight Meditation I learnt many years ago that I have found incredibly useful and one I encourage others to use to help ease emotional struggles.
It is a four-step process of bringing attention to recognising feelings, coming to some acceptance of them and fostering a healthier relationship with them.
This approach comes from a view synonymous with a number of psychotherapeutic approaches like Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT); that suggest our primary emotions (eg. sadness, anger, fear) in themselves do not necessarily cause the greatest amount of distress… but more so, it's our resistance to feeling them that does. In other words, it’s the struggle and the fight, the trying to push away, not wanting to feel our feelings or the desire to change them that can cause us more emotional distress.
Many people struggle to recognise exactly what it is they are feeling during difficult times. This is not always a straight forward process either. Grief, for example, can leave us feeling a whole host of difficult and confusing emotions like sadness, remorse, anger, anxiety… it can be a difficult process to understand.
Whatever you are experiencing though, it can be helpful in the first instance to begin to recognise and acknowledge what the emotions are and to notice what they feel like. The acronym RAIN offers some guidance on this process to ease the suffering of difficult or overwhelming feelings.
R - Recognise. The first step is to start to try and recognise exactly what feeling is arising. There can often be a power in even naming the feelings in itself (eg. hurt, fear, anger, shame…). Sometimes it can be difficult to label the emotion so instead you might recognise any physical sensations instead (eg. heaviness, tightness, tingling....).
A - Acknowledge & Allow. Acknowledge the feelings and try to allow them to be there. Try to offer the feeling some space and ‘let it be’. Let go of the resistance. This is radical acceptance.
I - Investigate. In a gentle, curious, mindful, compassionate and non-judgemental way, then ask yourself ‘What is that like?’ What does this [emotion] feel like? Where do I feel that in my body? What does it feel like? eg. tight, suffocating, heavy, hot, light, etc. Allow the emotion and feelings to have space in a compassionate way and try not to judge the feeling - rather than it being “good or bad”, “nice or horrible” try instead to describe it in a more objective, neutral way.
In Buddhism, there is a view of developing a sense of non-attachment through awareness. That is, to not be defined by emotions or thoughts. This leads to a stance of being an ‘observer’ in opposed to actually ‘being’ the feeling. “I recognise and acknowledge this feeling (eg. sadness) but I am not that”
This reflects the N part of R.A.I.N. Non-attachment. Or non-identification. This facilitates an important shift and creates some difference to "there is sadness/anxiety/fear, etc" in opposed to "I am sadness/anxiety/fear". In time, this can help us to ride through difficult feelings more easily. As we learn to lessen the fight and resistance to our feelings, we find that they pass more quickly and easily. Emotions are like waves in the ocean.
"You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf" - Jon Kabat-Zinn.