RAIN is an acronym for a tool used in mindfulness practice. It was first developed by longtime Vipassana instructor Michele McDonald and has been further expanded upon by Tara Brach in her book, "Radical Acceptance." It is an accessible way to inwardly listen to how we feel and uncover why we react to certain situations. By compassionately using RAIN to bring a more mindful awareness to strong emotions, we can learn how to open ourselves up to experiencing our lives more fully. Rain stands for:
Recognizing what’s really going on inside your mind, heart and body. What behaviors, thoughts or feelings brought about the particular state of being you are experiencing? This can be done by stopping whatever it is we are doing and taking a moment to assess how we are feeling, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Image for a moment that you are scrolling through your Facebook feed, and you come across and old college friend who has just received a prestigious award for their work. Suddenly, you feel depressed, your mood drops and you want to crawl under the nearest rug. When you pause to ask yourself, "What’s really going on?," you give yourself the space to process the emotions that are arising. Typical questions that help identify the problem include:
- "What was I thinking just before my mood went down the tubes?"
- "Was I comparing myself to my old classmate?"
- "Was I judging myself, and telling myself I am a failure because I haven’t won any awards?"
- "Where do I feel that sense of failure in my body? Is it in my belly, in my heart?"
Asking these questions when you feel the arrival of an unwelcome feeling or emotion can stop it in its tracks and set you on the path to letting go of the deeper emotions you may have that are causing these reactions. In many cases, you may find that the action itself is not what is causing the reaction, but an underlying and unresolved issue within may be the culprit. (Read more in Why Contemplate.)
The next step is to allow those feelings, emotions and thoughts to be manifested. Most of the time, we want to numb out or push those feelings away as quickly as we can. It can be intimidating at first to sit with things just as they are. We may be afraid of the pain we think we will experience when we open up to how we truly feel. It’s natural to feel aversion and want to push away. (Learn more in Exploring Aversion.)
With practice, however, we will gain a deeper, more subtle sense of awareness that will allow us to melt through those feelings more quickly in the future. Try to sit softly with your inner voice, applying an open-hearted attitude as you make space for emotions and physical sensations as they arise. Encourage yourself by repeating a mantra for courage inwardly or quietly, saying “yes” out loud. This can help reassure yourself that you can accept whatever it is that arises. (Learn more in Vulnerability and Bravery.)
Once you’ve hit the pause button, it’s time to get curious. It’s helpful to inject a bit of humor into this phase, because this is often where we are most likely to give up. Imagine you are a detective and you are trying to solve a mystery, the mystery of you! Investigate what brought on your feelings of inadequacy or failure? Was it because you habitually compare yourself to others? Or, maybe you’re scared to acknowledge your own desire to pursue the same line of work as your friend?
As we investigate, we pull back the multiple layers of reasons for experiencing a strong emotion. You might uncover a core belief about yourself that you may not have known you even had, like the idea that you believe you are unworthy of success yourself. Ask yourself lovingly, what was it that triggered your suffering? Have compassion and patience with yourself throughout this process. (Read on in our Q&A What is the purpose of patience?)
The final phase of this mindfulness practice is to let go of attaching any meaning to what we discover. Just because we may have unearthed some less than desirable qualities about our thought processes, such as that we feel jealous of a peer’s success, doesn’t mean we are a jealous person. This is an important distinction to make. Having particular thoughts, sensations or feelings arise in yourself does not mean you are those things. If you feel angry, that doesn’t make you an angry person. It’s key to understand this and be particularly attuned to it, because the ego will immediately jump in and try to get us to identify with something.
What story do you find yourself telling about why you think or feel a certain way? Listen to what comes up for you personally, and continue to bring more awareness to the things that trigger you both emotionally and physiologically.
Practicing the RAIN technique is a simple, yet highly, effective way of tuning into our inner world and creating a pause between the stimulus of the outside world and our reaction. This pause is the true purpose of meditation. You can use the RAIN technique whenever a challenging situation or strong emotion comes about, or you can use it on a daily basis as a way to check in with yourself, for example, while waiting in line at the post office, grocery store or in the shower.
However you decide to implement the technique, or how many of the four steps you make it through, it will train and help you to bring more mindfulness into your life. You can take the RAIN approach and use it creatively and in whatever order you need it in at the moment. It can also help to integrate it into your meditation practice, or take it with you as a form of contemplation on your daily walk.
RAIN can be applied in an infinite number of ways, so don’t be afraid to experiment. If you feel overwhelmed by the emotions you are experiencing and are afraid that practicing RAIN will intensify them too much, try first practicing with the small stuff that comes up for you. As you get more comfortable listening to your inner experiences, you can begin to apply RAIN to more challenging situations. Overtime, you will find that your attention to your inner experiences is deepening. (Read more in How to Be More Mindful.)