While attending a Tara Brach retreat, I learned a great process that anyone can use to transform difficult mind states to calmer, more peaceful states. It is called the RAIN method, and is taught at many Western mindfulness meditation retreats. The R: Stands for Recognition, the A: for Acceptance, the I: Investigation, and the N: Non-Identification.
When we practice the principles of RAIN regularly, they help us to nourish our inner lives, like rain outdoors nourishes the inhabitants on this planet.
Recognition - Is the first step of this process. It asks us to recognize the reality of our present experience. Although this may sound like an easy no-brainer, it is not. Because recognizing the truth of the present moment requires that we have an honest willingness to step out of denial and delusional thinking. For most of us as youngsters, every time we cried or had a temper tantrum, our caregivers responded in a way to stop us from being upset. Therefore, we learned that being sad, angry, hurt or frustrated was not okay. As a result, many of us developed unhealthy coping strategies with denial as our foundation. We’ve learned to deny our negative feelings by either pretending they don’t exist, stuffing them away in hopes they disappear, or projecting them onto others, as evidenced by our propensity to abuse, criticize, or judge others harshly.
What is most sad about our unconscious denial coping strategies, is that when we deny our dissatisfaction, pain, anger, stress, values, ambition, or any emotion, in the long run – we ultimately suffer even more. As a member of this culture of denial, I remained in an unhappy marriage of incompatibility for years, denying my own misery, and instead, trying to change myself to please my partner. Needless to say, this caused more unhappiness and stress, and the outcome of this marriage was not positive.
Although many of us meditate to cultivate happier, more peaceful minds, we need to meditate properly to insure that we don’t strengthen these habits of denial. I recently attended a Buddhist Geeks conference, where a Neuropsychologist presenter said that recent scientific brain research, studying both beginning and experienced meditators found that although beginning meditators experienced more peace since beginning meditating, their brains were more apt to actually avoid dealing with negative thought patterns that were present in their brains. They did so by forcing themselves to focus on something else instead of the negativity, thus showing their propensity or habit of denying and avoiding negative experiences. On the other hand, the experienced meditators brain patterns showed less negative brain activity, and their brains were actually more peaceful. But, when the more experienced meditators had negative experiences, they did not try to suppress or not deny them. Instead, they remained present with whatever emerged. Thus, whether you meditate or not, my suggestion is that you learn to bow to your present experience. Invite each experience into your living room, without judgment or preference.
Recognition moves us from delusion and ignorance to the truth, and the truth leads us towards freedom.
Acceptance: After recognizing what is present, we must accept the facts before us. This too can be very difficult, because most of us have adopted the big “LIE” that we need to be perfect. But, no one is perfect! Acceptance requires that we accept our imperfections, weaknesses, failings, and even our delusions. This takes courage and a sense of humor.
“I’m not perfect. My hair doesn’t stay in place, I spill a lot of things, and I’m clumsy. But in the end, I realized that I liked being imperfect”. -Anonymous Author
The next step of the RAIN process calls for Investigation: After you recognize and accept that the judgmental mind (or whatever else) is present, start to explore…. Where is this experience located in my body? Is it moving or staying still? How does it feel? Is it – throbbing, pulsating, pinching, tickling, tight, numb, vibrating, etc? What feelings are present? Are they pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings? What other hindrances are arising with this difficult experience: craving, aversion, sloth, torpor, restlessness, remorse, or doubt? What habitual thoughts, beliefs or identifications might be coming up around this experience – see them clearly and then let them go. Notice any habit patterns, like “this tends to happen when I am feeling rushed”, or “…..” The result of the investigation process is oftentimes more wisdom, understanding and self-compassion. It also gives the negative experience the direct attention it needs, thus it will be more likely to dissipate sooner.
The final step to this process is called Non-Identification. Basically, don’t take it personally! See pain as pain, not my pain. See doubt or judgment, as doubting or judging mind, not my doubts, or my judgments. Our identification with an experience is where we get caught up and sucked into the negative experience. This is a delusion. Why? Because we are simply only having human experiences, which are the direct result of having a human body with a brain. You’re along for this human ride. You experience many things in this life – some wonderful and pleasant, some boring or unpleasant, and some terrifyingly awful. When you can bring your awareness to whatever is present, without preferences or identification, they become temporary, transitory, and inherently human experiences.
RAIN: Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation and Non-Identification. Bring these principles into in your meditation practice and your daily life and you will experience more space, freedom and inner peace.