“Negative emotions are like unwelcome guests. Just because they show up o our doorstep doesn’t mean they have a right to stay.”—Deepak Chopra
In this article, I want to share with you a powerful mindfulness technique I often use for dealing with negative emotions.
It is a 4-step process called the RAIN practice.
RAIN is an acronym for:
- Intimate Attention
Emotional highs and lows are an unavoidable part of the human experience.
Some days, you simply get out the wrong side of bed. You wake up feeling grumpy, flat or out of sorts — often for no apparent reason.
Or maybe there’s one particular emotion that hangs around you all the time like an unwanted companion — anger, anxiety or depression perhaps?
One thing is for certain. Whether negative emotions are intermittent or regular visitors, the natural tendency is to resist them — to push them away.
When you’re feeling helpless, sad or afraid, it goes without saying that you want to be free of it, Of course you want it to stop.
But what if the negative emotions you are experiencing are NOT the primary cause of your suffering?
What if your resistance to them is the main culprit?
What would happen to your sadness if you embraced it instead of pushing it away? Would it affect you as much if you didn’t mind it being there?
Sure, it might still feel unpleasant but the truth is that it’s the story we attach to certain emotions that adds fuel to the fire and heightens our suffering.
The essence of mindfulness practice is to embrace every inner experience with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance — to roll out the red carpet for every thought, feeling and emotion.
If they are there anyway, it is better to work with them rather than fight against them.
The Real Reason Negative Emotions Cause Suffering
The Buddhists use the expression ‘second arrow’ to describe the added layer of suffering we create for ourselves when we resist the experiences that arise within us.
You may believe, as I did for many years, that it’s the feeling of sadness itself that makes you feel bad. Of course it feels unpleasant but, in truth, it is the story we attach to it that’s responsible for most of our suffering.
“Feeling sad is terrible. I hate feeling like this. I want to be free of it. What’s wrong with me?”
You don’t have this reactive commentary when a pleasant emotion arises. You are quite happy for it to hang around.
As you’ll see in the RAIN practice (which we’ll come to soon) , when you separate the feeling itself from the story ABOUT the feeling, it loses most of it’s juice — most of its power to affect your peace.
The RAIN practice offers a way to work with, rather than against our difficult feelings and emotions.
So, let’s get started.
You can use RAIN when a difficulty arises during meditation practice or as a stand-alone tool for working on challenging and persistent emotional blockages.
First, allow some kind of difficulty to come into your awareness.
Choose something you’re experiencing right now. It could be a strong emotion or a situation in your life that evokes a strong reaction in you — a challenging relationship or a difficult issue at work perhaps.
Bring the situation to mind and feel what it brings up in you in this moment. It doesn’t have to be anything major.
Here are the four steps to follow:
Step 1. Recognition
The first step is to recognise that it’s there. Simply acknowledge that there’s a visitor at the door.
Notice any tendency to judge or reject what you’re feeling and instead, make the conscious choice to turn towards it with an attitude of openness and curiosity (if possible.)
Whatever arises, be gentle with yourself.
It may be helpful to name the emotion or you can leave it unnamed as a felt sensation.
Rather than turning away from it, turn towards it.
Step 2. Allowing
Is it possible to invite the emotion in — to welcome it and give it space?
If there was any sense before of rejecting it or wanting to push it away, is it possible now to create a space for it to be here, even if it feels uncomfortable? Can you shift your inner position from a no to a yes?
Actually, it is here anyway. It is already part of who you are so why not embrace it?
Allow it to be here and give yourself permission to feel it fully.
Step 3. Intimate Attention
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. ~ Abraham Lincoln
The third step of the RAIN practice is about trying to get to know the emotion or difficulty better. Here we take a closer look and try to find out more about it.
It is common, particularly if a pattern is familiar and has been around for a long time, to think you know everything about it.
For this reason, try to be innocent about what you may find, as if you are encountering it for the first time.
Begin by asking how this difficulty is manifesting in the physical body.
Is it located in one place or is it more spread out, more diffuse?
Can you describe how it feels?
Heavy? Contracted? Numb?
Does it have a shape, a texture, a colour perhaps?
How is your difficulty showing up in the feeling world?
Is there one clear feeling or is it more like a kaleidoscope of feelings?
* For example, anger often has layers of fear and sadness beneath the surface emotion.
Maybe you can name the feelings? Or maybe they’re not clear enough to give names to?
Whatever your experience, just notice it with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance. Let it be however it is.
Are there any thoughts accompanying the emotion?
Are you aware of any beliefs, stories or ideas that accompany your difficulty?
What kinds of things do you tell yourself when the emotion is present?
Do you search for solutions?
Do your thoughts follow any particular patterns e.g. blaming yourself or beating yourself up?
Or does your mind just go around aimlessly in circles?
Don’t get involved in the thinking. Be there as a neutral observer and watch what is going on impartially.
How does separating the emotion from any thoughts ABOUT it change your experience?
What’s your attitude towards the difficulty?
How do you usually relate to this difficulty when it arises. Is there a strong resistance and a tendency to push it away.
Are you able, just for this moment, to drop some of this resistance? How does adopting a softer, more accepting attitude change your experience?
Step 4. Non-Attachment
Until now, we have been zooming in to take a close-up look at the emotion or difficulty.
Now let’s zoom out and look at it from a larger perspective.
Can you see that it’s only part of your experience in this moment?
Is it possible to become the space around your difficulty — to recognise that this difficulty is something that is happening within a greater YOU?
Can you see that who you are is far greater than the constantly evolving difficulty that is showing up in this moment?
The difficulty comes and goes but who you really are is constant.
Perhaps all that you have been investigating can be held in a larger space?
Perhaps you can hold it in a wide open embrace?
You are not ignoring or negating it. You’re simply giving it a huge open space to exist in.
Ask yourself, “Is this difficulty permanent or is it just passing through? Is it part of who I am or is it is something that comes and goes within a greater me?
Is it really as solid as I was taking it to be or is it changing and moving more than I thought?
Perhaps you can hold a new perspective in which you are vast like the sky and your emotion is a little cloud passing through.
It can’t touch who you really are.
Making Peace With Your Negative Emotions
Life is challenging and emotions can run high for all kinds of reasons.
If you wish to experience more peace with your emotions (and with your thoughts and feelings for that matter) it is important to recognise and break free from the automatic reactions that control you.
The natural tendency is to reject and push away unpleasant experiences that arise within us. In doing so, we add fuel to the fire and add to our suffering.
Thoughts, feelings and emotions are there anyway—sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. They are part of who we are. Embracing them is the way to peace.
The RAIN technique is a great way of shining new light on your emotions and reframing your relationship with them.